Helen Sewart in Wavecrest

Helen Sewart of Coastal Wood Designs poses for a photo with a piece of her artwork in the Wavecrest Open Space on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Adam Pardee / Review

As a senior at Half Moon Bay High School, Helen Sewart wouldn’t have expected that today her artwork could be found in homes across the Coastside, and now in a gallery on Main Street.

Before evolving into Coastal Wood Designs, Sewart began wood-burning to make gifts for friends and family.

“I love giving gifts but struggled with the financial burden of doing so for my loved ones,” said Sewart in an email to the Review.

She said that after seeing someone on social media doing wood-burning, she decided to try it out to give as gifts.

“I bought a pyrography pen and started experimenting on plywood scraps in my backyard,” said Sewart. “While my artwork has evolved since that time, I am still in tune with my initial desire of sharing love with others through art.”

What began as a hobby eventually became a small business for the artist. While she has no formal training in art, she says art is in her blood. Her dad was a metal artist in his spare time, and had a collection of art ranging from psychedelic band posters to antique maps hanging around the house. Her mom also exposed her to art from a young age, introducing her to Monet and Van Gogh as well as ancient Egyptian works.

“Although, at the time having little understanding of the scope of these stimulants, I believe these influences have imprinted and wired my brain for the creative world,” said Sewart.

Sewart is the quintessential Coastsider. Having lived here her whole life, the artist has memories of being a Junior Lifeguard, playing softball and exploring Giusti Farms. Nowadays you can find her biking to Mavericks before grabbing some tacos from Tres Amigos.

“My favorite part about living here is being able to go from grassy hills, farmland, redwoods, town and the beach, all in less than an hour,” she said.

The young entrepreneur draws on her love of the coast for inspiration. Half moons, pumpkins and beach scenes show up often in her work, and she uses sustainably sourced local materials from wood cutters who reclaim wood on the San Mateo County Coast.

“My favorite part about making art is connecting with every walk of life, physically preserving memories and feelings, expressing myself, and learning from the beauty of wood that Mother Earth has gifted us,” she said. “There is no way to measure the peace I discover when I create and turn a thought into a tangible art form.”

Sewart also utilizes her art for good, raising funds for nonprofits like CoastPride, Black Earth Farms, the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, Stop AAPI Hate, Coastside Hope, First Nations and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Sewart says that a typical day is never actually typical. The artist juggles her work while pursuing a degree in business administration and marketing from San Jose State University.

On days she focuses on her art, she starts off prioritizing food and sunlight, and what she describes as excessive caffeine to get ready to create. There is plenty to do, from sanding and cleaning raw pieces of wood, to sketching designs, checking in with clients and creating her pieces.

“My most difficult work is staring at an oddly shaped piece of wood that has dirt, cracks, knots with unique grain lines, and figuring out how to turn it into art,” she said.

Those interested in purchasing her art can contact Sewart on Instagram @coastalwoodesigns, on Facebook @Coastal Wood Designs, or email hsewart9@gmail.com. She uses social media as a portfolio so customers can browse what she has to offer. She also does custom pieces and can work on virtually any wood surface — benches, surfboards, cutting boards and so on.

The next big thing for the artist is showing her work at Ocean Blue's The Art Vault, 643 Main St., which is hosting its grand opening and reception from 4 to 6 tonight.

Sewart will have nine pieces up for sale at the Vault, along with one she donated to the nonprofit wall at the gallery to profit CoastPride. Sewart said that the art she is showcasing at the Vault is of a much bigger scale than what she has done before, and unique. All the wood she used is local and came to her from recent wildfire burn areas.

For now, the Vault will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, along with Mondays that fall on holidays. It will also be open one Thursday a month as part of the Make It Main Street events.

Sewart’s art can also be found at Half Moon Boutique, 545 Main St., and Flora and Fauna, 270 Capistrano Rd., No. 34.

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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