Artist Spotlight: Her Dirty Dishes
Her Dirty Dishes
Sara Karola Wilcoxon
I first met Sara at Art Fight, a monthly local event during which artists live paint and beer-drinkers are invited to vote for their favorite pieces. She was warm, friendly, and quickly befriended my boyfriend and I. I immediately loved her work and look forward to seeing her at local craft fairs and events.
I've wanted to interview her for a while, and February, the month of "love" seemed like the perfect time. Sara (and her art) is all about self-acceptance, body equality, and inclusivity.
Dani: Tell me about when you first started making art. What did you start out doing and when?
Sara: My original dream was to have an online webcomic that illustrated my diaries from high school, and it was called Sneezing with Your Mouth Full, because it was completely awkward and terribly embarrassing and horrible. My first comic was actually about my coming out story, where I’d had my heart ripped out by the first girl that I’d ever been with, who’s actually my fiancé now… But I started just drawing randomly, and then I thought about doing the webcomic, and it kind of evolved into doing cartoon copies for commissions. So people would ask me to draw them Angry Beavers, or Daria, you know, anything like that, and I did a lot of copycat art where I was just specifically copying other people’s art, and feeling really guilty about it. And then I had a best friend that we had an art studio with and he’d asked me why I don’t ever copy from real life images, so instead of copying a picture of Garfield, to actually google a picture of an orange cat and to draw the orange cat, and, kind of just went crazy from there which was really nice.
That kind of drawing of penises and vaginas turned into drawing porn, and drawing porn helped me avoid drawing faces, and now that I’m becoming a little bit more in tune and now that I’m practicing more I’m kind of getting into drawing faces, which is kind of nice and surprising.
Dani: Yeah, I would imagine that faces are very hard, especially human faces.
Sara: Yeah, human faces. Animal faces are easy for me—and fun, but human faces are hard. But also I don’t have a huge interest in doing it, if I can avoid it I’d prefer to; my style is actually very faceless and that's how it started when I was doing the webcomic, oval heads, with, you know, hairstyles and outfits that match the specific person, so the person that was reading the comic, if they were the actual character (because of course, it was about my friends and my life) they always recognized themselves, but other people who weren’t part of the comic and weren’t the characters really enjoyed it because they could associate with those characters and they wouldn’t have to be like, well if only the nose was a little bit bigger. It was really cool to be able to create something that was so relatable, but also so anonymous.
Dani: Yeah, I like that. So how did that turn into Her Dirty Dishes?
Sara: Like I said, I was doing a lot of copycat artwork, but I knew I really liked to draw and I really liked to paint, and I’ve always been super connected to Self Serve, and Pornatopia, and that community in general. You know, standing up for Albuquerque’s rights to enjoy porn in public, through Pornatopia and through The Guild [Cinema]. When we decided that we thought maybe doing an art show would be really cool, I was the only artist or artsy person on the committee, so I volunteered to run the art show and to actually direct it and curate it myself. And so when I did that I decided that I wanted to, of course, showcase some of my own artwork. And as I was receiving artwork I was getting a lot of really cool pieces: I was getting a lot of photography, I was getting a lot of watercolor, I was getting a lot of canvas, but I wanted something different, and I wanted to do something different because it was my job to make a variance on the walls. So, because I was in charge of what we were taking I had the ability to kind of know what we needed and what we didn’t have, and what we had too much of. I was actually at my grandma’s house, and she was dusting her decorative plates, and I was like, maybe I’ll try that, and I did some research on paints that were food safe or paints that were just, you know, permanent on dishes that had been recycled and it just kind of exploded from there. So I painted twelve dishes with different pornographic images on them, and I sold eight that night but commissioned over 40. It was nuts.
Dani: Wow, that’s crazy!
Sara: It was crazy, and it was really exciting, and it was really busy. The paint that I use actually comes in little paint pots and it’s very similar to an acrylic, but at the time I was only using paint pens. So I wasn’t mixing color, I wasn’t actually brushing, it was like very, beginner. But it still went really well, and it just kind of became the thing that I was known for, which was nice and unexpected and then from there I was able to, you know, put myself into more shows and open an Etsy shop which started to do really well for me.
Dani: Yeah. So, hi. (Spoken to Lionel, Sara’s extremely affectionate cat.)
Sara: Is he biting you?
Dani: Yes. [Laughs] Gently.
Dani: So one of the things that I really like about your art is that you’re very sex and body-positive, obviously, but I noticed in your coupon book is there’s a little bit about consent, and desire; is that something that you try to portray in your work? Or how do you convey that?
