Pouring over the Possibilities

Written by Rhonda Lee McIsaac

I try to remind myself that as long as I learned something new, even if it’s what NOT to do, it is still worthwhile. 

“I have traveled to many beautiful places, and grew up in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, but Haida Gwaii has something else. It is an intangible feeling that inspires me to try to capture the moments when I’ve felt more connected and more at peace than in any other place in the world” says self-taught painter Sarah Barnhardt. 

 Sarah uses all of her senses to paint what inspires her.

“There is inspiration a plenty here, whether I’m out on a daily walk on the beach with my dogs, and the sky is lit up in some dramatic way. Or if I’m out on a boat trip in a more remote area of the islands with my family, and that awe inspiring feeling of being miles from anywhere or anyone takes over” she says.  

“I don’t do art every day, and sometimes even go a couple of months without picking up a paintbrush” she confesses.

Especially when life gets busy or the summer sun draws her to other activities, she says of her artistic process. 

She keeps a mental catalogue of moments of inspiration. 

“They usually come while exploring Haida Gwaii with my family. During the colder, darker months I think back to those moments and sometimes photos I’ve taken and I try to capture those scenes or ideas” like a reflection in time.

When Barnhardt arrived on Haida Gwaii twenty years ago, she did not consider herself an artist. Through trial and error and lessons online she has been painting primarily landscapes and seascapes in oil. Her images are caught somewhere between realism and abstract art.  

“I didn’t really have the urge to paint until I set foot on Haida Gwaii 20 years ago, and since then it has become a part of me and who I am” she shares. Sarah Barnhardt found herself through paint on canvas and she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“Painting has become a part of me and who I am” she proudly states. 

More recently she has been exploring acrylic pouring. 

“I often start with a pour and use it as a background, painting a scene or something on top. Each pour is unique, and I will often see some shape or colour pattern that helps me embellish the original” she says. 

“I don’t know of any other artists on Haida Gwaii who have been exploring acrylic pouring techniques” she says on what sets her apart.

“The learning process, as frustrating as it can be sometimes, art is about exploring possibilities and hopefully growing as an artist.  It is also what I do to escape into my own quiet space, take some time to be still, and clear my mind of life’s everyday busyness”.  

But even when her vision is not executed on the canvas, she finds solace. 

“I try to remind myself that as long as I learned something new, even if it’s what NOT to do, it is still worthwhile” she said.  

It is through an artistic meditative practice that she finds inspiration and life lessons.

To see what Sarah is pouring over in her studio and to scoop up one of her stunning creations, check out her shops page here:

This article was written by Rhonda Lee McIsaac and photographed by Jessica Fairweather.

Rhonda is an Anishnawbek writer, journalist, and artist based on Haida Gwaii. Her work focuses on local, national, indigenous, and environmental issues.

Jessica is a Haida Photographer who was born and raised on Haida Gwaii. She has been practicing photography for 9 years and began her business "Studio Simone A." In 2020. She has experience with product, portrait, lifestyle, maternity, weddings, and many other forms of photography. 

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