By Judith Kahn
Lynn Sondag is a woman of many facets. The Richmond District resident is an artist, a teacher, has a meditation practice, has traveled to far-away lands and is even a “puppy raiser.”
Sontag’s artistic talent earned her a position as an instructor at Dominican University of California in San Rafael. She enjoys painting landscapes and routine activities on city streets. She prefers the medium of watercolor to best express the weather and other environmental elements. Examples of her work can be found at Avenue 12 Gallery on Lake Street.
Lynn Sondag. Courtesy photo.
“Watercolor is about the juggling of the risk and immediacy with strategic thinking,” Sondag said. The medium allows her to work quickly and capture routine experiences of walking through and exploring the varied landscapes of San Francisco. The portability of watercolor also allows her to reflect upon and capture what she sees in the moment in other countries and more remote locations.
Ever since childhood, making art and being creative has been a part of her daily life. In fact, it was a feature of how she and her friends and played together. She was inevitably the artist in her class. From this, she formed an identity as an artist early in life.
“It was a way to edge my imagination,” when she was on her own, Sondag reflected.
At a young age, classmates asked her to draw for them. She received a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and an MFA from the California College of the Arts (CCA), known, at the time, as California College of Arts and Crafts, in Oakland. Both degrees are in painting.
“Ecology 1” by Lynn Sondag. Courtesy graphic.
It was the opportunity to attend CCA that brought Sondag from St. Louis to San Francisco in 1995. Prior to that, her family had moved around a lot, living in Florida and upstate New York as her father was transferred for his work. Her mother was a homemaker, tending to her five children. Sondag’s position among the kids is exactly in the middle, with two older brothers and a younger sister and brother on either end.
Sondag is inspired by art because it allows her to transform a thought or experience into a tangible and beautiful expression.
“Visual expression brings me personal pleasure, and I feel it’s a powerful way to connect to others,” Sondag said.
One of her favorite artists is Lars Lerin, whose watercolors always fascinate and inspire her. Another artist and designer she admires, and who works in a similar realm, is German-Hungarian ceramic artist, Eva Geise.
Along with her art, Sondag has other rich experiences. She has a meditation practice that is a central part of her life. She said it nourishes her soul. Swimming is another activity she enjoys, and along with her husband, she loves to travel. She plans to resume this when things open up again after the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, for the past three years she has been a “puppy raiser” for Canine Companions for Independence.
Sondag looks forward to future opportunities to create public art projects. These will give her more experience with murals and community-need art projects outside of her role as teacher.
“Coastal 6” by Lynn. Sondag. Courtesy graphic.
She has been teaching watercolor classes at Dominican University since 2002. The current course she teaches is titled Community-Engaged Art and Art Fundamentals, designed for Education majors.
“The Community-Engaged Art differs each time it’s taught,” she said.
The course partners with communities like San Rafael and Marin City. During the course, they usually install a public artwork in the community, a collaboration between community members in the Art Fundamentals Class and elementary-school-aged children. During this course, Dominican students learn about the creative process and how it can be fostered in the elementary classroom.
She has shifted her teaching toward project-based learning, such as this community-engaged art.
“Teaching is as satisfying and creative as making art,” Sondag said.
She finds that teaching has led her to become more and more interested in creating art in public spaces. Her hopes and expectations for her students in the courses are that they apply creative thinking and artistic practice to unique self- or collective expression. She wants her students to develop competencies in creative thinking, artistic skills, and in the recognition of the diversity of artistic expressions. She teaches them how to design, create and present – or practice and perform – unique self-works or collective works of art for an audience.
She encourages students to reflect on or articulate the creative process, to produce or perform in order to share their artistic skill, aesthetic, or creative practice. She teaches them to critically reflect on the root causes of systemic social issues and to apply learning in social context. She thinks it is important for artists to connect the role of art making and creative thinking to historical, social, and civic contexts, to value community voice and knowledge, and to act as socially responsible community members.
According to Sondag, teaching art at the time of COVID-19 – a significant time of change – has caused faculty to carefully examine what is and isn’t possible. Students at Dominican are accustomed to the small classroom, and the faculty has had to find a way to simulate that in a virtual space. She conducts video lectures and demonstrations that students can engage with at their leisure. However, there is a loss of community in the classroom and she is not able to step in as the students are working. Despite these obstacles created by the virus, Sondag sees opportunities.
“There are still amazing platforms out there for us to incorporate outside the classroom; for example, Christmas decorations in a retail store,” she said.
Sondag continues to teach and paint with equal enthusiasm, and her works have been exhibited in many public spaces, including the San Francisco Public Library, the Presidio Inn and Lodge, the Fleetwood Gallery and in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Her work is currently exhibited at Avenue 12 Gallery on Lake Street.
To learn more about Lynn Sondag and her work, go to www.lynnsondag.com.
“Ecology 13” by Lynn Sondag. Courtesy graphic.