Sara: I do try really hard, in doing the pornographic artwork that I specifically do, it’s almost scary for me to make art because I’m white, and I’m a female, and so I have to actively try to—and just in doing any kind of pornographic research, for example, right now, if you typed in pornographic images into google, you’re going to get all white women who are thin and "beautiful" and blonde. And you’re going to get a lot of bleached assholes, and you’re going to get a lot of super toned, white men with, you know, circumcised penises. The amazing friends that I have are all really open and really honest and totally willing to tell me, ‘You know I actually really like big, uncut black cock,’ and ‘I really like big girls,’ or, ‘I am a big girl, and I want to see more big girls fucking, like that’s really awesome and really nice. But on top of that I’m almost playing with fire because I don’t want people to see my artwork, or I don’t want someone to see my BDSM work, or I don’t want somebody to see the porn and be like, ‘This is amazing, and I really like it, and it turns me on,’ and that’s an amazing compliment that I get often, but it can veer into, ‘So I raped this person,’ or ‘I forced my mom to eat dinner off of this plate with these guys fucking,’ and it can turn into this scary, non consensual way that my art is viewed,
Dani: Has that happened?
Sara: It’s a joke that my dishes are good with uncomfortable meals, with, like, your in-laws or your bosses, and it hasn’t happened yet that I know of, but just in knowing the society that we live in, where it’s super easy to get, super, you know, scary, and to be afraid, I don’t want, my art to do that. I feel like my pornographic work definitely evokes different reactions, whereas when I do my pet portraits no one’s ever going to look at that and grab their partner and physically put them there and start a conversation about sex. And that does happen, so when we sell at Effex [Nightclub], or I have the porn hanging on the wall, or I have the paddles with, the BDSM, you know, images on them, people will physically pick it up or shove it in someone’s face. And sometimes they’re cool, and it’s, you know, great for a laugh, but other times it’s like, I don’t like that. So, the way I kind of counteract that is to always say something about consent and to thank people for being consensual, I don’t offer to bring my work to the table unless I’ve already made sure, are you okay with this material, are you okay with this? For example, in the coupon book—I bought several sexy coupon books and the research of doing my own coupon book, and none of them ever said, ‘I have this coupon, but it doesn’t entitle me to anything.’ So, of course, a lot of them were also very silly; one of the coupons that actually made me really mad was a coupon to end an argument. If somebody gave me a coupon to end an argument when I’m having feelings, I’m going to burn your house down. It’s insensitive and it’s terrible, but also there were a lot of coupons for ‘Make Me Dinner in the Nude,’ and it’s like, yeah you have this coupon, but just because you have the coupon doesn’t mean I have to take my clothes off and make you macaroni and cheese. So, it’s important to me to know, like, you have this coupon, that, quote-unquote, guarantees you a blowjob, but if your partner doesn’t want to give you a blowjob, you don’t get a blowjob. And that’s just the situation. If you wanna try piss play, and your partner’s into piss play that’s awesome, but at any point, both you or your partner have the ability, and the right, and the reason to say, ‘Nah, I don’t want it. Never mind.’ Like I said, because of the art that I make it’s my job to, kind of, help with that, and to start the communication. Like, you have these greeting cards that have a penis that’s tied up in rope and it’s beautiful and it’s pretty, but the person you’re giving it to may not—you may love this, but the person you want to give it to may not.
Dani: Right; we’re not all into the same things.
Sara: Exactly. And so, it’s cool that, like I said, you can start that communication, but I try to do my best to overcompensate by being like, hey you can buy this, but just so you know, make sure that your audience is willing to accept it. And, I mean, it’s not always great for business, because if I say something like that, someone might change their mind, and that’s happened before, but I’d rather someone buy my art and to be able to display it in their house where they know they’re going to enjoy it, than for somebody to be like, ‘Yeah this is really cool, and I bought it because the artist was cool, but now I have to hide it because I have a five-year-old at home.’
Dani: What’s your most memorable moment or achievement?
Sara: My most memorable moment or achievement! I'm so honored and excited to have been nominated for Albuquerque Gay Pride's Outstanding Artist award! If I win, I'll be the first female to win! Even if I don't, I'm honored still to be considered, since I paint such an adult collection. Also, I'm in the works of being the go-to artists for the Rape Crisis Center, where I'll be designing their t-shirt, and some other consent themed items. We'll be making materials to offer kids in middle and high schools, showing them how to make healthy consensual relationship and connections! I'm also very excited about that!
Dani: Can you think of a moment or an event where you came into true self-love?
Sara: That’s hard. [Laughs] I love whenever I’m vending or selling, I will see people, whether it be a big girl, or a really skinny gay man, or a guy with an uncut cock, or, you know, a girl with a partial mastectomy—It’s really cool to represent people and have them associate with it in a way that’s just, really happy, and thankful, and loving, and it’s really fun to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s fisting, and it’s really sexy, and I don’t have to be alone anymore because I think that fisting is sexy and all my friends think it’s weird,’ or ‘I’m afraid to let anybody know that’s really sexy and you do it for me,’ a lot of people will recognize me or see my work and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I follow you on Instagram, can I please touch your hand,’ or ‘Can I please give you a hug?’
