Plein Air Medford

Garfield and 99 Medford web
Oil on panel 12″ x 20″

Garfield and Hwy 99, near the new Rogue Federal Credit Union and the new Super Walmart. You can see the new Harry and David building to the right in green. New New NEW!


I just got back from a visit to San Francisco where I went to the De Young museum to see the  Girl with a Pearl Earring show, along with Etching from Rembrandt and his contemporaries.  I found it very inspiring, especially all the etchings, they are so intricate and invite you to spend several minutes with each piece, I was surprised to find them even more engaging than many paintings.  The etching pieces varied in technical ability, some being astonishing in their technical prowess and some (the Rembrandts) were stunning in their communication of humanity and emotion.  There were goofy ones, ones that glorified the state, religious scenes that were moving (Rembrandt), religious scenes that were like crazy pageants, simple home scenes, landscapes and on and on.  Then came the paintings – wonderful banquet tables with meats and lemons and cloth, the flowers that I so love and the stunning Vermeer.  That Vermeer is absolutely wonderful.  (Side note:  Like the Mona Lisa, she has no eyebrows.!? Curious.)



cornelis visscher the large cat

Dutch Fools Etching


I know so many new babies and babies that will soon be here and the last few months I’ve been going nuts making baby dresses.  Not the kind of creating I usually do, a great obsession for the evenings.  Here are just a few things for my new niece who will be born in about a month!

Green Bee Iris Dress
Green Bee Iris Dress
Green Bee Iris Tank with Oliver + S  Puppet Show Shorts
Green Bee Iris Tank with Oliver + S Puppet Show Shorts
Oliver + S Apple Picking Dress
Oliver + S Apple Picking Dress
Oliver + S - Apple Picking Dress
Oliver + S – Apple Picking Dress
Oliver + S Family Reunion Dress
Oliver + S Family Reunion Dress

Recent Sketches and Drawings

"Shalyn" Graphite Drawing by Sarah F Burns
“Shalyn” Graphite Drawing by Sarah F Burns 7″ x 14″ 
"Q Quast" graphite drawing by Sarah F Burns 11" x 14"
“Q Quast” graphite drawing by Sarah F Burns 11″ x 14″
"Autumn" graphite drawing by Sarah F Burns 7" x 7"
“Autumn” graphite drawing by Sarah F Burns 7″ x 7″
"Leah" acrylic sketch by Sarah F Burns 9" x 9"
“Leah” acrylic sketch by Sarah F Burns 9″ x 9″
"Leah Back" acrylic sketch by Sarah F Burns 6" x 8"
“Leah Back” acrylic sketch by Sarah F Burns 6″ x 8″


Summer and Winter

Proserpina's, Oil on Panel, 32" x 44" by Sarah F Burns
Proserpina’s,, Oil on Panel, 32″ x 44″ by Sarah F Burns

The figurative piece is at Illahe Gallery, Ashland, Oregon until the end of February 2013.

These pieces were created in my studio using a live model.  The painting is a modern take on the myth of Persephone. I was particularly inspired a song by Martha Wainwright, “Proserpina”, which was written by Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle.  It chronicles Proserpina/Persephone’s mother’s grief and calls her daughter to “come home to Mama”.  I imagined Proserpina/Persephone in the underworld, and in my version she is complicit in going with the trouble maker Pluto, complicit in eating the pomegranate seeds that means she will have to live in the underworld for three-four months a year.  Coming of age, she realizes her decision is flawed, but she’d likely do it again, as would many young women who jump in with the charming  fellows who come along and fail to think of the fury and heartbreak it will cause their mother, not to mention Proserpina’s own regrets until the sober light of day.  Who among us, male or female can’t say they make certain mistakes again and again and wonder when they will finally learn to make choices that have better consequences?

The Pendulum Swings

At times all I do is spend time painting and working in my studio and resent ANY intrusion that pulls me away and at times I suffer guilt because I’m so lazy or distracted that I can’t get in there.

