John Sabraw

From Sketching Handbags to Creating Reclaimed Earth Colors: An Interview with Artist, John Sabraw

From Sketching Handbags to Creating Reclaimed Earth Colors and More: An Interview with Artist, John Sabraw

Have you ever felt like you just don’t “fit in” at non-artist gatherings? What do you do with that feeling? Do you shrink back and retreat to the safety of your peers and insulate? Or do you press into the discomfort and forge your path? Everyone’s story is going to be different and that’s the beauty of our corner of society, we embrace the mosaic of diversity - but what would it look like if we were to integrate our creative outlook with other areas? 

That’s where my guest and talented artist, John Sabraw comes in! Hailing from Lakenheath, England, John is an activist and environmentalist - his paintings, drawings, and collaborative installations are produced in an eco-conscious manner, and he continually works toward a fully sustainable practice. In our conversation, John opens up about his time working with Kerry James Marshall and how he got involved with Gamblin and producing their reclaimed earth colors. Trust me, you’ll find John’s perspective refreshing and engaging - I know I did! 

Throwing it all away 

You know those days where you feel like tossing everything in your studio in the garbage? Imagine doing that and then getting an invitation to Washington DC to meet members of Congress because your art was selected as the winner of a competition. Sounds crazy, right? It actually happened to John Sabraw! 

As he struggled in high school and tried to decipher the way he wanted his life to go, John reached a breaking point where he just had to walk away. He took all his artwork that he had completed in his high school art class and tossed it in the dumpster and then took off for a week. When he returned, what he saw changed the course of his career - his teacher had entered him into a contest and he had won! John’s journey wasn’t all smooth sailing from there - he faced setbacks and challenges but this initial success helped see the talent he had honed. 

Speaking your truth 

How does your truth, your authenticity show up in your artwork? Do you try to embrace it or do you try to go in a different direction? As the United States was gearing up for the Iraq war in 2003, John felt like he needed to speak out and share his conviction that war was not the answer with his art. The result was a fierce backlash that made John rethink his approach and if he wanted to make a stand that would continue to incur this type of reaction from people. John didn’t back down, he just decided to change his approach - this launched him on the path to his work with sustainability and activism. 

Exploring sustainability 

Imagine visiting a community ravished by the scourge of industrial waste and environmental destruction and finding in that mess and contamination a way to create sustainable paint colors. No, this isn’t a pipe dream, this actually happed with John’s efforts to collaborate with scientists on many projects. One of his current collaborations involves creating paint and paintings from iron oxide extracted in the process of remediating polluted streams. I hope you are as inspired by John’s story as I have been - make sure to check out images of John’s artwork located at the end of this post!



Outline of this episode

  • [2:50] I introduce my guest, John Sabraw. 
  • [4:00] How did John get started as an artist? 
  • [18:30] John describes his artwork. 
  • [25:00] Speaking authentically and truthfully. 
  • [27:30] Exploring sustainability. 
  • [33:00] How artists can help with creative problem-solving. 
  • [45:00] Why we need more artists who speak up and break out of their silos. 
  • [52:00] You don’t have to be an expert to contribute to the conversation.  
  • [55:00] Closing thoughts. 


Polar Chroma Flock

Polar Chroma Interstice

Polar Chroma Veil


Sabraw working in studio

Guy Michelle Me at Corning

Pigment in glaze room

Reclaimed Colors

Get better results in your studio Today.

When you feel confident about your work and you are solid in your self concept as an artist, you stop worrying about how long the painting takes, or when you will “make it.” Instead, you focus on what you know is working. You allow time for your process to unwind. You let go of all the chatter. This is what you will create for yourself in Growth Studio - the unwavering belief in yourself as an artist so that you make art that matters to you. Click here to join.

  • This is an amazing and exciting conversation! John does beautiful abstract work and I am so intrigued with his path. Your conversation gives me a lot to think about. Thank you!

  • it was great talk from John. i still have those raw powders of Iron Oxide dry and wet pigment paint he sent me to tryout on my MONOCHROME drawings. those earth natural color resembles very much the pre-Inca pottery that the early culture of the Peru used to make.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}