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Sarah Z Short: For the Love of Paper

Sarah's Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Z. Short is a collage artist and printmaker who creates from her Driftaway studio in the woods of Rhode Island. Her background as an English teacher may explain her love of books, from the covers to the well-turned pages. 

The tactile touch of paper and wooden type appeals to her as she combines found paper and ephemera, repurposing the stories of the past in her contemporary art practice. 

Sarah loves the ragged edges of a worn book cover, the marks of time left by readers from the past, and can often be found rummaging through forgotten scraps of paper on shelves in basements for materials long forgotten or needed. The finding can be as engaging as the making, with each unique piece influencing the composition's path.


Sarah had art in her bones but started her professional life as a middle school English teacher. “When I was in the classroom, I would always bring art projects as part of what I was doing, and often it was collage. So I think that probably got me started, a few collage classes that I took. And then during the COVID years, I needed a creative outlet and that ended up being collage. I just learned that you could tear up books and turn them into collage material and once I wrapped my head around that I haven't stopped.”

Sarah Z Short collage artwork


For the Love of Paper

As a collage artist, there is one medium that dominates Sarah's life. “I'm always hunting for paper,” she says, “I have my go-to places for books and ephemera. And I just collected it all, and I decide if I want to rip it up based on how old it is, and if there's any value. If it's an old book, I will usually look up the value online before I cut into it, just in case it's really valuable. But a lot of times, they are just so beautiful as objects that it goes onto the shelf, and I won't touch it. Over time I've gotten more comfortable with just getting a stack of books, flipping through them and then deciding that they're all going to get torn up and reused.” 

Books aren't the only sources of paper that Sarah explores. She explains, “I also am interested in finding other types of papers, like player piano rolls, for example, those are fascinating. Maps, I recently acquired a very large quantity of bound plate maps that are fabric on one side, and then the map on the other. Those are what I'm using in my current work because the fabric peels off so that I have the map and the fabric to use separately.”

The Story in the Materials

As a former English teacher and creative writer, reading what is on the papers Sarah finds is a given. “I find these pieces of paper and will always read them,” she says, “I found this wonderful letter, for example, where I assume it was a man who was writing this explanation of how a school had burned down. I think he phrased it, ‘I know things ended badly between us, but I thought you wanted to know this.’ So of course, my mind starts thinking, ‘Okay, so what if now she's writing back to him after he shares this news? And where does the story go?’ 

So yes, I do sometimes continue the story that I see in the materials but I cover them up when I am making the piece because I don't want the words to distract the person who's looking at the collage. I also think that it's not kind to the person who wrote that letter so long ago, to put it into a piece for people to look at when it was supposed to be private to begin with.”

Sarah Z Short collage paper artwork



Sarah doesn’t plan out her compositions in advance. “I start with a piece of paper,” she says, “glue that down, and then it just builds from there. If I find something that has that little folded corner, then I'll try to either find another element like that or create it myself so that it bounces through the composition.”

This doesn’t mean everything is random though, Sarah uses the idea of a grid to build her compositions. “I find that's a great way to have students understand the connections from one side of the composition to the other. I always come back to that in my piece, finding how my eye moves from one section to this section, to this section and how I can connect with similar pieces to move them through that journey and then playing with the differences to not make it super balanced, which I have a tendency to want. And when I look back at my older work, they are really, really balanced. So you're trying to offset that a little bit now, to make them more interesting.”

Sarah begins many of her pieces by printing with vintage wooden type blocks on the rescued pages from discarded books. The prints are then incorporated into collage compositions to render the original letter forms unrecognisable. 

Sarah focuses on the spaces in between. Bold, graphic, structured, layered, ordered yet playful, sliced and torn narratives from the past are reconstructed. The motion of making is the inspiration, and each unique piece influences the composition's path, reimagining how the discarded and overlooked can be beautiful again.

Sarah Z Short artist - paper collage artwork

About Sarah Z. Short

Sarah Z. Short is a collage artist and printmaker from the woods of Rhode Island. Her background as an English teacher explains her love of books, which she also enjoys using as the primary material for her collages. 

Sarah works with found paper and ephemera, utilising the stories of the past in her contemporary art. She begins many of her pieces by printing with wooden type on pages rescued from discarded books. The prints are then abstracted in her collage compositions to make the original letter forms unrecognisable. Her interest is in the shapes and white space she can make with the typography. 


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