In the car and on walks these days I’m listening to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is about a Chinese American mother raising her girls to be musical prodigies in the US.  It’s very good, read by the author, and she conveys a nice mix of believing in the way she approaches parenthood and being aware of its’ insanity and pitfalls.  That book makes me want to drill and force my daughter to do better (she is an A student who sometimes gets B’s) and to have that kind of diligence as a painter myself.  Last night I watched A State of Mind – a British documentary about two girls preparing to take part in the Mass Games (watch this link, the picture in the background isn’t a huge jumbo tron, it’s thousands of people holding colored squares all changing in unison to create a huge moving image), a North Korean spectacle like nothing else on earth.  It’s about extreme hard work and sacrifice in order to make art.  You can almost forget that the government must have put as much effort into putting on a show for the filmmakers as it does in putting on the Mass Games, because the story about how hard these girls are working is so engrossing, their effort and sweetness is real, and yet while the story is moving you, we all know there is a horrifying side to North Korea.  The girls innocent and creepy worship of the Great Leader (or whatever they call him) is so strange and foreign and familiar that it serves as a mirror where we could see our own nation’s patriotic fervor.  But anyway, both of these stories are making  me commit to being more disciplined and yet what to I do next?  I wake up at ten am and lay in bed reading David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.  Just now I was reading his essay on E Unibus Pluram television and U.S. fiction where he seems to be saying people should pay more attention to the 6 hours of television we watch a day, and the mood it’s creating within me is to just enjoy the ridiculous indulgence of being in my PJ’s at noon.

Perhaps I’m drawn to watching and reading things like these because as of Jan 1 I am going to draw and paint and teach full time.  I’m a little scared!  I’m scared it won’t work and I’m scared I won’t work hard enough!  I feel so undisciplined lately, but I’m hoping that’s because it’s the end of two weeks that have a lot of time off involved.

I’m sure as Don Draper says, “Everything is going to be fine.”

A Few New Things

I have been thinking about it for months and it will soon be a reality.  I am cutting way back on my administrative job in January to be able to paint full time (and teach a little bit).   The prospect of not working for a regular pay check is a little scary but as my friend Amy said to me, “If you’re going to be an artist you have to be brave.

Oil Painting of Highway 99 in Talent, Oregon by Sarah F Burns

I drive through this intersection at least twice a day on may way to and from my day job.

Xyara Figure drawing by Sarah F Burns

And the newest life drawing group in the valley is over at Atelier LaRose – Steven put together a successful kickstarter campaign to hold free life drawing sessions open to anyone.   They are kind of a free for all – models swing from the rafters, lighting comes from several directions, and of course, these sessions are totally fun.

Beth figure drawing by Sarah F Burns

Adara on the Chetco

Adara on the Chetco by Sarah f BurnsIn Southern Oregon we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes and we rarely get flooding or earthquakes  (and so far the flooding and earthquakes we have had have been mild in my lifetime), but what we do get for natural disasters and annoyances is fires and smoke.  The Rogue Valley  is surrounded by forests and the the valley bowl sucks in smoke and holds it for weeks at a time during the summers.  This year there were fires in every direction and we have been blanketed by ashes.  It’s mighty oppressive to be in 100 degree weather with ashes raining down on you.  Luckily we could escape for a long weekend to an amazing river 8 miles inland from the ocean. The Chetco river runs from the Kalmiopsis wilderness area to the ocean at Brookings, Oregon.  The Kalmiopsis is the largest roadless area in the continental US and it lies right between the Rogue Valley and the Pacific Ocean.  The Chetco river is the most beautiful, clear small river and at Loeb State part it just meanders slowly making it a dreamy swimming hole.  While at this lovely oasis  I ran into piles of S. Oregon friends and acquaintances – we all had the same thought.  It’s kind of remarkable because it’s a 3 hour drive from home.  While at the river I made a painting of my daughter, Adara, who just got back from sunny Portugal and the cool breeze from the river froze her skinny body, so she’s huddled up in a hoodie, cranky about posing. I don’t care.  I’m a bit heartless as a mom and as an artist with models. I love painting her.

Meet Your Meat: Local artist makes introductions by Jennifer Nitson

My friend Jennifer Nitson wrote this piece for me to use a press release for the show – it’s a delightful piece of writing – It makes me laugh and it tells the story really well.  Enjoy!

Meet Your Meat: Local artist makes introductions

By Jennifer Nitson

Sarah F. Burns was apologetic as she began the second in a series of paintings commissioned by Smithfields Restaurant and Bar.

“I’m entering pretty gory territory here,” Sarah posted on her blog.  “Sorry if you’re squeamish or hate hunting or meat eating or anything like that.”

A long-time resident of Ashland and member of the local art community, Sarah knew some of her readers, fellow artists and friends would be aghast at the thought of the bloody, butchered bear carcass she’d carefully arranged in her studio. Meanwhile, she was preoccupied with how fast she would need to paint it. A classically trained oil painter who only paints from life – never from photos – it was imperative that she work quickly before what was left of the bear rotted.

