Gabriel M. Sanford

Is there anything better in the human experience than meeting a great person with a big heart?

Gabriel Sanford is one of those people.  He’s spent the better part of his life creating, learning, collaborating and contributing to the world around him.  He has built a large following and if you poke around the art scene in Sacramento you will undoubtedly hear his name.   

However, he hasn’t made the journey to ‘now’ without a few coincidences and obstacles.  Such as subconsciously creating one of his more iconic characters and wisely declining a one way ticket to the cult life.   

Here are a few moments from his experience.

Did you grow up in a creative environment?

My dad is an architect so as a kid I was fascinated with all the blueprints, the drafting table and all that stuff.  One time they allowed me to take over my dad’s computer room and I built a giant sculpture out of rolled newspaper, tape and glue.  It looked like a giant spider web – floor to ceiling.  The only space left was a path to my dad’s computer.

That’s cool.  What happened to the sculpture once you finished?

Well, it took me four months to build it.  Then my parents were like: “My God! What do we do with it?” At the time I was in the boy scouts and we had a camping trip planned so I brought it on the trip and let’s just say we didn’t have any trouble getting the fires started that week.  Of course, it took a while for me to cut it into pieces and get it out of the room.

That’s a great story.  I don’t think many parents would be cool with surrendering their computer room to a four month install.

Yeah, they’ve always been cool like that.  They don’t always understand what I do but they’re supportive.

Did you take any art classes while attending Mesa Verde High School?

That’s actually where I took my first class.  It was a photography class.  We learned the whole process of rolling film, taking pictures and developing.  I took it so many times – the teacher would just throw film at me and say “Just go take pictures – I already taught you everything”.  So I would roam the campus with my old Nikon camera and take a bunch of pictures.

Do you still work with Photography?

I loved the process but I didn’t stick with it for a couple reasons.  The first reason is because I’m both near and far sighted.  I wanted really clear, precise images but because of my sight I struggled to get the results I wanted.  The second reason was the cost.  At the time it was all film and everything was expensive.  Although, I didn’t stick with it, I realized from the experience I wanted to do something creative.

After High School You attended American River College – can you describe your experience there?

It was good.  I got my AA in ‘Art New Media’ which is basically Graphic design, and my AA in ‘Art’.  It was during this time I discovered my drawing style.  I was in a design fundamentals class about a week before midterms and we got an assignment to do a drawing using only curved lines.  Mine started off looking like stones but as I added more and more detail it started to look like my current pieces.

My teacher told me if I did this assignment more than once I could turn it in for extra credit.  I did it so many times that even if I skipped the midterm I would still have gotten an (A-) in the class.  After that semester the teacher said she had to re think the situation because I found a loop hole.  Before me no one ever did the assignment more than three times and I did it twenty something times  🙂

So you only did it that many times for the credits?

At first it was for the credits but it caught my interest and I kept thinking I could do it better.  I really enjoyed reworking it.

So that’s how you discovered your style?

Well, it was the first part.  I took another class which was the sequel to the first one and we had to find a pattern in nature – take it out of nature and make a new design using the same pattern.  So I choose a sand dollar for my pattern – Essentially, an oval with two lines in the middle.  I thought it was cool and I used the pattern to make cells in repeating patterns.

The third component of my style I actually took from a friend.  He used the pattern of the human brain for his ‘from nature’ piece.  I found it interesting and wanted to incorporate it into my style.

So those are the three basic components that began my style.  Cell like, repeating patterns made with curved lines.

You also received a couple drawing awards while at American River College.

Yeah, I entered a lot of the student competitions.  It was a conflict of interest at times because I was also in the gallery operations class which helped put on the competitions.  So I would be banned from the gallery class during the competitions.

In 2006 After College you received an award from the ‘Chelsea International Fine Art Competition’.   How did this come about?

It was an online competition that I entered.  At the time I was entering a bunch of stuff and I wasn’t really keeping track of it.  I had forgotten about it honestly, and then out of the blue I got an award letter and a check in the mail. It was the first time I received money for my work.

It was a check for $100 and I spent it in a day – Fifty on art supplies and fifty on sushi.  🙂

That’s funny!  How would you describe your creative process?

I try to think about it as little as possible.  For me it’s more of a meditative process and I just want it to flow out.

I can understand that.  Is there some significance to the recurring Hands?

The hands in my work are my version of a portrait.  After High School I and a photographer friend missed having assignments so we would challenge each other with creative projects.  One of the projects was to create a portrait without using the face.  During the challenge we wouldn’t discuss what we were doing and after a week we’d show each other what we made.  We both did something with hands.

I did it because this is how most artists express themselves.  He chose it because his mother was deaf.  He did nine photos of his hands doing signs he used to communicate with her.

I thought it was a cool idea and it evolved from there.

Jim Mouse

Jim Mouse

How about the character ‘Jim Mouse’? How was he conceived?

Totally by accident – I was actually using the shape of the number three in a full page repeating pattern.  My sister walked in and asked; “Why are all these mice in the picture?”  I was like; “What are you talking about?”  then I turned the paper around and it popped out.  I had done it upside down.  Honestly, I have a phobia of things like mice, my skin itches when I think about it. I would have never done it on purpose.  But then I started looking at my other pieces and they were everywhere.  So, I accepted it.

I referred to him as my evil or anti Mickey.  The name Jim Mouse actually came about in a weird way through social media.  At the time my Facebook page was G.M. Sanford and this guy would always message me and open with the question; “Hey Jim, How’s your mouse?”

He messaged me a bunch of times and even offered to buy me a one way bus ticket to L.A. claiming me and my mouse would be treated like royalty.  Obviously, this seemed strange.  I researched him and the guy was actually a cult leader and his compound got raided by the FBI.

That’s wild.  A character you drew upside down, subconsciously – who you have a phobia of was technically named by a cult leader.  This is how I know we’re not living in a simulation. 

Yeah.  I actually found six different articles talking about at least three different raids on their compound.  The whole thing was too freaky for me.  I blocked him after that but I liked the name ‘Jim Mouse’ so I kept it.


You’re currently working with a couple projects.  What is ReTREAT and are you still working with them?

Yes, I still help with the project.  ReTREAT was started by Aurora Love with the intention to do shows, event planning and artist representation.  We want to help artists take it to the next level. Help them connect with businesses and an audience.

Can you explain the Gabriel M. Sanford Project?

This is the page that encompasses everything I do – from the curating to the artwork to my other projects.  So, it’s the best place to get an overall view of what I’m up to.

You have almost ten thousand followers on Facebook.  Any tips for other artists on how to build an audience online?

I did it by trading page shares with other artists – joining online groups and sharing my stuff with them.  There were times when I would spend eight hours a day talking and sharing with people online.

Honestly, there’s a lot of drama on Facebook but you get out of it what you put in.  I limit myself to thirty minutes a day on the news and the rest of the time I focus on the art because this is the way I can change my surroundings and enrich my experience.

Well Said.


Gabriel M. Sanford Project

Gabriel is currently curating for the Cafe Colonial third Saturday events.  Next show is on March 18th

Cafe Colonial Art Showcase

He is also working out of the ARTners collaborative – 7th St Downtown Sacramento.

ARTners Collaborative

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