Artist spotlight


Meet Sadé DuBoise, visual storyteller, acrylic painter, and orator of the Black experience in the Pacific Northwest.

“I view my work as sociopolitical by exploring the experiences of multi-racial people - predominantly African-Americans and our experiences and connectedness to nature through visual storytelling. I dispel the notion that Black people fear the great outdoors or prefer urban settings to nature by painting portraits of African-Americans in the great outdoors of Oregon.”

Watch her in action below.


We recently spoke with Sade to learn more about her inspiration, process, and work.

Can you please tell me your name and where you are from…

My name is Sadé (Sha-Day) DuBoise and I’m based out of Portland, OR.

Can you tell us a bit about your work?

I’m a self taught visual artist making work using acrylics in heavy body, soft body, and gouache. I’ve found myself predominantly using Liquitex’s Acrylic Gouache products with Liquitex Soft Body and paint pens.

I’m Oregon born, having grown up in St. Johns/N. Portland, with a deep appreciation for the great outdoors and biodiversity of Oregon. I view my work as sociopolitical by exploring the experiences of multi-racial people - predominantly African-Americans and our experiences and connectedness to nature through visual storytelling. I dispel the notion that Black people fear the great outdoors or prefer urban settings to nature by painting portraits of African-Americans in the great outdoors of Oregon. A lot of the backgrounds I paint are places I’ve visited personally in Oregon while hiking and backpacking. I focus on portraiture with an affinity for capturing Black women in all their glory, beauty, and vulnerability.

I’ve recently gone full-time in my artistic practice, having built a supporting base and resonating style since April 2017, through my practice Sade DuBoise Studio. Recently, I’ve been selected to paint the historic portrait of Justice Nelson, the first African-American to sit on the Oregon Supreme Court, for the North Clackamas Adrienne C. Nelson high school, opening Fall 2021. In December 2020, I was selected as a Regional Arts & Cultural Council Support Beam resident and grantee, where I was able to paint the piece “Mother of Judah”, which is now acquired into their portable art collection. I’ve also been selected as an Arnold Schnitzer Museum of Art BLM artist grantee, where I am currently painting a 30”x40” work inspired by Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”. For the next step in my artist career I’ve applied to BFA programs in Oregon. I’m looking to accept my offer to the Pacific Northwest College of Art, starting in the Fall of 2021!

Almost daily I paint a 4x6” portrait for $100. I am a part of a Black Portland Group on Facebook with people always looking for original artwork. However, their budget is generally $50-100. Finding original artwork at that price comes with a lot of scoffing at the collectors end. So I came up with mini originals, which take me about 1-3 hours for me to complete. Offering these pieces at $100 allows making collecting original art more affordable and accessible for lower-income budgets.

What was the first piece of work that really impacted you and made you consider becoming an artist? Who was the artist?

The first piece that really impacted me was “Untitled (Lovers)” by Kerry James Marshall. When I saw the piece, I realized I hadn’t seen Black people in art before. I loved his palette for painting dark skin, of Black people in different everyday situations. His work made me want to paint so I could tell visual stories about Black people living in the Pacific Northwest. Other artists that inspired me as a teenager were local artist Arvie Smith and renowned artist Kehinde Wiley.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

For my portraits, I find tons of inspiration from the several boards I have curated on Pinterest. These include “Black Women”, “Black Men”, and “Women”. I have a variety of boards of artists, art, and techniques I’m inspired by. I also am deeply connected to my Instagram, where I also save posts with artists, paintings, and models that inspire my work. When it comes to portraits, I tend to favor a certain look - often the model is looking at the camera (or viewer), with a look that shows vulnerability or fierceness or softness that I’m myself feeling at the moment.

For my landscapes, I gather all my favorite pictures I’ve taken myself during hiking, backpacking, and camping trips throughout Oregon. I also have a landscape board on Pinterest I visit a lot for inspiration for my backgrounds.

Do you have a particular plan/routine when you start painting? Or would you say that you have a routine in your creative process, or is it more organic?