“There was no way to put it back in the freezer,” she explained.


A blatantly “meat centric” eating establishment in a town known for its militant vegan and vegetarian factions, Smithfields owner Neil Clooney knew he wanted paintings that would evoke the intensity and satisfaction of the meat eating experience. Featuring locally-sourced meats, Smithfields specializes in serving up dishes that utilize all parts of the animal. Where else in Ashland could you find roasted bone marrow on the menu?

“There is no shying away from the truth about meat when you eat meat,” Clooney said. “A life is lost and someone has to take that life. It is intense and not to be taken lightly, but it’s immensely satisfying and most people love eating well prepared meat.”

In the eight pieces Sarah created for Smithfields, her goal was to draw on that honesty and intensity.

“I wanted to convey the guttural impact and visceral intensity of raw meat, and yet have the paintings contain enough humanity to be enjoyable while dining,” she said.

The paintings are done in a classic Vanitas style – a symbolic art form that originated in 16th century Europe. Vanitas paintings generally contain a moralistic exhortation to remember the fleeting nature of life, and are meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death. At the same time, Vanitas pieces tend to be sensuous, almost indulgent, in style and subject matter. It has been said that some European painters of this time period felt they needed moral justification to make paintings of attractive objects.

Sarah needed no such justification. The commissioned paintings gave her the perfect opportunity to explore a conscious relationship with meat eating that is complex and life-long.

“I have been particularly interested in small scale meat production and nose-to-tail eating because I grew up in that type of lifestyle,” she said. “My father was a farm-kill butcher when I was born. That means he went from farm to farm killing livestock and brought them back to the butcher shop to cut up and wrap.”

The family also raised cows, sheep, chickens and goats on their Eagle Point farm. Sarah and her sisters were not spared the grisly side of this operation.

“I remember watching him chop heads off chickens and toss them into a squawking and blood-squirting pile.”

It may not come as a surprise that during their teen years, Sarah and sisters Miriam and Claire each in turn became vegan – an almost requisite rite of passage for many Ashland youth. What is notable is the conscious way Sarah has examined her path to veganism and back to meat eating.

“Now I kind of see that vegan period as an effort to maintain innocence in a sometimes horrifying world,” she said. “I see it as an attempt to combat and avoid the pains and realities of coming of age.”


Sarah set to work on the paintings in the dark days of winter. The cold was conducive to having fresh meat out in her home studio, but she struggled against the inflexible limitations of the too-short days.

“I feel like I just barely get started and then my light is gone,” she wrote in a January blog post. “So much work to do and I’m so eager to do it.”

For Sarah, creating the paintings became an adventure and a meditation on the ephemeral nature of life as she coped with the logistics of working with perishable meat.

With the first piece she enjoyed the luxury of being able to paint the myriad background objects before introducing a cow’s tongue to the still-life setting. She was also able to put the tongue back in the freezer between painting sessions.

Things got more complicated with the rotting bear carcass and the brace of chickens.

“Once arranged, the chickens needed to be left where they were in the studio,” Sarah explained.

She cleared her schedule for a few days and her husband Tom brought home three live birds, which he killed and gutted in the back yard.

The chickens were strung up, artfully, in the studio, and Sarah embarked on a three-day painting marathon. Dry ice was placed near the chickens, and she fashioned a hood out of a tarp to cover them at night. When the painting was finished, the chickens had not yet started to smell, and though the artist faced complex logistics and a scarcity of time, the painting produced conveys a simple abundance.


As the dark days of winter gave way to a wet Oregon spring, and as summer brings promises of long, bright days of plenty, Sarah’s paintings are finally finished and ready to take their places on the walls of Smithfields.

In the traditional manner of Vanitas painting, Sarah has explored with these pieces the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death, painting in a sumptuous style that both soothes and awakens the senses, while imparting a message:

“Life is short and you will die, so think about how you are living,” Sarah said. “And in this context, think about how your meat and food is produced.”


The public is invited to an artist’s reception for a series of paintings by Sarah F. Burns entitled “Meet Your Meat.”

The reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, July 16 at Smithfields Restaurant and Bar, at 36 South Second St., in Ashland. Hors de oeuvres, wine and Prosecco will be provided and the bar will be open during the event.

Those in attendance will have the opportunity to meet the artist and learn about the inspirations and process involved in creating these oil paintings. The pieces were commissioned by Smithfields owner Neil Clooney for his meat-centric restaurant, which opened in Ashland in 2011.

