Post For The Parks

Interview with artist Sarah Coyne

Every week of 2015, Sarah Coyne dreams up and paints a watercolor inspired by a National Park. She then packages it all together and sends it to the park. She calls the project “Post for the Parks” and she’s 22 posts in to her beautiful tribute to America’s parks.

To learn more about the process and her motivation, we interviewed Sarah:

What inspired you to start “Post for the Parks”?

One night last fall I couldn’t sleep.  When insomnia hits I often try to think of new projects and that’s when this project was born. I decided I wanted a new illustration/painting project with some rules. I wanted to have to do a finite number of pieces within a self-imposed timeframe, maybe over the course a year. I work best with deadlines and checkpoints. But I also wanted it to be a labor of love separate from my other freelance and business work. Should I illustrate the four seasons? That’s too few pieces. Maybe an alphabet? Also, not enough required to stretch over a whole year. Then I remembered the current number of our National Parks is fifty-nine. Fifty-nine parks in the country, fifty-two weeks in the year, those fit together nicely. (For the seven ‘extra’ parks, there will be one week in October when I send a painting every day!)

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I love nature, animals, plants and wild spaces. I am so proud of the people who value wilderness and see it as something to be treasured and protected. Post For The Parks is a love letter to the National Parks. It’s a thank you letter to the people who work so hard to protect our public lands. It’s also an examination of the parks system, its history and how people interact with the wild spaces set aside for them and future generations. I love the idea of furthering a conversation about the value of the parks and if I help even one person learn about our parks system, I will be so pleased!

Which parks have you been to? What’s it like painting a place that you’ve never been to?

Bryce Canyon National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Bryce Canyon National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne

I haven’t been to many! When I was small I visited the Everglades with my family. That trip is one of my most vivid childhood memories. In 2010 I took an incredible 10 day trip to Alaska with three girlfriends I’ve known since our pre-teen years. We went to visit another friend to lives in Lake Clark National Park with her park ranger husband. It was a wonderful adventure and before heading to Lake Clark, we visited Kenai Fjord National Park. So only three out of 59! This spring and summer I’m hoping to add at least two more – Acadia in Maine and Shenandoah in Virginia.

In part, it almost feels wrong to try and capture the feeling of a place I’ve never visited but one of my goals is to get closer to the parks, even if I can’t see them in person. I am doing a great deal of research about each park. I have the internet and three books that I’m using to find both visual and informational inspiration. I was afraid that I would have a difficult time connecting to the parks without seeing them in person but just the opposite – I feel like I have gotten to know them all. Aside from factual information and photos, I have been seeking out personal stories about the parks from friends, family and strangers online. Learning about the parks through the experiences of others has been a truly inspiring research method.

Why did you choose watercolor as your medium?

For my business, I work primarily in screen printing but watercolor is my true love. I am drawn to watercolor’s organic and slightly unpredictable tendencies. I wanted to create quick, expressive pieces and watercolor seemed like the perfect medium.

Yellowstone National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Yellowstone National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Haleakala National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Haleakala National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne

Have you gotten a response from any of the parks? 

download-4I have – one very unexpected response. Mount Rainier National Park sent their parcel back to me! I wrote about it on my main art blog. It made me think about how my pieces were being received by the parks staff. I never intended the pieces to be precious or to create extra work for people in an administrative or archival position. I respect that they saw my painting as worth enough to be cared for properly, that warmed my heart.

How does the constraint of a weekly painting affect the work and your enjoyment of the process?

The weekly constraint, so far, is a great motivator. I work on the sketchbook for the project when I am inspired to do so and I work on the paintings the same way – but keeping their ‘due’ date in mind. I have always painted best when working on multiple paintings at once so I sometimes finish pieces ahead of their mailing date but I pack and document them on the week they go out in the mail.

Is there away for other park lovers to purchase the prints?

Soon! I’m hoping to have a shop up by the midway point in the project (in July). I will post about it on the Post For The Parks Tumblr and Instagram accounts once it’s up and running. I plan to have some prints and other small parks-related items, the sales of which will help buy more stamps!

Editor’s update: the shop is now live! Purchase National Park Prints here.

Sarah's sketch books (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Sarah’s sketch books (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Yosemite National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Yosemite National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Glacier National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne
Glacier National Park, (C) 2015 Sarah Coyne

Sarah Coyne grew up in New Hampshire and now lives and works in Jamaica Plain, a tree-filled neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. For the past ten years, Sarah has been using her small business, Egg-A-Go-Go, to share her hand-printed goods and illustrated stationery line with others. Freelance illustration, an online shop, and teaching screen printing pays her bills while watercolor projects, some traveling, and a beloved community garden plot fill up the rest of her free time. Sarah lives with her husband Curtis and two cats.