For most other people, a daily commute from Philadelphia to a workday at the WHYY studio would be an endless excursion. But for artist and Temple alumna Sarah Kaizar, it’s an artistic endeavor.
This is because while most of her fellow commuters are catching up on sleep or downing their fifth cup of coffee, Kaizar is using this time for something a little more productive. Taking advantage of commuting time earned her an exhibit at 3rd Street Gallery, an artist-run cooperative gallery at 58 N. 2nd Street that offers members the opportunity to show their work in a solo exhibition once every two years.
“My ride to work is an hour each way which adds up to over forty hours a month spent on the train,” she said. “Wanting to reclaim a little bit of this time, I stumbled across the endangered species list and decided to work my way through drawing all of the species listed in the United States.
Though it may seem an unusual way to kill time to many, Kaizer saw it as an opportunity for self-improvement. As a graduate of the Tyler School of Art, she wanted a way to better express her creativity and become more self-disciplined as an artist.
“I wanted to force myself to be artistically active every day,” Kaizer said. “I currently have completed 98 of the 1,115 animals on the list so it’s obviously going to be a long-term project!”
Using pen and ink for her creations, Kaizar said she prefers to keep the drawings simple, but stresses a necessity for the animals to appear as lifelike as possible.
“The drawings are all black and white and created using a cross-hatching technique,” she said. “I use photographs for reference, but I strip out a lot of elements in the picture to isolate a particular segment or combine parts of the photos for an accurate rendering that is totally new.”
Keeping the animals as realistic as she can is an important part of the entire project. However, she said that doing so has not been a one woman job.
“Reaching out to photographers, biologists and universities for permission to use photographs has been really time consuming,” Kaizar said. “To ensure accuracy, the drawings are periodically reviewed by an extremely helpful and generous group of biologists.”
Through working with these professionals, Kaizar has not only been able to generate accurate depictions of these animals, but has also developed an appreciation for the serious issue of extinction.
“The things I am learning peripherally from speaking with conservationists and biologists are so shocking and so depressing,” she said. “It is disturbing to move through this enormous list of species and find things like flies, mice and toads in the mix.”
Hoping to share the knowledge she has gained with others, Kaizar is currently showing her collection until the 30th of June at the 3rd Street Gallery.
Since becoming a member of the cooperative gallery in February 2012, she says that the overall experience has been life-changing, especially having her art open to the public.
“The 3rd street co-op is extremely supportive, knowledgeable and active in the arts,” Kaizar said. “Being a part of this team has been an invaluable experience to me.”
Her efforts to promote awareness of endangered animals have not stopped at displaying her art at the 3rd Street Gallery.
For her First Friday opening on June 5th, guests were also given the opportunity to learn about the issue from biologists so that they could better connect the art that they were seeing with the reality of the horrific effects of extinction.
“To help give local context to the problem, the Nature Conservancy has agreed to participate in the project as well,” Kaizar said. “They had biologists at my opening to discuss local environmental challenges and action.”
With many more endangered animals to draw, Kaizar said she has no plans to end her project until all 1,115 species have been added to her collection.
Expanding her audience further, she also has another exhibition planned for this coming October at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. She said that she is still figuring out exactly what this collection means for her and the art she plans to create in the future.
“This is a totally new way of working for me so I am still grappling with what this project means to me personally,” she said. “But I am enjoying creating these drawings, learning what it means and how it works to put your work into the world.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at Abricke1@temple.edu.