Sara Ward

Local yoga teacher and artist Sara Ward has been sharing her paintings with the world during the pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

Sara Ward describes herself as a creative compulsive.

“I’m fascinated with learning how I express myself,” she said.

Many have experienced Ward’s talents of expression mat-side in her powerful yoga classes, renowned for their wisdom and depth. Now channeling her creativity in a fresh way, Ward has swapped mala beads for paintbrushes. 

Ward has called Telluride home since she was 19, but spent long stints in Hawaii, recently living in Kauai for two years. In January 2020, missing Telluride’s supportive community, Ward and her partner moved back to the San Juans to put down roots for good. Within days of touching down in the box canyon, Ward transitioned back into her familiar Telluride life, including a jam-packed yoga-teaching schedule. Then, the pandemic curtain dropped and with it her work schedule vanished. 

Sheltering in place, Ward explored creating in new ways. She began refurbishing furniture sharing her colorful, transformed creations on social media. Though the end result was satisfying, the process itself felt flat.

Ward started seeing a therapist virtually for the first time in her adult life.

“I think as yogis, we sometimes think we can bypass basic self-care stuff. Therapy is so important,” she said.  

She started doing identity work. Deeply satisfying memories of painting when she was young rose to the surface. She realized she stopped only when she felt she was supposed to turn into an adult who didn’t make weird art. “It's OK to be super weird when you’re an adolescent and have weird voices in your head. As an adult, you're supposed to have figured it all out. I realized I didn’t want to live the rest of my life not expressing this vibrant, colorful and warped stuff that’s inside of me,” she said.

She signed up for an online abstract painting class, but quickly she learned there were rules to abstract painting, too. She felt frustrated. Amidst the pandemic, when rules and the status quo felt annihilated, she was ready to be free from following rules. She stopped the course and began painting.

As soon as she felt that she was restricting herself in wanting a piece to look a certain way, she would let that go and keep painting. Instead, she went through a process of wanting to express a feeling and allowing those impulses to run free. What emerged onto the canvas were funky bright beings. Ward’s pieces depict the contradicting voices and impulses inside her head with bold energetic colors. They are complex and layered. 

“So often we have these esoteric emotions and parts of ourselves. It can feel hard to have a relationship with them. When I paint them, now they have a beingness,” she said.

Along the way, she developed her own rules and techniques, her own style. In reflecting on the influence her yogic practice has had on her art, she notes the vibrancy of her color palette. 

“My inner world is intense, but not dark. I’ve turned my awareness to all the parts of myself so they are no longer unknown. I’ve shined a light and light makes color,” she said.

At the same time, sometimes yoga seeks to transcend suffering. She paints not to transcend, but to explore the messy beautiful parts of being human. Her pieces have struck a chord with people. For many, the pandemic has meant spending more time getting up close and personal with the voices in our heads. People have told her that her paintings “look how they feel, a little bit upside down and inside out.”

By sharing her work on social media, people from all corners of the world have engaged with it. She has had requests for commissions and has sold to people she knows, as well as fans who discovered her online.

Though she feels honored that others resonate with her art, her inspiration comes from the deep satisfaction she experiences in the painting process. This satisfaction feels new to Ward. As a compulsive creator, her list of creative endeavors is long; a beeswax surf wax, a clothing company, handmade malas. Yet with each endeavor, Ward recalls a sense of racing to the finish line, arriving exhausted and not wanting to do it anymore.

“Painting is the first thing I’ve done where I feel like maybe this is freedom of expression. I don’t care what the end result is,” she said.  

With each new piece, Ward is learning to think less and feel more. She is also experimenting with large-scale pieces

Despite the success, Ward says it is a daily practice to engage with our inner critics.

“I realized I had been waiting for some else to give me a badge. Several months ago I finally gave myself permission and it opened the creative flood gates,” she said.

She remembers the day she officially listed her identity as “artist” on her Instagram page, “I pressed publish and instantly had this huge cellular release.”

She is developing a creativity workshop to help others overcome self-critical feelings and embrace their creativity. 

If you would like to see her work, Ward currently has a show of her smaller pieces hanging at Heritage Apparel in Mountain Village. She also has a show planned at Ethos Gallery in Telluride this summer. You can see photos of her pieces on her website at saraward.art or on Instagram @saraward.art.