Sarah Ella Cole founded Delta Girl Frames in 2009, creating handmade, custom frames for nearly six years before finally selling the business. “After I sold my framing company,” she says, “I took a whole year off … I just didn’t want a brush in my hand for a hot minute. We were just renovating our house, and I just was putting out to the universe — what is next for me?”
Sarah Ella’s question was answered, and her art hiatus came to an end when her son’s school called about their annual auction. “I’d always donated like a $1,000 worth of handmade, hand-painted frames,” she says.
After she painted a few pieces for the school auction, she knew she had found her calling. “It just made me happy that it kind of just happened out of a need,” says Sarah Ella. “And I really didn’t have any pressure with it. But I did miss painting, and I loved doing it. And luckily, it just kind of caught on.”
She purchased a bunch of supplies, then headed home to put brush to canvas. Unsurprisingly, painting came easily, and her creative juices began flowing. “I think the curve went faster because of painting the frames for six years,” she says. “I kind of understood the color wheel and mixing of colors … that, I think, sped up my self-taught process by a lot of years, [as well as] being very familiar with making my own colors and knowing what palettes [to use] — what’s going to jive and what’s not. I hadn’t done anything in almost two years, but it was just right. I don’t think I realized how much I missed it.”
That experience caused Sarah Ella to mull over the reason she sold Delta Girl Frames in the first place. “I think that the reason I was so ready to sell it was that it was such a repetitive creativity,” she says. “If a frame was successful, [that was] awesome, but then I would sell 50 of them. And by the time you paint 50 of the same thing, it’s more like manual labor.”
What now is a full-time career started off with a few small art shows Sarah Ella put on with the help of her friends. “The first year,” she recalls, “was friends of mine that had been owners of my frames in the past who knew that creativity inside of me. And once I started painting on canvas, their minds were like … ‘Of course — this makes perfect sense! I want to host you a show.'”
It was at one of those shows thrown by a friend that Sarah Ella met several future customers, including interior designers. Those connections, combined with her savviness in business and social media from running her framing company — as well as getting into The Harding Art Show during her second year of painting — helped Sarah Ella get to where she is now. Her work can be found in galleries in Nashville, where it all began, as well as in Houston, Birmingham, and New Orleans, where she and her family reside today.
“I use a little bit of everything,” she says of her abstract creations. “I use oil, acrylic, and oil pastels. I use a lot of plaster and modeling paste to build a lot of texture. I really will throw every tool in the book at it. I mean, there’s no medium for me that is off limits.”
Regardless of what each composition calls for, all of Sarah Ella’s pieces have a distinct style. “My aesthetic is always going to be a neutral palette that is very geometric, but it always has color,” she says. “I do play with color a lot, but I think the colors that I choose are neutral, like a blush, a green, or the light blue eyes of the sky. Those [hues] are like bringing nature in your home, bringing the outside in.”
The world around her not only influences the colors Sarah Ella applies, but also the brushstrokes she makes. “My inspiration is usually drawn through architecture or physical objects in nature,” she says. “I see a bunch of seashells and how they’re grouped together or how they overlap each other, or it could be the architecture on a really old building. I see certain shapes in millwork that I can translate to a canvas. [My art] is very layered, very geometric, and I feel like it’s very bold and emotional.”
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Taking a commissioned piece from concept to completion typically takes Sarah Ella six to eight weeks. If she’s working on a new collection, however, that time frame varies widely. “Sometimes [it’s] painfully long,” she says, laughing. “Other times it just comes, and it’s like you have no control over it. When I first moved to New Orleans, I feel like the inspiration was coming very easily because the architecture here is just incredible. It’s one of the oldest cities in the United States and was owned by the French for so long. The colors, the architecture, the moldings, the trim work and every little thing — the inspiration was just out of control. I knew everything I was going to paint for the next nine months was going to be based off this tropical vibe and this cool architecture. And when I know [the overall vibe], I can get 10 pieces done in a month.”
Regardless of how fast or slow the process is for Sarah Ella to complete a work of art, one thing is certain: Being an artist is her true passion, and she’s in it for the long haul. “I could not have ever imagined that I would start a whole other career doing painting,” she says. “It’s wild.”
See more of Sarah Ella’s work HERE.
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