Off the Wall

Muralist and painter Sandy MacDonald newest collection draws inspiration from an unlikely source


Sandy MacDonald likes to mix it up with her artwork and keep things interesting.
“I get bored doing the same thing, so I just keep adding,” she says. “I just throw another ball into the air.”

Sandy’s repertoire currently includes both residential and commercial mural painting, signs, and lettering, fine art painting, and decorative finishes on furniture walls, ceilings, and floors – but it all started with a bachelor’s in fine arts degree in painting and printmaking from Rhode Island College. She didn’t discover decorative painting, however, until she moved to the Bay Area in 2006.

Sandy, a Smithfield native, began apprenticing for an established decorative painter on the West Coast. She picked up the trade quickly, and by 2008 was earning her own clients. She had finally found a niche; before she had waitressed in Providence, worked at Rag & Bone Bindery, and did painting on the side, but she wasn’t really committed to her art. California brought it all into focus, and she moved back to the Creative Capital in 2012.

Sandy describes her style as “versatile” but also “bold,” citing Lucian Freud and his portrait work as a major influence.

“He really observes, and what he sees is what he puts down,” she notes. “That’s kind of the way I work as well. I don’t delve into myself like other artists… I just really try to get down on canvas what I’m seeing.” She feels that the most important thing for artists is to observe and “really look at things,” although obviously the artist’s mood and personal style will influence his or her work.

Murals on children’s bedroom walls led to vibrant backdrops for Roger Williams Park Zoo’s rainforest installation and other exhibits. Sandy also started doing pet portraits at the request of a friend who admired a painting of her own dog.

“I stopped doing them for a while, then recently did a call out asking, ‘Who wants a pet portrait for Christmas?’” She received seven commission requests.

Although Sandy enjoys portraiture, she finds it most enjoyable to paint subjects who won’t micromanage her work – such as dogs – and recently found creative inspiration in an unlikely place: Her extensive Pez dispenser collection.

A toy lover in general, Sandy didn’t have the heart to throw out the Pez characters she acquired, and neither did her friends – they dropped them off with her instead. The Pez heads inspire the paintings, which all tell a story. Although each vignette is meaningful for her, “I don’t tell people that, because I want them to observe [the painting], to place themselves, and to come up with their own little scenario of what it’s about.”

Sandy’s Toy Portrait series is on display in Warren at the The Collaborative, an artist collective and gallery where she also serves as installation coordinator.