Boredom Never Hurt Anyone: Sara Bardin

Parents often go to great lengths to make sure their children are not bored, but Washington, D.C., artist Sara Bardin is living proof that boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing for children.

Boredom is what launched Bardin’s love of colors and art. “When I was little, I remember having to go to my mom’s office when she had to work,” said Bardin. “I would stay in a room with just crayons and paper to keep me busy, but I loved it.” What did she draw? “I’m very sure it included a boat floating on water, with yellow sunshine in the corner,” she laughed.

That early spark led to Bardin’s lifetime passion, who grew up in Potomac, Maryland, and immersed herself in art at Winston Churchill High School. She took more art classes and majored in interior design at the University of Dayton, and later studied at The Compass Atelier studios in Rockville, Maryland, to focus more intensely on painting.

Many Hats

Bardin’s path to becoming a successful artist was not direct, however, and included some bends and turns. This beautiful and talented painter wears three very different, but equally important, hats. Besides running a household and being a mom to two daughters, ages 16 and 12, Bardin has served as Director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Zoning since her appointment in January 2012, where she is responsible for agency budget, finance, performance, procurement, visual design, and public information matters.

Bardin said she came to the Office of Zoning after five years at an architectural firm. She started in the Public Affairs office in 2000 and then worked her way up through promotions.

Stress Busters

“By 2009, I was feeling incredibly stressed, balancing two young children and a demanding full-time job,” said Bardin. “I found that making time to paint again helped relieve that stress,” she said. Setting aside space in her family room to dedicate to her hobby, she began painting acrylic portraits of her children, other family members, and friends.
“Every worry melted away when I started painting,” she said. “I found that I could lose myself for hours, not even realizing the amount of time that had passed.” Her girls respect their mother’s needs and are her best and most supportive critics. “They critique my work so I can improve it,” she said.

What began as a hobby quickly jumped to a more serious dual career. Others took note of her talent and began commissioning her to paint portraits. Bardin’s portraits, rich with diverse hues and tones, capture a range of expressions and can be viewed with her other paintings on her website.

You can Learn a Lot of Things from the Flowers . . .

Visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden became another way for Bardin to de-stress, and as an artist, she naturally was drawn to the beauty and colors of the many varieties of plants and flowers. “I thought I would love to paint flowers,” she said, “and a gentleman at the art store where I buy my paints suggested that my paintings would look neat if I went to a larger scale.” She followed that tip, and today Bardin’s favorite format is on 24×36 or 36×48 canvases.

Like her portraits, Bardin’s flowers vary widely in the subject but always feature a broad spectrum of both bold and subtle colors, coupled with exquisite detail — to the extent you can almost smell a flower’s scent just by the way she presents it visually on the canvas.

Bardin described her approach to painting as starting out with a freehand drawing to scale, followed by painting color splotches in all the main areas and then going back to work in the details. “I love watching a painting evolve,” she said. “I love the details, watching the process of it becoming realistic.”

Bardin’s work has been displayed at the Maryland Federation of Art “Strokes of Genius” Juried Exhibition, Montgomery Arts Association “Paint the Town” Kensington Labor Day Show Juried Exhibition, Annual Labor Day Art Show at Glen Echo Park, Hill Center Galleries Juried Exhibition, and the Washington ArtWorks “A Burst of Color” Juried Exhibition.

Her work is available for purchase via her website and Facebook page, but lately, she finds that much of her time is being devoted to private commissions. Not long ago, she stretched to doing landscapes when a customer presented her with a photo of a forest scene. “I know you can do this,” he said, and sure enough, she did. The result is “Silence,” a large canvas covered in the greens of moss and pine needles, the browns of lanky tree trunks, and the yellows and gold of dancing sunlight. Bardin says it’s her favorite painting so far.

Saying Goodbye is Hard to Do

How does Bardin emotionally part with a painting once sold? “At first, it was very difficult because I get attached to my work,” she said. “The moment I let it go, I feel a little heart pain,” she said, “but then it’s ok.” Her painting of a pink flower with yellow stamens, “Yearning,” received the most awards of any of her paintings, yet she sold it, and part of the money went to support a business during COVID-19. “It was hard, but I let it go.”

Her customers are mainly private individuals. “One lady from Florida has a love of flowers. She bought four of my pieces over time, which was nice,” said Bardin.

Do her colleagues at the Office of Zoning know about her artistic abilities? “Some do,” she laughed. Bardin has some of her own art in her office, and her assistant often likes to point it out to visitors. She even carries her artistic judgment into her routine duties. “I love to tweak and change the visuals in our computer applications,” she said. “Even project workflows have to look good.”

Bardin’s plans for the future? “Keep painting and keep working for the city,” she said. “Maybe one day I will retire and just paint.”

Photos by Nurdan Karakurt

Read more about local artists in the issue here.