Artistry in motion

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Charcoal artist Sarah Scheffer captures movement in the boxing ring

Story by Nina Todea
Photos by Liv Paggiarino

Sarah Scheffer has a lot on her mind.

The Jefferson City artist has been creating ever since she could hold a crayon — a few decades, now — and though she recently took a five-year break, restrained by not having a space big enough to line up her canvases and spread her tools, she’s tried just a bit of everything. And, she’s buzzing with ideas.

When she speaks of plein air painting possibilities for the summer, her eyes light up, and her expressions become twice as animated. And then there’s the set of India Inks she was recently gifted that garners the giddiness of an artist ready to be challenged. Oil pastels, photography and anonymous street miniature art — tiny sets that compel you to look closer — are all on her list of tried and true.

But at the moment, her comfort is found in the warm boxing club at 330 E. Capitol Ave., shading in the twists and turns of her subjects with a careful hand as Cardi B blasts through the speakers and thick boxing gloves create resounding slaps against the black punching bags just steps away from where she sits, completely in her own world.

She has her son to thank for this one.

As her son began frequenting ElmSt. Boxing Club, owned by Mario Antonio, she found herself staying and began paying closer attention.

Surrounded by boxers, Sarah Scheffer works on
a piece of charcoal art at ElmSt. Boxing Club.

“I believe one of the slogans Mario throws around is ‘artistry in motion.’ I saw that and was like, ‘That’s cool.’ I started bringing a sketchbook, and I realized how hard it is to capture people that move so quickly,” Scheffer said.

It quickly became challenging — and educational, as she pointed out she doesn’t have formal art training.

“I use this place to study form and lines,” she said.

For work outside of the boxing gym, her pieces start with careful planning and thought, from color to perspective to lines or any other elements that might go into it. Then comes an initial sketch. But inside those four walls, the process gets a jump start.

“I scribble out the shapes as fast as I can,” she said, “and when I get one that I like, I go with that.”

With a background in massage therapy, she’ll use her knowledge of anatomy to piece the bodies together — in capturing motion, you have to be quick, and she’s learned to be. What comes after is constant refinement. Some pieces in her sketchpad look to be completely done. Scheffer disagrees, and the sketchbook continues making the trek from home to gym.

“I have really grown to love boxing — I still don’t know a lot about it, but it’s a really big family here,” she said.

She pulls inspiration from Edgar Degas, a French impressionist painter known for his unusual perspectives of dancing females, also aptly nicknamed “Painter of Dancers.”

“I got to thinking about it, and I said, ‘You know, I’d like to be the one that captures these guys doing all the cool stuff that they do,’” Scheffer said.

Sarah Scheffer works on
a piece of charcoal art at ElmSt. Boxing Club.

Much of her current work is in black in white, from her photography to charcoal pieces. Though her paintings tend to be quite colorful, she said, something about the “moodiness that you get with black and white is appealing.”

One of her recent pieces depicts a woman sitting cross-legged in a field, covered by the cascades of her own hair. With the piece void of any vivid greens, she becomes one with nature. It’s the detail in pieces like this one, titled “Portrait of Woman,” in which Scheffer indulges. Anything with a call for extensive detail, she said, is challenging — but it’s a welcome challenge.

Another challenge is working from imagination. One commission contains two faces that never made it into the same frame, a deceased grandmother and her granddaughter. Scheffer is using two photographs and building a new scene.

“I think I came up with something that they’re really going to be happy with. That’s been rewarding, and I can’t wait for them to see it,” she said.

But more than a certain reaction or a “thank you,” Scheffer is most invested in the simple joy of creating. Her empathy for people, she said, leads her to create things that reflect her feelings and simply pass it on.

“I like to piece together my experiences into an image when otherwise they might just be fractured and lost if I didn’t do that,” she said. “What do I get out of it? I don’t think I’ve ever really looked for anything more than just the joy of doing it, because I love creating so much.”

From holding a crayon at a young age to the stick of charcoal today, Scheffer didn’t get to where she is without a few trials and tribulations. Since moving to Jefferson City a couple years back, she’s immersed herself into the world of art once again, and for young artists finding their footing, that’s also her best advice: Create, and create every day.

As someone without formal art education, she believes the lack of an official degree might’ve actually pushed her forward, encouraging (and perhaps forcing) her to find her own way.

It also explains her firsthand experience with many forms of art. Each is an opportunity to learn.

Most importantly, Scheffer said, art requires some sort of world view and a connection to people. Read, talk to people and expand your horizons.

And, she said, “try all different mediums. You never know which one will speak to you the most.”

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Molly Morris

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