Lately I’ve been painting a lot of 4x6” paintings, so I’ll describe my routine with these.

I’ll start by looking at my inspo boards to figure out what portrait/landscape combo I’m going to paint. Then I’ll prep the canvas by using gesso/heavy gesso on heavy watercolor paper. I’ll tooth the gesso with a palette knife if I want any texture. Once that dries I’ll sketch the piece. I start in the background and move forward to the portrait. Usually it goes sky, horizon, middle ground, foreground, face (eyes, nose, mouth, then rest of face going from eyebrows, bridge of nose, cheeks, chin, sides of the face and forehead), body, clothes, and hair last. I paint using color intuitively, whatever my eye gravitates towards, I use that color straight out of the tube. Other times, I use an assortment of colors on my palette. With this process I take about 1-3 hours.

How has your work evolved this year? Have you had to adapt in response to COVID-19?

The demand for my work increased with the onset of COVID-19. I find more supporters following my work as they are online more. The increase of demand launched me into full-time with my art practice and allowed me to quit my full-time job on December 30th, 2020. While COVID-19 has been different for everyone, it’s allowed me to finally follow through in becoming a full-time practicing artist. Before COVID-19, I was working full-time (a lot of times overtime) and working on building my art practice at the same time. Working a 50 hour week and then turning around to churn out a 40 hour painting (Zanele) included a bunch of sleepless nights. It wasn’t fun. I pretty much did this for the last three years of my practice as I grew my supporting base and obtained projects and commissions. Now I’m free to just paint and take on more art commissions and projects. I get to create artwork that deeply resonates with my supporters daily, that means the world to me.

How does the environment around you impact your work - do the things you encounter in your day to day feed into your paintings? How so?

I used to be an emotionally charged artist, sometimes I still am. My first major work in my practice was actually a piece in response to some traumatic news in my family (Umnia Vera). It changed my whole style, which resonated with so many people. I say I used to be an emotionally charged artist because now that I am a full-time practicing artist, I cannot decide when or when not to paint due to my feelings. I was actually scared to become a full-time artist because of this. Or I would self-sabotage, so I would have to work full-time and build my art practice at the same time (which didn’t allow me to take on more commissions and projects). Now, I paint almost every day. Everyday, I am working on my practice. It is actually releasing, because I’m not stopping myself from putting my artwork out into the world.

Yes! The things I encounter in the day feed into my paintings. For instance, if I get a beautiful shot during my run, a hike or backpacking, I’ll use this as a background in my painting. Going through Pinterest or Instagram gives me inspiration for the portrait I’ll paint.

You recently moved into a new studio pace. What has that transition been like?

Moving into a new studio space has been an amazing experience! I love the location of the space (near downtown, Portland), which is right next to PushDot Studio where I get all of my captures done. With the recent snowstorm, I brought an overnight pack of materials from my studio and currently am working from home. I head to my studio about three-four times a week to package and ship orders.

Due to COVID-19, the restrooms are closed in the space, so I don’t stay in the studio long. I’m mainly using the space to pick up materials, store new paintings, and package shipments until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. I look forward to being in the studio space full-time!

All of my bigger projects, such as the Justice Nelson portrait, are being painted in the studio.

What do you find are some of the best things about being an artist?

As an artist I get to share a portal into beauty. Depending on the piece, I can have a deep conversation with an admirer whose life has been impacted. That’s crazy and so fulfilling!

Art transforms people’s lives. It’s like a portal through which beauty pours. As one of my favorite modern day philosophers said, “That’s why we put frames around paintings, to keep the beauty stuck in the painting because you don’t want it leaking out all over the house, it’s bad enough that it’s right there in front of you telling you how things could be but they aren’t”. Jordan Peterson also said this about art that I deeply resonate with, “Everything is worth looking at deeply even though you don’t have time to do it. It’s a window into the realm of reality that’s outside of your casual glance. Engage with beauty. It serves as a reminder that you are connected to something that’s beyond your comprehension”.

