Ex-cell-ent Art: Sarina Mitchel turns human cells into artwork

Cell Summit

Ever since she was a small child, Sarina Mitchel wanted to be a painter. She recalls being asked to do other things as a kid, like join the safety patrol, or try out a sport, but Mitchel found herself always saying, “No, I just wanna be in the art program.” 

A New Jersey transplant (don’t hold that against her), Sarina came to Rhode Island to study at RISD, where she decided to major in illustration, though she did have a stint where she thought about going into painting. “I flipped a coin to choose,” she laughs. 

After her time at RISD, Sarina was trying to decide on her next chapter when she found herself gravitating toward the art community in Providence. Sarina joined AmeriCorps after being placed with CityArts. It hit her suddenly when the thought crossed her mind, “Oh! I guess I’ve found home after all.” 

Sarina then dove into the art community in Providence, largely due to AS220, where she is a current artist-in-residence. Artists-in-residence are given access to AS220’s maker studios, which include key tools that Sarina uses in her art. “It’s amazing and important to me; it was my first introduction to Providence, being out of college and not knowing where the artists were,” Sarina says. Finding AS220 led to the realization that, “There’s an art scene in this city,” though she admits her first exposure to the nonprofit was its open mic nights. 

While Sarina has many different sources of inspiration, she has been largely working on her cell art series. This series is based on microscope images that her older sister, Dr. Jen Mitchel, took as a part of her research at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her sister’s team was studying cells and the shape of cells involved with asthma, and whether they could cause a feedback loop to make asthma worse. Sarina’s sister asked her to create pieces to show the cells without making them look like a clinical model. And thus, Sarina’s cell art was born. These art pieces combined the science influences she’d had growing up: Most of her family works in engineering or biology, and Sarina is the one who chose art. She feels that this was a large influence for her, and helped her develop her own unique style that blends the worlds of art and science. Sarina says, “I started making cell pieces that were more creative and more artistic.” 

Sarina recently wrapped gallery shows at Foolproof Brewery and T.F. Green airport. She currently takes commissions and is well-known around Providence for her elephant character, Ms. Proboscis.

She says, “I feel like art kind of chose me. Most people who are artists don’t really choose art, it has a lot of challenges a typical linear career path wouldn’t.” On that path, however, Sarina Mitchel chooses to pursue her work with passion. 

Find Sarina’s work at; Instagram @rina_the_beans; Twitter @smitchelart.