“I’m excited for Sarah’s work to be hanging on the walls of Smithfields,” said Clooney. “She’s a fantastic artist and I feel the paintings will help the customers draw the connection between the life an animal lives, before being treated respectfully with cooking technique to provide that customer with a satisfying dining experience.”

To learn more about the artist, visit her blog at


Opening Night

What a blast – thanks to everyone for coming out, BIG thanks to Neil and Dee for giving my work a home, inspiring the idea and for throwing such a great party.

I did not take any photos – there was way too much to do, so sorry, next time make sure to come to the show.  I’ve posted most of the new painting pics in my gallery section here: 

There was some fantastic local press for the opening too – thanks to Mandy Valencia, Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings – FRONT PAGE – (Scrapbook time- and I’m sending one for your fridge mom.)

Artist Sarah Burns at work on a still life painting
Mail Tribune Photo

By Mandy Valencia

Mail Tribune

While some might find animal carcass paintings unappetizing when they’re about to cut into a thick, juicy steak, it’s just the look the owners of Smithfields Restaurant and Bar were going for when they hired artist Sarah F. Burns.

Burns has created a series of vanitas-inspired oil paintings that will be unveiled today in the Ashland restaurant at 36 S. Second St.

“We just wanted to try to create something that would be challenging for my customers to look at and not just a piece of art,” said Neil Clooney, co-owner of Smithfields. “What we were going for was the whole life-and-death concept so people can think about the process the food goes through to get to their plate.”

Business partner Dee Vallentyne is a fan of British artists Damien Hirst, who features dead animals in his artwork, and the late Francis Bacon, who portrayed anxiety and alienation, Burns said.

“She’s all about intense work,” said Burns. “She wasn’t shying away at all from the intensity of the raw meat and the carcasses. I was encouraged, in fact, to go there.”

Clooney and Vallentyne commissioned Burns to paint three large pieces measuring 3 feet by 4 feet, one medium-sized piece that is 20 inches by 36 inches, and four small pieces measuring 12 inches by 12 inches.

“I enjoyed so much the process of making paintings for that specific location,” Burns said. “I could go in the space, see what the lighting was like and know where they are going to hang. They will be positioned at the average eye level.”

Burns said she is inspired by 16th- and 17th-century still lifes, specifically vanitas, a genre featuring objects that symbolize the brevity of life and inevitability of death. Vanitas can be traced to the Latin translation of Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas (Vanity of vanities; all is vanity).”

“I’ve been interested in vanitas for awhile,” Burns said. “My training is classical realist, but I haven’t ever consciously said, ‘I’m making a vanitas work.’ ”

Until now. For one of the larger pieces, Burns used a 200-pound bear carcass in her studio to paint from.

“My friend Gilbert said he just killed a bear, and I asked if I could have the bones,” she said. “I study artistic anatomy, so any bones are really valuable.”

Burns said pulling the carcass out of her freezer every time she wanted to paint for a few hours was a bit of an ordeal, because it was so large and heavy. She listened to books on tape written by chefs while she painted, she said.

“I couldn’t get the bones exactly the same each time,” she said, “so really what you see in that painting is the bear skeleton three times. It was pretty crazy. It would begin to thaw after a few hours. It wasn’t rotten at all; it was really meaty smelling.”

Burns said because she grew up on a small farm in Eagle Point, where there were cows, chickens, sheep and goats, she is accustomed to butchering animals for food — though she did admit to being a vegan in her teens.

“I think it’s really interesting to get different people’s takes on meat-eating,” she said. “It is something that people kind of wrestle with. I know people who will only eat ground meat so they don’t think so much that it’s a muscle.”

The paintings also feature some references to Smithfield, London, the namesake of the restaurant, such as a small painting inside one of the works depicting Sir William Wallace, one of the leaders of a Scottish rebellion who was executed in Smithfield in 1305.

Clooney said he doesn’t want to turn his customers’ stomachs before they are about to eat; he just wants them to think about the process.

“We didn’t want to make it too graphic so they can handle eating, but we wanted them to think about the piece of meat that’s on their plate so they appreciate that finished product,” he said. “Some are simple, like birds with just a few feathers. The bear is more graphic. One is just a tongue.”

“Maybe some people might have an issue with it,” Burns said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I don’t know, it’s pretty crazy. Pretty cool, though.”

A reception to unveil the new works will be from 7 to 9 tonight at Smithfields Restaurant and Bar, 36 S. Second St. Hors d’oeuvres and wine will be provided.

Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at