Making her way through the Appalachian Trail and a list of 12,000 endangered American species one step at a time with pen and ink in hand, no project seems too daunting a task for Sarah Kaizar as she illustrates and archives natural wonder.
Sarah Kaizar, one of InLiquid’s Wind Fellowship Recipients, offers a chance to engage with transformational moments often taken for granted and rare creatures headed for extinction. Kaizar’s drawings devise spaces for pause and reflection, bringing the simplicity found on the Appalachian Trail within sight.
Ellie Ebby: What sparked your interest in art and illustration? How did you get started in the arts and how did you end up where you are now?
Sarah Kaizar: I’m not even sure where I got started, it’s sort of been a constant my whole life. I was one of those little kids who picked up crayons and I’ve just never put them back down. I started creating illustrations in the last few years for a lot of practical reasons such as space and materials but I honestly really enjoy that tight hyper focus that’s required to make work like that or at least that’s required by the way that I’m working on it right now.
EE: Could you talk about your artistic process when creating the layout for your book Hiker Trash: notes, Sketches and other Detritus from the Appalachian Trail? How did you come to the decision to combine the sketches of the shelters with the many unique notes from Appalachian Trail hiker logs?
SK: I was documenting my hike with the intent to make some sort of work at the end of it, but I really didn’t know what I was going to do until I sat down and put pen to paper. I photographed most of the trail shelters as I hiked. The photographs of these structures took on a different meaning for me off trail, as I was going through a lot at the time in my life when I started making the work. I went through a heart-breaking divorce and subsequently moved around a lot, so I was making this work at a time when I was literally seeking shelter. I think when I sat down and began to draw and reflect on these places that offered me such meaningful cover and community it was really emotional and the work just started to take shape. To thread all these drawings together into a book project, I was really just reaching for all these different moments. There’s only one trail club that keeps an archive of the log books, otherwise they just get thrown out, so when I went to scan them I was really trying to bring the voices from the trail back into the project, which made the process fun and nostalgic.
EE: As you created these acrylic wash images, what are some factors that influenced your choice to use additional materials such as silver leaf and salt?
SK: Most of the drawings were made with acrylic wash, which became closer to water color the way I was handling it. I was using a lot of liquid masks to block out negative space so I could lay this big ground. I wanted the nature elements to feel like a cohesive hug around the shelter. As for the silver leaf, I was pulling from all odds and ends that I have in my studio, and that worked for the trail shelters that I was representing when going through these really frozen places. The salt that I grounded into the paint for one piece was more based on impulse.
EE: What is the significance of the term “Hiker Trash”?
SK: Hiker Trash is a sort of nickname, a term of affection with a wink to it amongst people on the trail who identify as “Hiker Trash.” People who don’t know this read it and it sounds negative, but it’s not meant to be.
EE: How do you see your drawings of endangered species in relation to the current conversation concerning climate change and how do you hope to build awareness, or perhaps something more?
SK: I am currently working on a new illustrated book project with the working title Rare Air: Conserving Species of Flight in North America. It will feature illustrated portraits of rare, endangered birds, bats, and insects paired with short written profiles about each species. I know drawing wildlife is a very well-tread territory to the point where it almost feels silly or trivial to do a project like that, but my hope is that the work is going to offer a meaningful contribution, even a really small one, to this really urgent conversation happening about the environment right now.
EE: In allowing these drawings to exist as a collection rather than as singled out species, what kind of power does that build, seeing the environment as a more holistic space?
SK: I hope that my work with endangered species will slow people down and deepen their empathy for the world that we live in, even by just a shade or two. If we don’t start caring more deeply about that issue, progress is going to be quite tough. I’ve been working on these drawings for a long time now. When I first started, the idea was to represent these species in a way that tried to speak to the enormity of the issue. The issue is so big that it gets abstract really fast and people shut down really quickly around it because it is hard to take in. I think these individual portraits that I am creating right now create small spaces for personal connection around them. Showing them collectively, starts to make it feel more powerful and forces you to stop and look at them.
To see more of Sarah Kaizar’s work and stay up to date on her upcoming projects, visit her InLiquid page and website.