Into the Blue with Artist Blakeney Sanford

By Amelia Rose Simpson

Blakeney Sanford loves the blues — in her work, that is. Santa Barbara County artist creates installations big and small that pay tribute to the ocean that borders her childhood home.

But the road to installation art was a long and winding one. Born in the Santa Barbara area, Blakeney grew up on a ranch. “I ran wild in the hills of California my entire childhood!” Blakeney shares. Today, she lives and works in her art studio on another ranch, scant miles away from where she was raised. Her family, pioneers in the local wine industry, were the first to plant pinot noir grapes in the area in the early 1970s.

“My parents had a huge impact on the wine industry because of the way they farmed and their respect for the environment,” Blakeney says. “I grew up with an important connection to nature on a many levels. I was totally emerged in it throughout my childhood, and deeply influenced by my parents and their awareness of our connection to nature and our impact on it, as well.”

Love of the outdoors prompted Blakeney, as a young adult, to become a full-time teacher. She took students on ocean expeditions in a sailboat. She cites a brush with death, (her appendix burst in a remote part of Mexico) as the reason her life made a 180-degree turn. “I had always wanted to create art, but I never had the courage until that experience in Mexico,” she reflects. “It was then I realized how brief our time on the planet can be. I dove into art and life with unstoppable zest and passion.”

Blakeney works in several mediums, including painting and photography, but she considers herself a sculptor and installation artist first. She’s best known for her site-specific, large scale installation sculptures. She draws on her love of the water, surfing, and swimming, and aims to share the awe she feels while in the water by giving the viewer a sense of being surrounded by the ocean. “Ultimately what translates is an all-encompassing experience of floating, or being submerged in water,” Blakeney explains. “I find peace and tranquility in the ocean, and I am trying to translate this experience into my art.”

She set about inventing a material — a mix of fiberglass and resin — to bring her artistic vision into the world. Blakeney uses the highest quality materials with the least amount of environmental impact “I had worked on boats and with surfboards, so I was very familiar with resin and fiberglass, and knew how to manipulate these materials to execute my vision of what I wanted to create.”

Almost immediately after Blakeney turned her full attention to her art, she was offered an opportunity to show her work in a gallery in San Clemente, CA. This became the first installation of a series, called “Shades of Blue,” which has evolved over the last decade. For this installation Blakeney used an epoxy bio-resin tinted in various shades of blue to create a series of panels, held together by a steel armature in the shape of a giant, arching wave.

The result was a large-scale, immersive piece of art where the viewer becomes a participant in the piece, and the blue tiles cast shadows upon the viewer. Blakeney’s work received critical acclaim. Commissions came in from ROXY and QuickSilver. She was commissioned by ROXY to design their Australian Pro tour 1st and 2nd Place trophies, and was a participant in multiple solo and group shows in museums and galleries around the United States.

Blakeney also had success with “Shark Park,” a two part series that is close to her heart. She created paintings along with small, matching resin sculptures of silhouettes of women in surfing positions, all in shades of blue. These were exhibited in shows (included one at the Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara) and in galleries around the U.S. when the Surf Rider Foundation commissioned two “Shark Park” surfers for their “Women Making Waves” awards, honoring women who made the biggest impact in protecting the ocean.

Most of the work Blakeney does is site-specific, creating sculptures for a space. She also enjoys working on smaller pieces that are models for her larger work. This gives her a chance to work out the details and to focus on the more intricate facets of the piece. Most recently she completed a permanent installation called The Big Break, that can be seen by the public. It sits in a courtyard in the Playa District, at 6080 Center Drive, in Los Angeles. It is a two-dimensional copy of a three dimensional piece she had made previously. “I was working with a team to help translate my work using an ultra-high resolution image that can be applied in any space. It looks 3-D, but when you walk up to it you realize that it is 2-D.”

For the last two years Blakeney has been working on a huge, permanent installation for the corporate headquarters of Go Pro. While she’s still using her famous resin panels, this piece is moving away from Blakeney’s more literal ocean and wave pieces.“This is much more of a contemporary piece,” she shares. “I am now pushing into the more modern and abstract arena, but still using my variation of blues, shadows and light to create that fully-consuming experience that I love.”

Blakeney encourages people who are interested her work to reach out, and welcomes studio visits to her ranch. To schedule a tour, visit