Art: The anchor of her life

April 18, 2018

Art became an outlet for Sara Underwood at a time when her mother’s depression led to substance abuse; and the instability of moving across the country multiple times left her emotionally isolated.

Underwood, a 17-year-old Live Oak High senior, is months away from taking advantage of a full-ride scholarship to the California College of the Arts in Oakland and keeps the memory of when drawing provided a semblance of stability.

“When I got to that point in my life, when everything was going down, I couldn’t focus or process things,” Underwood said. “I was really emotional, and I didn’t know how to process those emotions. The only way I was able to relate was to draw things out. It was venting, complete venting, but it was better than being an angry and destructive person.”

Underwood said for roughly the first decade of her life, the family moved from Yuba City, Anaheim, Maryland, San Diego, Tennessee and then to Florida. It was in Florida when Underwood said her mother’s depression and substance abuse peaked and her home life all but deteriorated.

It was around this same time that Underwood, between the ages of 9 and 12, said the only friends she could find were in cartoons on TV. She said no matter where she ended up living or the state of her home life, she just needed to find Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.

“They were always in the same place, they never changed,” Underwood said. “That was the stability in my life. Those shows made me happy, they made me feel appreciated and cared about in some odd way. I wanted to get to a point where I could help people feel the way I did, so that someday, something I made would inspire or make some sad and lonely kid like me feel better.”

In 2012, Underwood’s grandparents intervened and brought the family to Live Oak.

Underwood’s passion for art continued.

Elizabeth Dolbec-Oliveras, art teacher at Live Oak High School, said she has had the chance to witness Underwood grow as an artist.

“I try to be a mentor to her and listen to what her goals are and attempt to help her achieve those goals,” Dolbec-Oliveras said.

Dolbec-Oliveras said for most students who demonstrate incredible talent, she employs a hands-off approach where she provides some instruction but not in a way that is too overbearing.

The philosophy appears to match Underwood’s process, which she relates to solving a puzzle.

Though the style varies between mediums, the process of seeing the finished product in her mind and working toward that image remains the same. Underwood said she has come to welcome the process, which at times does not end with what she originally imagined.

Underwood has had the opportunity to show a number of her works in public galleries and will participate in an art show at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

Underwood said she plans to pursue a degree in animation and hopes to create an animated series for children someday.