• Sara Parrilli, illustrator of Through the Rainbow

    by  • 9 July 2018 • Lou Harvey-Zahra, Sara Parrilli, Steiner-Waldorf Education, Through the Rainbow • 0 Comments

    Art is a core part of the Steiner-Waldorf curriculum, helping children to develop emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. Few know this better than Waldorf art teachers like Sara Parrilli. As well as being a teacher, Sara Parrilli is the illustrator of Through The Rainbow: A Waldorf Birthday Story for Children, as retold by Lou Harvey-Zahra.

    We caught up with her to learn more about the book and her illustration career so far.

    Hi Sara, you obviously have a deep understanding and connection to the Steiner-Waldorf aesthetic. Did you attend a Waldorf school yourself? 

    Sara Parrilli - illustration from Through The Rainbow

    Illustration from Through the Rainbow, created using the wet-on-wet technique.

    I attended the Green Meadow Waldorf School K-12, where drawing and painting were a regular part of the weekly rhythm. In illustrating Through the Rainbow, I was reminded of the many main lesson books I created over the years. Each of these books was in some way an illustrated story with an overriding theme. This was essentially my first experience of illustrating a book from start to finish.

    And you’re now a Waldorf art teacher – how did you get there?

    After high school, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Then, in 2011, I began my two-year anthroposophical painting training at the Free Columbia Art Course in Philmont, NY. I hadn’t painted or drawn much during the eight years prior, so I arrived with a clean slate and readily took up painting and colour studies in an entirely new way. Even at this time, I had no idea that teaching art in a Waldorf school was just right around the corner!

    After Free Columbia, I began assisting handwork class in grades 1-3 at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, in Ghent, NY. This eventually expanded into subbing art classes when need arose and the rest is history. In my second year of teaching, I began my Waldorf teacher training at the Alkion Center where I learned about the arts in relationship to Waldorf pedagogy. And of course experience in the classroom has truly been the greatest teacher of all. As a Waldorf teacher you are constantly called upon to better yourself as a human being, expanding your knowledge of a given subject and continuing to strengthen your abilities.

    Is working as an illustrator and art teacher what you expected?

    In a way I can’t say I expected either one of those things because I never knew I would become them until I did! In retrospect, it seems like things progressed and fell into place exactly as they should. I like to think of “chaos” as transformation. But, when you’re in the midst of it you can’t yet see the fruits of your labours. My mom used to joke that if all else failed, I could always become a Waldorf handwork teacher.  I never even considered painting and drawing, and deep down I felt like there was something missing. It wasn’t until I “returned” to Waldorf education with adult eyes, that I realised what has been missing for me.

    Could you talk us through how you created the illustrations for Through The Rainbow?

    My first step in approaching this project was to paint the entire book all at once in miniature form.  These mini paintings were only a few inches wide but allowed me to enter the book through colour alone. I then began painting the images that appeared to me most clearly. Eventually a “doorway” into the entire book began to open up.

    I used two different sets of paints and two different painting techniques. All of the heavenly scenes were painted with a wet-on-wet technique, where liquid colour is applied to a soaked piece of paper. The fluidity of this process works well in bringing the qualities of spiritual world down into the physical.

    I painted all of the earthly scenes with layered watercolour. Most of them began with a wet-on-wet background painting which I then let dry and layered on top of. The layering process allows me to capture many different separate objects all in one image, with many separate brushstrokes, just as we experience the world with measurable, countable objects. The wet-on-wet paintings take less time to paint, but are harder to nail in one go, so many of them I painted 5 or more times over.

    Sara Parrilli - illustration from Through the Rainbow

    Layered earthly illustration, with wet-on-wet background.

    What did you enjoy most about working on Through The Rainbow?

    Having the opportunity to create something that will hopefully meet the eyes of many people gave me great joy. There were many moments of struggle, trying to find the right kind of image, approach, technique… And of course those moments after a lot of struggle when all of sudden things start to fall into place.

    Do you have any Waldorf artists or illustrators you consider to be your favourite?

    Growing up I spent hours copying all of Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies.  I poured over the illustrations in Andrew Lang’s collected fairytales for further inspiration. When I went to the library, I often borrowed When the Sky Is Like Lace, by Elinor Lander Horwitz and Barbara Cooney.

    As a painter, I’m probably most inspired by the Expressionist movement. I particularly love Franz Marc’s use of colour and love of animals. I often wonder what his work would have been like had he lived through the First World War.

    One of the most influential people in my artistic upbringing is my godmother Jeanne Wesley-Wiese. She studied with Gerard Wagner in Switzerland and was my first painting teacher outside of my Waldorf education. She was the first person to open up the “world of art” to me. As a 12-13 year-old child, I distinctly remember her showing me the work of Frida Kahlo, and being simultaneously perplexed and intrigued by Kahlo’s work.


    More about Sara Parrilli

    Through the Rainbow, illustrated by Sara ParrilliSara Parrilli is an artist and Waldorf teacher at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, in Ghent, NY. You can see more of her art on her website.

    Through the Rainbow is a faithful and inspiring retelling of the Waldorf birthday story, from Lou Harvey-Zahra. The story is accompanied by soft, ethereal illustrations by Sara Parrilli. This beautiful picture book can be personalised for each child.

    Order your copy of Through the Rainbow on our website before 21st July and receive a free, exclusive art print taken from the book.


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