Painter Sara Zimmerman

Sara Zimmerman kneels at her canvas, long blonde hair pushed over one shoulder, acrylics beside her on the floor, working on a piece from her Healing series. Nearby, her three-year-old daughter, Cali, is absorbed in her own masterpiece, slightly more abstract but featuring the same bright colors and confident brushstrokes. The scene brings to mind Zimmerman’s own beginnings as an artist.

“I started drawing when I was a little kid,” she recalls. “I was inspired by my grandmother and watching her work on oil paintings. I’d go to her house and there’d be clay, crayons, paints—she really encouraged my art.”

Zimmerman didn’t receive any formal art training until enrolling at UC Santa Cruz, where she graduated with a degree in environmental studies with an emphasis on science interpretation through art. In the meantime, “I found little odd jobs by doodling,” she says. She sold those “doodles” to greeting card companies, magazines, corporations like Budweiser, and even used them to start her own t-shirt line.

However, her art was still more of a hobby when she and her husband relocated to Truckee nine years ago. “When I moved here, I had yet to try painting,” Zimmerman says. Teaching herself acrylic techniques, Zimmerman joined an art council and began painting what would become her Awareness and Discovery series—two dozen surreal landscapes inspired by the Southwestern style of Georgia O’Keeffe. In 2006 and 2007, she started meeting with two other Truckee-based artists, Carole Sesko and Eve Werner, who provided inspiration and helped her evolve creatively. During that time, Zimmerman embarked upon on her Everyday series. “That’s where you see a lot of my grandmother’s
influence surfacing,” she says. “I was pushing myself in a more technical
aspect.” Using mostly acrylics and some recycled and reclaimed materials—including gift wrap, pizza boxes and cabinet doors—the grouping features highly textured pieces that utilize a contemporary palette of colors. The waters, mountains and towns of the Truckee-Tahoe area are rendered in dramatic hues and perspectives.

Then, everything changed. Zimmerman got pregnant and found herself too tired to paint. Her husband, then a general contractor, couldn’t find work. Her grandmother—and muse—died. Her parents separated.

“That’s where the Woman in Raw series comes from,” she says. “It was a way of getting this emotion out. I used house paint, cheap paint, whatever I could get my hands on. I’d throw paint, scrape paint, yell at the canvas.”

Many pieces span the emotions of a postpartum artist. Woman Seeking
and Woman Reclaims Body and Mind depict a desire for peace and quiet in muted tones of blues and coppers, while New Family and Shelter show the serene side of readjusting to life with a newborn. Others, like the Cali’s Garden No. 2 and Self (the Jury), are bright, whimsical and playful.

Zimmerman’s latest series, Healing, is “a derivative of Woman in Raw,” she says. “It’s about painting through to get to the state I want to be in.” More abstract and spiritual than her previous works, the titles—to include Abundance, Harmony and Nurture, all of which feature brightly colored teacups—indicate the artist’s thoughts and hopes as she created each piece. “I put so much energy into my art that I hope people can connect with it,” Zimmerman says. “If my pieces can inspire, that’s one of the coolest things I can do.”

Zimmerman’s work can be found at Truckee’s Riverside Studios; cards featuring her art are sold at locations from Reno to Sacramento, including the Nevada Museum of Art. Learn more at


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