Presented by Guemes Island Community Center Association (GICCA)
“Enriching and Connecting our Island Community”

Artist of the Month!

Sara Harlan

Sara Harlan

Sara Harlan is an artist with a plethora of techniques in her wheelhouse. July’s artist of the month has been an art teacher for the majority of her adult life and not only can she create outstanding pieces for all to appreciate, she can also teach you how to produce your own little masterpieces, all while getting on your Zen. Read on to learn more about Sara’s life and what she can do to enhance yours.

July’s Artist of the Month is my new neighbor, Sara Harlan. When we met, she was on leave from her teaching position in Stanwood and trying to figure out whether she was going to return to that job. I asked her what, in a perfect world, she wanted to do, and her reply was “I want to be an artist.” At the time, I didn’t know that this was neither a new nor unrealistic dream for her. Sara attended Whitman College in Walla Walla where she majored in art with intentions to take the art world by storm. Her parents supported her fully but suggested the addition of a major in education as a fallback career. This decision would provide her with some amazing opportunities.


After graduation, Sara moved home to La Conner. While saling (nope, I didn’t spell that wrong – I’m referring to the ever-popular saling of garages) she started chatting with a guy about his job. He was a shop teacher. At a naval air station. In Bermuda. She mentioned that she thought that would be a great experience. Low and behold, the art teacher at his school was going on maternity leave and shortly thereafter Sara was off to teach K-12 Art in a land far different from the Pacific Northwest. Being a leave replacement, this gig only lasted for a year, but she was hooked. She scoured a book of international schools to find her next job. Guantanamo Bay was an option but didn’t hold much appeal for her. She landed in Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. She can smile when she talks about it now, but she shared that “the school custodian picked me up and I cried the whole way to the school.” Machete-bearing citizens were a common sight and had she wanted, she could have bought her very own Uzi. (She didn’t want). This job also ended after a year as the school was evacuated due to political unrest. During that year, Sara grew to love the area and once it was safe, she returned every chance she could. She brought art supplies and worked with some of the 3000,000 homeless kids. She took her niece on a service tour ten years ago where they worked at Wings of Hope, a charity that provides a safe, happy, loving, caring, and hopeful family environment for children and young adults with physical and mental challenges, and Mother Teresa’s Baby Hospital, where malnourished mothers receive assistance so they can better care for their babies.


After these stints in faraway lands, Sara returned to her native PNW for a 7 year stretch in La Conner. As fate would have it her brother’s fraternity brother paid a visit around Christmastime and after he talked about his job at the Seoul International School, she thought it might again be time to freshen things up and tossed her hat in the ring. On April 2nd, she received a phone call from a strange number…it was the director of said school. She was offered a position teaching pre-K. The students’ common language was English and none of them spoke it so it was a lot of trying to teach kids how to be in school without much language. After a year of that she moved to the K-12 curriculum director position, which she held for 2 years. Then it was time to come home for good.

It was while teaching art to a group of unruly middle schoolers that Sara found a new passion. She was looking for a way to engage these kids, help them focus and feel successful. According to Sara, “I had exhausted every tool in my teacher toolbelt.  So, I went to the logical next place to find a solution for managing this class:  Google.  I searched for ‘calming art activities to settle down an out-of-control class of middle schoolers.’  The results populated onto my screen were gorgeous black and white drawings, what I soon learned were Zentangle artworks. The day I brought Zentangle to that class of rowdy young adults was magical, for me and for them!  In minutes the entire class had settled down, focused their attention and drew silently for the entire period.  At the end of class, they were shocked that so much time had passed, and they didn’t want to leave.  Did I continue to practice Zentangle with them?  You bet I did!  I also booked my reservation for the summer institute in Rhode Island to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher.” 


Zentangle opened the door to my friendship with Sara. I’ve had the privilege to take several of her classes and helped to arrange one at the Guemes Island Community Center. In addition to her artistic talents, Sara is an inspiring writer. She has a weekly blog that never fails to teach a valuable life lesson. The blog also includes video instructions for a Tangle that you can follow along and do. I highly encourage everyone to check out her website and blog. You can find it at You can also follow her on Facebook – just search for Zen Valley Tangle.


When describing her non-Zentangle art, Sara feels she doesn’t have a “signature style”. Because much of her life has been teaching art, she had to become proficient in a wide variety of techniques, and she discovered “I liked them all!”. Some of her favorites are printmaking, digital artwork, painting, drawing, and collage. She’s inspired by things she sees and things she remembers seeing. “I’m inspired by ideas, not necessarily concrete objects. An example would be something that exhibits the concept of happiness – how do I transfer that feeling to paper? I also prefer abstracts and not trying to produce an exact reproduction of things I see.” She also likes to digitize her artwork and turn it into fabric, wrapping paper, and even shower curtains!


When Sara isn’t creating her art or preparing for an upcoming class or her blog, she can be found walking a dog or just appreciating her new home on Guemes Island. She used to visit Guemes in her early years and paid a visit last August for old times’ sake. She saw what would be her future home and thought “This is it! I’m going to manifest this!” She and her husband, Dave, were in the process of downsizing from a 15-acre parcel in Bow because Dave was facing a terminal illness. Sadly, he passed away before they could move but she braved the unknown and moved on her own in November. 


Sara is willing to sell her art, she just needs to listen to her friends and neighbors and join one of Guemes Island Artist Studio Tours so it will be more accessible to the masses. In the meantime, check out her website, sign up for a Zentangle class, and be inspired by this amazing teacher.


Interested in an Artist’s Page?