Back to School with MCAD Teaching Specialist Erin Sandsmark


Summer's in Minnesota can feel short, but with a little preparation for fall, and the new school-year, things can seem so much brighter. MCAD Teaching Specialist, painter and visual artist Erin Sandsmark gave us some tips and tricks on how to use the arts to prepare for the new school-year. Thanks Erin!

Acrylic paints and canvases fill my room, my studio, and my classroom, surrounding me in art all the time. Getting back to fall and leaving the summer behind us can feel daunting, especially when looking at the prospect of school.

But there is never a time you can’t be working creatively.

When I was young, I knew I wanted to have art in my life all the time, or at least make art a priority of my life each day. In school, I would color in the margins and take my art projects from my teachers and turn them into something that could help me foster personal interests. Portraits and people fascinated me in my work, and that led to painting bodies and figures that represented the kind of large body that I live in. I found my passions through readings on feminism and understanding my interests with the human body and body politics through art. That has led to the work that I am so drawn to making today, and without having a driving force in my head, I don’t know if I’d be able to make the paintings I do today or be the person I am now. Young artists need to find things they are passionate about and create space for themselves.

The world needs your new ideas, perspectives and artworks.


I want to make a few suggestions for how to foster your creativity while going back to school and work routines this fall. The key to going back to school while maintaining your creative outlet is to always keep a sketchbook, diary, journal, or safe expressive space. Something small for you to keep at school and at home. School can be a time where you can sketch and document your life in and outside the classroom between assignments, or just jotting down thoughts and ideas that inspire you. Use your public or school library to research topics from your classes that you find interesting, and you’ll discover how those topics bleed into your personal art practice. It is so important to take your interests and spin it into your artwork. History, English, economics, and math classes all benefit from your creative mind and your ability to problem solve.


Arts education fosters the type of thinking that goes outside the box, and should be encouraged at all levels.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling stifled or discouraged from making art, take notes of how you’re feeling. Letting yourself write and express those thoughts will spill out in to a creative outlet, even it's not in the visual sense. Brave the new school year with bold thoughts. Write, draw, sing, or paint your way through your thoughts and stress about the tests and papers to come. I continue to come home from a day of teaching inspired by the work of my students, and as educators we hope that you can take something from each class help stimulate you as well. The voice you have is unique, and should be fostered however best fits your personal goals. Don’t let this time of year get you down, just be determined to set aside dedicated time for your art, whatever that looks like.

Go boldly and confidently into the new school year, sketchbook in hand and mind open.

My body has been a source of fascination throughout my life. I have gone through many eras of hate, disregard, and love for the limbs and fat rolls that accompany my body. By exposing my body through painting, each exposure of my flesh became a part of my own personal therapy in dealing with the body I was born with. I have chosen slowly to remove my specific identity from the paintings, cropping in on moments that share a certain truth in my form, and allowing others to project their own experiences on to mine. 


My body is used as a vessel for exploration and manipulation of flesh. I use my hands to grab and mold my figure, understanding how bodies can be acted upon by ourselves and outside forces. My breasts, stomach, and fat squish and move fluidly, and their malleability has been useful in understanding bodily manipulation. Flesh has turned into material, painting into subject. The work is all about how painting and the sensuality of the medium bleeds into the representation of form and body. I have chosen to strip away the formality of painting, to expose the canvas and true materials I am working with. The canvas hangs un-stretched on a wall, swaying and bending like a skin all on it's own. The figure dissipates at the edges, allowing for the raw canvas to be in conversation with the form itself. 
Each painting is large and unapologetic in their scale and vibrancy. The un-stretched mass of canvas put forth and presented to the viewer is asking to be seen. I am exposing my body in a way that is directive and decidedly in the face of the person viewing it. Each painting envelops the viewer in my flesh, causing each person to move and experience it with me. My hand is visible in the paint, and each mark I have made brings each viewer closer to the experience of my body. I cause confrontation with my body, and it is that moment that they begin to move beyond my identity and into the world.

See more of Erin's work here!