A starving artist is somone who sacrifices for his or her art, says Sara Zin.
She knows this, because she was one. Literally.
A UW graduate, artist, designer and Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) recipient, Zin moved to New York with her husband, working relentlessly to achieve what she thought was her dream: "the ideal" artist life. But gradually, her basic needs—eating and sleeping—began to take a backseat to her busy schedule.
"Working all the time is a recipe for productivity, but it's not a recipe for happiness," Zin says. "I had built a wall as an artist. It made me question: am I an artist? I didn't really have a voice."
So in this moment of distress, Zin decided to enter the kitchen.
"I wanted to get back to my childhood and understood who I was," she says. "So I decided to learn how to cook. In hindsight, I can look back to the point when I made the decision to now, this cookbook, and I see a linear progression. It changed the way I approached life."
Cue the serendipitous moments.
Zin, who now lives in Seattle, created the Starving Artist illustrated cookblog on Tumblr in March of 2014, which featured family recipes and her original watercolor food paintings. She knew the idea of art combined with food had potential, so she found an agent and began searching for possible publishers. In April of 2015, she received a book offer; last month, The Starving Artist Cookbook (Countryman Press, $22.95) was released, featuring her recipes and more than 90 of her original illustrations.
"[With the cookbook], painting was fun for me again, which was something I didn't expect."
1. What has been the most rewarding part of the process?
The most rewarding part was reconnecting with my art. It's a part of who I am; it's essential to me. Being able to combine something that I love—cooking—and my art was this giant a-ha moment. Being able to paint the food was really healing.
Zin's original artwork—handpainted watercolor images featured in her cookbook.
2. What is your favorite thing to cook?
I love making Jan's Cookies [from the book]. I make those once a month, at least. I go to those cookies whenever I don't know what to do.
3. What has been your biggest kitchen mishap?
My husband's mother was visiting, and Piotr [my husband] loves the Italian Pear Cake recipe, so I wanted to make that for his mother. It calls for baking powder, and I used baking soda. For the cookies, I use baking soda, so it really varies from recipe to recipe. The cake was inedible. We couldn't serve it. I think [Piotr's mother] might have thought we ate it all ourselves. I've learned my lesson from that!
4. What is your favorite home-cooked meal?
Eggplant Parmesan. It's my mom's recipe, and I really love it.
5. What do you love about eating in Seattle?
I think Seattle is the best food city. In New York and L.A. there are amazing restaurants, but the difference is that in Seattle, if you want something tasty, and to experience something wonderful, you can do it way easier than in New York in L.A. Also, the prices for what you get here are so much better. You're able to get these really amazing flavors and cool dishes that in New York would cost three times at much. Also, the foodies here are very passionate. It's not just a trend or a phase. It's a passion that is more authentic.
6. For you, what is the connection between food and art?
Well, they're my favorite things to do! They really lend themselves to each other, especially in a cookbook. You want these inspiring, beautiful images to entice you to make the food, so I liked the idea of combining something very visual with something tactile, like a recipe.
Zin's original artwork as featured in The Starving Artist Cookbook.
7. What are your goals for the future? More cooking? More art?
I'm working more on my illustration career, and doing a lot of food work for magazines. That's something I'm really excited about. But I also really miss oil painitng and portraiture. I have an art studio at the Gasworks Gallery, and I'm hoping to spend a lot more time there. The break was really important for me, to take any expectations from myself. Now I can go back to enjoying the painting process.
Sara Zin will be speaking and signing copies of her book at Elliott Bay Book Co. on July 1.