The art of asking, “What if?”

Juliana painting
Juliana Craig, Sr. Artist-in-Residence

We’re problem solvers, explorers and knowledge seekers – always asking, “What if?” At SAS, your curiosity matters – whether you’re developing algorithms, sharing stories, or answering critical questions. Curiosity is one of our core values, and it influences everything we do here at SAS – even the art that adorns our office buildings!

That’s where Senior Artist-in-Residence Juliana Craig comes in. Take a scroll through her creative journey and hear about how she’s leveraging her curiosity to create innovative and inspiring art.

Juliana’s SAS Story

I started my career at SAS as an Artist in Residence 20 years ago, as a fresh graduate of University of Texas at Austin. Throughout my career at SAS, I’ve created over 360 works for the corporate collection. About 250 of those works are acrylic paintings, my preferred medium.

In the early part of my time at SAS, I focused on creating quality, beautiful pieces that I knew would be successful. As a young artist, I wanted to prove myself, so I played it safe and stuck to my strengths. When I did push myself away from my typical imagery styles, I stayed with familiar materials to maintain control. To me, this was the nature of being a production artist – and I loved my job.

A New Idea

Then, in 2015, I was talking through an idea with a fellow artist. There was a new piece I wanted to try, completely new to me, with unvetted materials and a skill I didn’t have. My friend told me to go for it! I resisted - “But I have no clue what I’m doing. What if it doesn’t work?” He said to throw it away and try again. I was aghast at the idea of spending time and materials on something and then throwing it away. Then, he said something that changed everything: “How can you be creative if you aren’t allowed to fail?” This resonated with me.

I thought about it for a few days, then went to my manager. I explained to her what I was feeling, how I’d painted myself into a corner, so to speak, with my perfectionism. An artist herself, she explained that I couldn’t truly feel free to explore new ideas, to be curious, if failure wasn’t an option. She said, “I hereby give you permission to fail. Please go try new things. Fail! Play!”

It was one of the most important conversations we’d ever had.

I started to ask, “What if?”

What if I used the finish sample board in our break room as a basis for a painting?

Minneapolis Skyline. Wood, glass and metal mosaic by Juliana Craig
Minneapolis Skyline. Wood, glass and metal mosaic by Juliana Craig

What if I cut a painting into strips and wove it back together?

Cosmic Tapestry. Acrylic on paper by Juliana Craig
Cosmic Tapestry. Acrylic on paper by Juliana Craig

What if I created a mosaic piece using only wood, glass and metal?

Cascade. Wood, glass and metal mosaic by Juliana Craig
Cascade. Wood, glass and metal mosaic by Juliana Craig

One day, I found a box of acrylic samples in our dumpster and thought, “I could make something with those.” It was the first purely sculptural piece I’d ever attempted.

Array. Acrylic wall sculpture on wood by Juliana Craig
Array. Acrylic wall sculpture on wood by Juliana Craig

Juliana Craig drills acrylic squares onto wood to create her art piece "Array."

Another day, I found a cut-out of circles in our dumpster. I should mention, the dumpster-diving in our scenic shop is exceptional. I saw the cut-out and again thought, “I can use that!”

Push and Pull. Acrylic on wood by Juliana Craig.
Push and Pull. Acrylic on wood by Juliana Craig.

No matter what you do for a living, be curious!

We’re all hired to do a job. We all have deadlines and deliverables. But if we’re being challenged to value and pursue curiosity, that means there’s room for exploration.

For me, asking “What if?” has led to beautiful, unique works that I never would’ve attempted if I’d stuck to what was familiar. What would it look like for you to unleash your curiosity?


Looking for a career where your curiosity matters? Check out our careers site.


About Author

Alyssa Grube

Communications Specialist

Alyssa is a Communications Specialist at SAS focused on culture, recruitment marketing and employer branding. She’s a creative storyteller who’s passionate about the intersection of people and brand, and loves sharing the SAS story.


  1. shannon allen on

    I love this story so much! It's a great reminder to not be afraid to try and fail and look for new ways to do things. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love, love, love this! The story of the journey, the message in it for us all, and the person that is being highlighted in it!

  3. Stu Sztukowski on

    What a cool job to have at SAS! I love and appreciate all of the art in our buildings. It really makes a difference. It's cool to see what goes on behind the scenes.

  4. Great story. Thanks for sharing Juliana! I love having access to all the artwork at SAS! Can't wait to get back on campus.

  5. Barbara Hamilton on

    This is awesome Juliana - so glad you shared your journey. I think we learn so much in every part of life by failing and to be given permission to feel "okay to fail" was a wonderful opportunity for you and for us who get to view your talent.

  6. What fun and beauty - thanks for sharing the story. It's such a pleasure to work at SAS in such a beautiful interior and exterior environment! We are so fortunate

  7. beautiful work! I remember seeing you by the pond at C painting, would love to see that finished piece. is that on display?

    • Juliana Craig on

      Hi, Matt, sorry, just saw this! Yes, that painting is on display near the nurses station in the healthcare center.

  8. Beautiful work, Juliana. I love your experimentation with different materials - what a great demonstration of SAS' mantra to "be curious."

  9. Jennifer Adkins on

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing, Juliana. As a much less creative person (outside of creative graph building!), I find this so interesting and inspiring.

  10. Great to be reminded of thinking differently for inspirations. Miss seeing all of Juliana's beautiful pieces around campus.

  11. Such a talented artist! We knew that years ago and commissioned Juliana to paint a piece for us that we absolutely love! 🙂

  12. Juliana's story -- and her art -- are like watching a bird take flight: Most inspiring, with a little twinge of jealousy. Great stuff!

  13. Is your piece "Cascade" also a city skyline? I like the Minneapolis piece let's say I like your "Skyline Series"

  14. Few of us love what we do. The gifted among us never go to work, they persue a passion. Looking at the results of her ability to see wonder and beauty all around, tells a story about who Juliana is. Her passion for life and all it's wonders, shows up in all her unique works.

Leave A Reply

Back to Top