These Three Marin Artists Are Marching to the Beat of Their Own Drum

Courtesy of Sarah Bird

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a certain place so appealing. A hum of possibility, of belonging, or a sense of flow that can sweep you away and make you go looking at those “for sale” photos posted in the real estate office window (we’ve all done it on vacation). Marin County is one of these places, hardly a secret, especially for those of us who have intentionally settled among the natural beauty we enjoy in this place. As such, it’s no wonder that so much artistic talent resides here — folks that channel this unspoken magic into astonishing work.  Meet three local artists who are making waves in Marin and beyond.


Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird has always known she’s an artist. “I was always the artist kid. That’s just what I did. I painted, I drew, my head was always in my imagination all the time,” she recalls. When college came around, she started out studying art history, but found herself drawn back into making studio art. “There’s a feeling of rightness when I’m making things … the act of conjuring something out of nothing,” she says.

In 2015, while living in New York, Bird felt a strong urge to start photographing trees, specifically our local redwoods and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So she began traveling back and forth to do this, eventually settling on the West Coast full time. Looking back now, she realizes that her first, fully realized art installation was in 1993 involving 10,000 eucalyptus leaves, symbolic of her family heritage in Australia. She reflects, “My relationship to trees as markers of place and memory has been really long-standing and deep.”

Her primary medium is photography, but she also loves drawing, stop-motion animation with charcoal, and most recently, trying to work out how to use LiDAR (an acronym for light detection and ranging) with 3D remote sensing to better capture her tree subjects.

Today, Bird lives with her husband in Mill Valley. “We got married last summer in West Marin and it never occurred to us to be anywhere but here. It’s magical,” she says. Bird is still deeply focused on trees, specifically our human relationship with them in a time of ecological crisis. Her full-scale redwood tree public art project called Being/Tree, which she has been working on for seven years, was projected on the San Francisco Ferry Building last month. And she is getting her Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz, working on a dissertation titled “Strategies for Arboreal-Human Flourishing in the Anthropocene.” Her work is also the subject of a new film called Giants Rising that premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and will be shown at DocLands in San Rafael on May 4. See more of her work at


artist Ellie Fritz next to her paintings
Courtesy of Ellie Fritz

Ellie Fritz

Ellie Fritz was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and went to a rigorous public school for the arts. She has basically been in art school since she was 12, following a very clear path her whole life. Fritz received a scholarship in 2000 to attend San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), which has sadly closed since then but enjoyed an incredible history (Ansel Adams started the photography department there).

Fritz says that she has always had a really strong practice; coming from an art high school will establish that. But when she landed in the painting department at SFAI, she found it very competitive and isolating. “I just ended up hanging out in the printmaking department because it was more communal and it really set me in motion for how I work today. So I was a painter that fell in love with the social aspect of printmaking,” she recalls.

A look at her current work is evidence of this mixed-media approach, blending collage, painting, printmaking and embossing. Fritz says that a central tenet of her practice is experimentation and play, letting trial and error bring about growth.

In college, Fritz worked her way through school as a full-time nanny for a family in Marin, which solidified her love for the area. She moved her studio here in 2010 and has found the network of other artists in Marin very rewarding. In 2017, a residency at Lucid Art Foundation in Inverness was pivotal for her; she spent a week working in solitude with the concept of art in consciousness, which created space for experimentation. The foundation just published a book this past February called A Place of Creation that features 97 participating artists, including Fritz, and 11 scholars. She says, “Something that’s really important for me as an artist is the role of being in community … it is equally important for me to always find some means to interact with the community in my art.”

You can view Fritz’s work on her website and by booking private viewings at the K. Imperial Fine Art galleries in San Francisco and Palo Alto. She also exhibited at San Francisco Art Fair at Fort Mason at the end of last month and will show at Art on Paper in New York in September.


an art piece of words on paper by Chris West
Courtesy of Christopher West

Christopher West

Local artist Chris West (see the cover of this issue), who is also an adjunct art professor at the College of Marin and Santa Rosa Junior College, feels that our origin stories are important. Raised in Humboldt County on a property that his parents still live on, he says his upbringing of running wild in the redwood forests “really clearly defined home for me. I also see it more clearly in my work the older I get.”

West works with very simple materials; he can name what’s in his studio on one hand. Paper, spray paint, glue and magnets are part of the work that he is known for, assemblages of repeating words or patterns that may look like digital work when viewed on a computer screen but are in fact handmade. “There’s a presumption that my work is made with a machine, but every single thing I do is by hand. In an age of reliance on technology, I’m really trying to do it all with my own two hands,” he says.

As a Marin County resident for almost two decades, West feels “really lucky to be able to live and work here because being in Marin affords me so many opportunities to be outside, to be in open space, to enjoy the geography and get out in the natural world as much as possible,” he says. “In all the places I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I’ve never felt so rich with opportunity as I have here. Just to walk out my front door and get lost on the trails is incredible. It does really afford me that quiet time, space and dreaming while awake.”