As a full-time artist, I love reclaiming my sense of self and time. I have a beautiful connection to my body now with rest, sleep, and creativity. I work all throughout the day, but it’s incorporated into my day that is flexible and works with the other aspects and facets of my life.

What do you find most challenging about being an artist?

Saying no to commissions and projects, whether it’s because I don’t have the capacity to take it on or I don’t resonate with the concept. I’m finding that I don’t resonate much with private commissions. It’s beautiful when someone believes in your work enough to pay you to paint a piece they want to see come to life. It’s beautiful to bring their vision to life. But it comes with its faults. It takes me longer to work on a private commission because I find myself in my head more. I have a hard time meeting someone’s “perfection”. When during the same time I could be working on my own work I have no reservations about - I just paint.

The other challenge I fought with for a while was whether to become a full-time artist or stay part-time while working a full-time job. It was hard for me to validate myself as an artist. I had people around me who said I shouldn’t do this full-time. Now I have more time, flexibility, and am compensated more as an artist than with my full-time job.

What advise would you give to artists just starting out?

What do you resonate with? For me it’s Oregon landscape and portraiture. When I would jog through the Wildwood trails or go hiking and backpacking, I would feel calm and centered. I wanted to bring this to collector’s busy homes, offices and working areas. I wanted them to be able to take a pause and reflect on the piece(s). I wanted them to feel a moment of relaxation. Through portraits, I am able to make African-Americans the central focus and tell a visual story of perseverance, beauty, and vulnerability. So find what you resonate with, then go with that. Sketch it, paint it, or use whatever medium you have access to to get your ideas out of your head.

Start with cheap materials so you can experiment. I started off using $1 paints from Michaels Art, now I exclusively use professional Liquitex paints. The last thing you’d want to do is purchase high quality materials and then realize art or the type of work you’re experimenting with isn’t for you (believe me, I did this with $500 worth of oil pastels - which I haven’t touched in about a year or know when I’ll every get to learning that material).

Validate yourself. Once you call yourself an artist, you are one. Now make. Be consistent. Keep at it. Build a solid portfolio of work (took my three years). Start a separate page where you post your work. Figure out how to price your work, so when someone asks to purchase a piece, you can respond to their request.

Do you have an upcoming project you could share with us?

Of course! I am currently working on a call for art submission from the Regional Art and Cultural Council towards their portable public art collection. Pieces will be publicly accessible on the 7th floor of the Vanport Building in Downtown, Portland. I’m taking this opportunity to paint four large scale paintings of Black men who have roots in the Portland metro area.

In 1948, there was a flood that washed away the WWII housing project, Vanport. Vanport at its height housed 20,000 people and was considered the second largest city in Oregon. It was seen as undesirable to live in because of the high African-American population. Redlining and housing discrimination was in full effect within the city of Portland, making it the only space Black residents could reside. It was so undesirable that the Housing Authority of Portland wanted to dismantle Vanport altogether, which would put 20,000 people out on the street with nowhere to relocate.

This stems from Portland racist history - when Oregon was admitted to the US in 1859 it was the only state whose constitution explicitly forbade Black people from living, working, or owning property within its borders. Until 1926, it was illegal for Black people to even move into the state. Black men and women began arriving in Portland by the thousands to work on the ships as White males were drafted and plucked from the shipyard. Within a matter of years there wasn’t enough space for African-American’s in the redline area.

On May 25th, 1948, both the Columbia and Willamette Rivers reached eight feet above flood levels. Officials in Vanport patrolled the dikes and didn’t issue warnings to Vanport resident’s. On May 30th, after residents were told not to worry about the dikes, they didn’t hold. In a day the city was flooded - Black residents were left defenseless, with many dying and all residents being displaced.

Because of this history, I feel an obligation to submit my artwork towards the building and am excited to create pieces that may be a part of the building exhibition. The piece’s composition would be most like Zanele or Mother of Judah.


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