ORLANDO, Fla. – Sabrina Dessalines has a bright and vibrant passion for creating art -- and sometimes she sells it.
Dessalines sold her first piece when she was 12 years old and ever since then, she’s called herself an artist. Today, the Orlando resident commissions pieces and considers herself a small business owner, too.
Her craft started in a studio space in Ft. Myers where the owners would offer classes and access to art supplies. Doubling as a gallery, Dessalines said that’s where she also presented some of her work.
“Art class was always my favorite class,” she said about her humble beginnings as a self-taught artist.
Moving to Orlando in 2016 to attend the University of Central Florida, Dessalines said that’s when she truly started to make an additional income on her work while studying to one day join the medical field. During her time at UCF, she would paint sorority and fraternity paddles, grad caps, jean jackets, portraits, abstract pieces and take on the challenge of specialized pieces from clients.
She said as stressful as running her own brand could be, she knew she couldn’t leave her art behind while taking on a hefty course load studying biomedical sciences.
“It’s a stressful major. It was really hard for me to balance, time management, and whenever I did focus on my art I was so happy and that was such a creative element where I felt less stressed,” she said. “I was like ’I need to make time for this,’ I need to force myself to make sure that I have time to work on something so that I’m not always stressed out.”
That’s when she was inspired to create her brand Art by Ina. She continued to collect commissions, juggled school, a job, or sometimes two and her art. During her time in college, she said she made a few extra hundred dollars a month as she studied to prepare to eventually apply for graduate school.
“The plan right now is to be a physician’s assistant,” she said. “Art is still in the plan. I thought since I didn’t major in it I might want to go to art school in a few years.”
The 22-year-old said due to the coronavirus pandemic, she is taking a year off to apply to PA school and collect direct patient care hours to make her applications more competitive. She said she hopes to care and help others in her future career.
“It would be cool if I was a big-time artist but that’s not what I’m stressed about,” she said. “I’m always going to be painting.”
With her gap year, she said she’s had more time for her art and to focus on building her brand while gaining exposure. Her work so impactful, Dessalines recently was commissioned with a group of other female artists to paint Orlando’s latest mural, a month-long project they wrapped up last week.
“It was a lot of work, especially outside in the Florida heat,” she said. “I’m used to small canvases. I had to really adjust and use like really big paintbrushes and using these little tools that construction workers have like a chalk line. I thought people did murals with ladders and a bucket of paint,” she joked. “That was very naive of me.”
Typically focusing on fine art and portrait pieces, Dessalines was honored to be asked to assist with the large-scale project, painting her first mural.
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My very first mural project smacked in the center of downtown Orlando. I can’t describe how amazing it was for my first mural experience collaborating with an all female crew nonetheless creating this beautiful piece of such an inspiring woman @jenniferhdesire ✨ It was a month long project but we wanted to create something that highlights peace and unity in hope of a bright future to come. I’ve learned so much throughout this process and I couldn’t be more grateful to @maureenhudas & @aquayeti for being such amazing mentors and I can’t wait for future opportunities! Also couldn’t ask for a better group of women to work with 💞 @averyyvalentine @short_queen69 @shainadeciryan You can find this beauty at 814 W Church St, Orlando Fl
Together with a group of five artists, Dessalines brought the piece at 814 West Church Street to life. She said the idea for the bold and vibrant piece stemmed from protests that continue to persist in Orlando, calling out racial inequalities.
The artists noticed many of the Black victims killed by police like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were being memorialized with murals. They wanted to focus on someone on who is making change within the community, someone who can shed light on what the future could be, Dessalines said.
Beginning in mid-July, the organizers drew inspiration from Jennifer Desire, a community leader, social justice activist and a professional executive in Orlando’s music scene.
“We wanted to commemorate someone doing great for the community to bring hope,” Dessalines said. “We wanted (the mural) to signify unity.”
Dessalines said she doesn’t like straightforward pieces and often likes people to create their own take on her art. She feels this mural, like much of her other work, speaks for itself.
“It’s one of those pieces you have to stand back and look at it to take it in,” she said.
Proud of being able to paint some positivity into Orlando, Dessalines said she’s also internalized some of the violence inflicted upon the Black community in recent months and has translated into her work.
“It’s a lot honestly. Some of my pieces are statements of that,” she said pointing to a few recent portraits she’s highlighted on her website.
After the officer-involved death of Floyd and weeks-long protests calling for police accountability, Dessalines painted a black and white piece of three Black men in suits with no mouths or eyes in positions similar to the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” concept.
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In a world like this, it really doesn’t matter if your a well mannered citizen or a “thug”. They will always expect us to succumb to their rules and oppression. This piece is titled “Speak Nothing, See Nothing, Hear Nothing” Because to them we are expected to just sit and be compliant with no regard to our emotions and PLEADS to be treated EQUALLY. Black men you are KINGS. Black women you are QUEENS. Together we will NOT STOP until we get justice as a race. Because whether they like it or not, we will not abide by the rules made by those that do not protect us. Your injustice is SEEN & HEARD. And we will not be silenced until there is change. 📸: @santos.images #BLM #BLACKLIVESMATTER #justiceforgeorgefloyd #tsrtalent #blackgirlswhopaint
“They just have their face and they’re very well-dressed,” she said. “The main purpose of what I wanted to say is this is (what) we’re seeing. People want to censor us, there’s no way for us to speak our minds properly whether we’re like well-mannered or just not. It doesn’t matter, it’s just how they see us and they especially want us to be quiet.”
The young up-and-coming artist said she also reflected on how children are viewing these events and how it will impact their view of the world. It inspired her to create two empowering pieces of a young boy and a young girl with crowns.
“It’s basically protect our young kings and queens,” she said about her intended message. “With everything going on I just want all the children...I just want them to grow up with less hate. We want to make sure that they’re praised and that they know that they’re valuable.”
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You asked and I delivered! These beauties are officially available for purchase on my site for both poster and canvas prints! Link is in my bio💙 •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #artbyina #blackartist #dopeblackart #youngking #youngqueen #sunnydays #artistoninstagram #supportblackbusinesses #supportblackartists #orlandoartist #artprints #artistlife #blackartistspace #youngblackartists #blackartexpo
She said these pieces also reflect her style, which she is still trying to establish.
“I like doing portraits and people. I especially love doing Black women. We have such distinct features and I try to emphasize that in my work; accentuate certain things to make it more abstract-y than realistic: body figures, eyelashes, it’s just a hint of the little things that really make a piece for me.”
Dessalines said after launching her own website and painting the mural, she’s received more exposure and her business has picked up, pushing her to close her commissions for a brief time to work on her craft.
“I’m a big acrylic person and I’ve been scared of oil paint, but I have them now,” she said. “I’ve also gotten other mural opportunities. We’ll see if I can work my magic with those.”
She said since the coronavirus pandemic canceled art shows, she doesn’t know if they’ll be rescheduled so she’s not sure where else her art will be seen next.
“It’s really where the opportunities lead me, and it’s always short notice,” she said.
With the added exposure in the art world, the business has picked up and she expects to keep busy.
“I’m my own PR director, marketing director, I have to restock. It’s a lot to do at once, it’s not just all painting,” she said. “I love it though.”
People can check out Dessalines’ work online at artbyina3.com or peruse her Instagram @artbyina3.
Those interested in commissions can contact her via email at email@example.com or message her on Instagram. Her commissions reopen in September.