Dani: Oh my gosh, really? That’s so cute!
Sara: Yeah, it’s the best. When I’m doing Dirty Dishes and people are able to get vulnerable, it’s so amazing to know that I am building this communication system and this support system. And it makes me feel really good. Which almost makes me feel selfish, to be like, ‘You’re so excited!’ That makes me feel great, and I love that, and it makes me feel really good. And every time I create something new, or I find something new, a new kink or a new fetish or a new type or something that I haven’t done, it always makes me feel really good. To know that someone else is like, ‘I have purple hair too,’ and purple hair is definitely not a kink or anything like that, but it’s a way to be different. Like, ‘Oh, you know, my penis is really small, and you make it look sexy and I like that,’ and it just feels really good, but it’s nice to know that we’re all having issues with whatever it is, like, we all have insecurities. Like, ‘Oh, I don’t want anyone to ever know I’m into this sexual thing because it’s really embarrassing and I’m probably a freak.’ And then, to see them walk up to my wall like, ‘I love this.’ And I feel really good about it, and I am so excited, and I’m so happy that you like this word and I like this word, and you drew this, and this is me, and it’s amazing. It feels good.
Honestly, my partner is amazing, and lovely.
Dani: What about self-care? Do you have self-care routines that you do to keep yourself healthy?
Sara: I’m working on it, I’m actually terrible at self-care, because I want to make all of the things all the time, and I also take pride in, you know, keeping the house clean, and making dinner for Casey, and just making sure everything here is taken care of, so my self care is actually last on the list. But I really enjoy taking a bath and drinking a beer, while I’m doing that. Usually, I will put on a podcast or a really good audiobook, and I will go to Lush, because I’m obsessed, and get whatever things they want to sell me, and they all know me by the girl who draws porn, and sometimes I bring them coloring books. I’ll do that and just take a bath and kind of, listen to a book or read a book. I’ve actually been super into audiobooks lately because I can multitask while doing that. Yeah, beer bath is probably my favorite.
Dani: Do you ever lack for inspiration or ideas?
Sara: I was having problems with it when I was just doing Dirty Dishes, but then I opened the family-friendly line specifically so I could sell at the Rail Yards [Market] and be at craft sales around town. What we were hoping is that it would kind of be a supplemental income so that if I’m not selling Dirty Dishes, I can sell Pizza Pets, but now I do both of them full time; if I am lacking inspiration in one I’m almost always overflowing in the other. So I haven’t had any problems at all, honestly, I have more inspiration than I have time, so I have just consistent lists of things I want to get done, and things I want to work on, and things I want to build, and things I want to do. I don’t have time to get around to them, but I do keep the list so if there ever is a time where I don’t have anything to do, I can just go back to that list and be like, no, I’m making the Bowie coloring book.
Dani: What would you say to another artist who’s feeling uninspired?
Sara: Get out of your comfort zone and do something that you didn’t think you’d be interested in. I always suggest (which I probably shouldn’t, because it’s technically competition) but I think all of the artists are amazing and we should all support each other. But whenever I hear artists complaining that they’re not making enough money, or they’re not getting enough notice, or they’re not getting enough things, I always kind of tease them and suggest that they draw porn, because no matter what, porn sells and porn makes people laugh, or it makes people uncomfortable, or it makes people feel really good or makes people feel really sexy. But also, there’s just something about going completely outside your norm, and doing something you would never do. So even if you’re just painting porn, or painting a penis, or drawing a penis, or drawing a vagina, or drawing nipples, you don’t necessarily have to share that with the world, but you’re doing something and it’s fun, and it’s kind of a cool way to connect with your own sexy. You get, ‘I think this looks nice,’ or, ‘I took this picture of myself and it looks good,’ and, ‘I’m just going to draw it in my own way,’ and then before you know it, you’re back to drawing cheeseburgers and dinosaurs, and all the things that make you happy.
Dani: Alright, last question. What’s one practice, idea, or mentality someone could implement today to start living a more creative life?
Sara: Just do stuff every single day. It sounds really cliche because I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of podcasts, artwork success podcasts, and everyone is just like, ‘Just do every day, just journal every day, just draw every day,’ and it sounds just like a blanket statement, like when your stomach hurts, eat a banana and rice. And it feels boring and unauthentic, but even just a little doodle every day feels good. I don’t write in journals. It’s always something that I’m like, ‘I’m going to do that,’ but then never do. I draw all the time, and for me, it was a moment of pride when I could draw a penis without looking at one. And that’s nice, but it’s practice, and it’s just changing things up, and doing things, and practicing different mediums, and taking a couple minutes every day for yourself and draw on a post-it note. 3x3s are huge.