Sandra Christensen turned a passion from her youth into a new career, decades after turning away from it.
Originally from Racine, Wis., Christensen, who lives in Clinton, discovered a love for drawing at an early age for which she now is gaining local recognition.
Christensen became involved with the Unique Boutique, a regional art show entering its 39th year, about 1996 and said she discovered that the art community in the region is very talented.
“They’re all professionals, and they’re just a delight to work with,” Christensen said. “We try to keep it as diversified as possible. It’s very difficult to get into. There’s very good camaraderie.”
Although Christensen has been in charge of coordinating the event in the past, this is her first time as a featured artist for Unique Boutique. Sarah Houde, this year’s featured artist for St. Mary’s County, has been involved with Unique Boutique for about as long as Christensen.
“It’s a really neat group,” Houde said. “We believed in supporting local artists long before it was fashionable.”
Houde, who has been a featured artist before, said that when the group was voting for this year’s show, Christensen seemed a natural choice given her longevity with the group, along with other factors.
“It’s mostly her skill and creativity . . . as an artist,” Houde said. “She’s very skilled, and she’s great at what she does.”
Although she let her passion fall by the wayside, she never entirely forgot it. After almost four decades of not drawing, she took it up again during a vacation she and her husband took to St. Mary’s City about 1991.
“In grade school, I did a couple of competitions in our home town. . . . They were architectural drawings, and I won,” Christensen said. “I didn’t really pursue it in high school, per se, and then when I went on to college, I was more interested in history. That became my number one priority . . . and then I decided I didn’t want to teach, so I ended up in a business career, and I did very well with that. My husband was in the Navy, so I followed him from port to port, and when he retired, we were here, so we decided to stay. We went down to St. Mary’s City, and we spent a week just driving around. Neither of us really realized how much history was here. So the colored pencils came out again.”
Her newly rekindled passion caught Christensen off guard, but she embraced it.
“I said to my friend, ‘I don’t understand why this is just now coming back to me at this point in my life,’ and she said, ‘Well, we had children to raise,’ and that was very true,” Christensen said. “One thing led to another, and I got very into the churches.”
Among Christensen’s first drawings once she started to draw again was of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Avenue. She befriended the pastor at the time, whom she credited with helping her pursue the interest.
For Christensen, a self-described “detail-oriented person,” the creation process for her drawings takes anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the intricacy of the structure and the lighting in the photographs she takes. When working with colored pencils, Christensen, who works solely in this medium, said there is a specific set of challenges.
“It’s not like painting, where you can go back and white something out if you make a mistake,” Christensen said. “On your paper, you’re making an indentation. It’s very hard to cover up. If you make a drastic mistake, you just start over.”
Although she lives in Clinton, much of Christensen’s work focuses on Charles County historic sites. Since that first drawing of Holy Angels, she has gone on to sketch lighthouses and other historic buildings and sites in both the county and the region.
When out in the field scouting new locations to draw, Christensen spends a few hours at a time reviewing a site with a checklist of criteria.
“For me, it’s memorizing why you’re there on the scene,” Christensen said. “I found I was compiling quite a list, so I started taking multiple photographs instead of just one. At any time, I’ve got a backlog of around one or two years worth of things that are on the idea schedule. As much as you memorize why you’re there, it’s not so clear after a year or two, especially having visited other sites in between.”
No site is the same in terms of what Christensen prefers for inspiration. She has found the time of day to make a significant difference in the visit process and will revisit sites to make sure she doesn’t miss a detail or remember something incorrectly.
In the day-to-day, Christensen feels most challenged by her tendency to be overly critical of her own work.
“I think I try to be too much of a perfectionist,” Christensen said. “I get caught up in the details. That’s what I’ve been told. I would have to say that’s probably my biggest problem.”
Aside from drawing churches and regional historic sites, Christensen takes commissions, including some work for embassies in the District and church fundraisers, along with personal work for people.