LEAD | As the laboratory custodian at Sanford Underground Research Facility, Robyn Varland’s intense attention to detail keeps even the smallest meandering dust particulates away from disrupting ultra-sensitive experiments.
Varland also happens to be Sanford Lab’s resident comic artist. Her artwork is displayed across the lab, featured prominently on the desks of employees, in the form of individualized, illustrated birthday cards.
“Oh, it’s amazing what they do up there, but I have the most important job of all — I know when their birthdays are," Varland said, when asked her about the work being done at Sanford Lab.
“I have a wonderful life, because I insist. I insist on getting eight hours of sleep, living simply and being the best self I can be, in order to help others,” Varland said. “You don’t get a rehearsal. I work very hard at making my life what it is.”
Varland answered questions about her life "after hours."
Q: Tell me about how you started making art.
A: I found art four years ago. A scientist needed a birthday card, and, honestly, I was just too lazy to go to the store! But I really wanted him to have a card. Once I drew it, I said, “Oh…oh my!” I didn’t even know I had it in me then, but I think it comes when you’re ready for it. It’s amazing what it opens my heart to.
Q: What is your creative process?
A: I only do art in the mornings, because I’m only good at art in the morning. I’m a very loud person, and in order to appreciate that energy, you have to find some silence. The morning silence is a nutrient to me. It prepares me for the day. But after eight in the morning, it just doesn’t work.
Q: How does your art impact you?
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A: Although I’m very loud, active and busy, I also think I’m a very deep person. When I do art, I feel like my heart is at its deepest. What surprises me, then, is that my art comes out comically. As much as I want to go deep and just draw a real-live person, believe me, I can’t. I think it’s just God putting humor in my life, because everything I draw is comical.
Q: What inspires you?
A: I am the biggest customer at the post office in Lead. I’ve told my husband that I hope I never run out of stamps and envelopes. I send a card out at least once a day to someone in the community, because I love making people smile. Even my sympathy cards have a hint of comedy, but the empathy is there.
I’m always with someone who needs to be lifted, because it lifts me. I’m always encouraging people to surrender to what they are powerless to. I like to get them help if I can. I want them to know I’m always available.
I’m extremely grateful for the people I work with, because they help me work on myself. Yes, people can be hard to work with, but they are also great to work with — we all fit in that box. You learn a lot about yourself, working closely with others, and it’s humbling and maturing at once.
Q: What does a typical day look like after you clock out?
A: I love going home, because I have an amazing family. My husband, Rick, and my three chihuahuas, Lucy, Maude and Poncho Via. We fix supper and turn in early — we have to, in order to be awake by 3 a.m.! I insist on getting 8 hours of sleep, because I am just better that way — for myself and others.
Q: How do you start the day?
A: In the mornings, I always read three quotes. It keeps me right. It prepares me to be around people, to be as good as I can be to be around. I search for quotes about the things I’m joyful about or struggling with.
My favorite quote is by Mark Twain: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I have been lucky enough — blessed enough — to be alive at 59 and have found the answer to why at 46. I’m here to lift others up.