Gallery: Artist Sarah Yeoman [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Lisa Fieldman
Local artist Sarah Yeoman is an internationally recognized watercolorist who is appreciated for her imagination and unusual perspective. While she makes her home in Yorklyn, she can be found painting and teaching in her Crow Hollow Studio, located on Ashland Clinton School Road.
Yeoman enjoys painting a wide range of subjects, from still life to cityscapes.
“I like a little of everything, which can be a problem because I don’t have one specific kind of look,” she explained. Yeoman uses multiple layers of paint to get a lush, saturated transparency in her watercolors. Watercolor, she said, is “magic -- it’s like controlled chaos.”
The list of Yeoman's awards and accomplishments is extensive. “I’m better known out in the world than I am in my own community,” she said, smiling.
She's an award-winning member of the Philadelphia Watercolor Society, has participated in the International Watercolor Biennial, and has been recognized twice by the American Watercolor Society. She is submitting one of her water lily paintings in the AWS show this year. If she is chosen, it will be her third inclusion in the society.
“American Watercolor Society membership is like the top of the bucket list,” she said.
Yeoman came to painting through music. As a singer and songwriter, she played with Wilmington in the 1980s, back when Wilmington had a vibrant nightlife. “I did a bit of touring, some songwriting, and played guitar,” she said. “Music was my first love, but I realized I couldn’t really make money as a musician.”
So she made a lateral career move and focused on painting. She studied music and art in college, particularly enjoying jewelry-making and sculpture. Returning home, she then studied oil painting with local artist Ruth Ann Crawford. However, it was during one watercolor class at the Darlington Arts Center that her path became clear.
“I immediately understood the medium completely,” she said. “I felt I could speak right away with the paint. It just made sense to me.”
Her connection with watercolor was instantaneous. “Every time I touched the paint from then on, it just was so exciting,” she said. That was more than 30 years ago, and she is just as excited to pick up a paintbrush today.
Yeoman has never tied herself down to a particular painting style. She generally paints in a loose and unrestrained manner, but some of her watercolors have a tighter, architectural form. Her subjects dictate her painting style, rather than convention. She is interested in pushing boundaries, rather than just repeating techniques.
“Without experimentation, there is no growth,” she said, “so I continue to push myself outside my comfort zone. I like not always knowing what the outcome will be. That excites me.”
Yeoman spends summers at her family’s off-the-grid house in the Adirondacks, and has developed several series of watercolor paintings influenced by the mountains and lakes of the region. She has an almost magical ability to infuse light into a watercolor. Many of her lake paintings have an almost hypnotic quality. This past summer, she spent idyllic days paddling about in her kayak, taking reference photos and painting. Over the summer months, she created a series of water lily paintings that reveal her ability to showcase the play of light on the water.
While in the Adirondacks, Yeoman also participated in a plein-air festival. At the event, she sold her prize-winning painting to someone who, it turned out, only lives a few miles from her Delaware studio.
“We didn’t know each other. He was filling out the Visa slip and I saw his address was Hockessin,” she said, amused that someone so close by discovered her so far from home.
Yeoman has found a muse in the crows that frequent the grounds outside her studio. Her series of crow paintings is immensely popular. With just two colors, blue and gray, the paintings depict crows either in frenzied activity, or sitting with a watchful air. For the crows in action, drips and splashes of paint communicate the frenetic movement of the birds. You can almost hear their raucous squawking as the jostle each other for a spot on the feeder.
Crows are a favorite subject for Yeoman. She and her husband, Paul, fed crows from an improvised feeder. “Paul mounted a bucket on a pole, and we’d fill the tub with kibble dog food,” she said. The crows became so accustomed to being fed that they would knock on the window if they arrived to find the feeder empty. Paul, Sarah, and her son, Wyatt, took hundreds of pictures of crows at the feeder. From these photographs, she creates her paintings.
“I go through the photos and pick one form I’m interested in, and I’ll create a narrative starting with that one bird," she said. "Then I’ll look at the other photos, add another bird and then look at the negative space."
Yeoman continues building the picture, using different crows images. “My favorite part of these crow pictures is becoming lost in them," she said. "Not knowing the outcome or being attached to it allows me so much freedom to play and experiment.”
Her crow paintings have been shared on Pinterest and Tumblr. “People found the images and posted them,” she explained, and the images have been reposted and commented on more than 20,000 times. Unfortunately, like many artists, she’s had her paintings counterfeited by overseas companies.
“You can buy iPhone covers with my crows reproduced on them,” she said. It is an ongoing battle to keep the forged images off the market. To that end, she is working with an agent on licensing her images. Recently, a London-based architectural firm renovating a boutique hotel in Boston contacted her. “They want to use my crow images on throw pillows in the hotel lobby,” Yeoman said. Her agent is in negotiations with the company.
“Social media has been a great platform for getting my work out there,” she said.
In many of Yeoman’s crow paintings, you’ll see a small crow in the background. “That’s Paul. I represent him in the watercolors,” she said.
Paul Skibinski -- a writer, photographer and fellow artist -- passed away from melanoma three and a half years ago. The couple had been married eight years at the time of his death. After his diagnosis, Paul made 50 drawings, journaling his last months living with the cancer that would end his life.
“He was able to document his process," Yeoman said. "It was beautiful and it was awful, and it was a real gift for a lot of people." After Paul’s death, Yeoman started painting crows as a tribute to him. She then spent months combining his drawings and written word into an exhibit titled “Drawing Before Departing.” The show was presented at the Chester County Hospital, where they spent so much of their time during his treatment.
Yeoman has since brought the body of work together in a book of the same name. She has assigned all rights to Chester County Hospital to help raise money for SHINE, a hospital-run organization that assists patients and families living with cancer.
Yeoman is proud of the impact of Paul’s work, and the number of people it continues to touch.
“I’ve had people contact me from all over the world,” she said. She’s heard from ministers and medical professionals who use the book to counsel patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses. “My goal is to share our extraordinarily sad but beautiful cancer journey with others," she said. "To open a dialogue that Paul captured so beautifully with pen and paper about living fully while dying with grace, humor and creativity, with his raw and tender heart open for all to see.”
Yeoman is still adjusting to the devastating loss of her soulmate “It was a big life change, a lot at once, but I’m still painting and thriving,” she said. She's working on a book outline that has been submitted to a number of different publishers. Her book, “Moving Paint,” is about watercolor technique and focuses on her work in the Adirondacks.
“It gives step-by-step lessons on how to move the paint even before you draw; learning how to play,” she explained.
Yeoman teaches her students the importance of playfulness. “My students come into class and I do demos where I’m throwing paints and splashing. There are drips and splatters and they will actually gasp,” she said. For some of her subjects, especially the crows, it is all about the drips. Yeoman feels they suggest movement of the air, the light and the sound of the wings.
“My students tell me I’m fearless," she said. "I tell them I wake up every day and face a blank piece of paper. I still feel tentative every day.”
But she has learned how to trust her instincts and she tries to instill that in her students. “Not every painting works. If I get one out of ten paintings where I’ve done something different, then I’m happy," she said.
She explained how students look at a blank piece of paper and they are already thinking about the finished painting. “They’re thinking about what their families are going to say, what it’s going to look like in a frame, and there is nothing on the paper yet!” she said.
Yeoman encourages her students to let go, to not view their work as precious. “I tell them to do two of the same study, so the first one is not so important. Not every painting is a masterpiece.”
In addition to her studio classes, Yeoman teaches a two-week workshop each summer at The Watermill at Posara in the northwest region of Tuscany. She is a popular teacher at this annual workshop, and she loves teaching in the walled gardens and medieval towns. This winter, she will be teaching at the Chester County Art Association and will participate in the Chester County Studio Tour next spring. She has also been creating instructional videos in conjunction with Open Studio Online. Her videos take viewers step by step through the creation of a painting, explaining brushwork, technique and mixing paint.
In December, Yeoman will be exhibiting her paintings at the Mezzanine Gallery in the Carvel Building (820 N. French St., Wilmington). The exhibit opened for Art on the Town on Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 30. Her work can be found locally at Blue Streak Gallery in Wilmington, Mala Galleria in Kennett Square, and Chadds Ford Gallery. She will participate in Chadds Ford Gallery’s Christmas in Miniature Show, running through the end of December. Visit www.sarahyeoman.com
to view her paintings, class schedules, and upcoming events.