Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy twinkles with art

Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy twinkles with art
Judy Kearby, left, and Susan Leonhard hang decorative snowflakes in Santa’s workshop for this weekend’s opening of the Sawdust Festival’s Winter Fantasy.
(Don Leach, Coastline Pilot)

Deeply humbled by the impact of his craft on people of all ages, Star Shields has contributed to the Sawdust Art Festival for 29 years.

The Laguna Beach-based face and body artist counts Led Zeppelin, Paul and Linda McCartney, Deep Purple and Bob Dylan among those who have donned his brightly hued, airbrushed outfits.

“After I painted stage clothing for Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant came to visit my infamous ‘flying saucer booth’ incognito in a rickshaw,” Shields recalled. “This festival has helped me grow as a creative artist, allowing me to share my skills everywhere I paint.”

Every season, crowds gather as Shields simultaneously paints among three to six projects. Saturday will be no different, as the maestro plans to treat visitors to his trademark style of painting faces, tattoos and fabrics accentuated with bold colors and glitter.


Shields will be one of 177 artists — 30 featured for the first time — who will design, display and sell their labors of love at the 22nd annual Winter Fantasy at the Sawdust Art Festival. Starting Saturday, the event, labeled “Art for the Holidays,” runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekend until Dec. 9.

“Sawdust has changed my life and is magical with its family of artists and helpers,” Shields said. “It is important to keep the uniqueness of this festival and its diverse art education alive.”

On opening day, the 12th annual Community Tree Lighting Ceremony will be officiated by Laguna Beach Mayor Jane Egly at 5:30 p.m. The evening’s special guests also comprise magician Magic Matt, balloon artist Balloon Diva, the Top of the World honors chorus, singer-songwriter Tricia Freeman and Fireside Carolers, a Charles Dickens-themed a capella group. Laguna Beach residents with ID are invited to join the fun for free after 3 p.m.

Art aficionados can witness the resplendent festival grounds and pop-up “Towne Square” decked in festive glory, showcasing an assortment of handmade arts, including jewelry, glass, ceramics and photography. Special attractions consist of an annual Community Night, a Toys for Tots toy drive, opportunities to mingle with Santa Claus and live art demonstrations.


In line with Winter Fantasy’s mission of educating the public about the arts, festival-goers are encouraged to explore the Ceramic Center and Children’s Art Spot as well as create watercolor holiday cards, origami ornaments and even Danish gnomes.

Along with the creative process, guests will enjoy new entertainers, such as popular California-born singer Trevor Green, Masanga Marimba — a band known for its Zimbabwean and Latin American beats — and music ensemble Salty Suites, said marketing director Cynthia Fung.

“The Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy provides a great opportunity for the Laguna Beach community to not only celebrate the holiday season in a quaint festive environment, but it also draws in much commerce into the community in support of artists,” Fung said of the show, which attracts more than 20,000 people every year.

An artist who is counting on the community’s support is 47-year-old Erin Rado from Crestline, whose work will be presented at Winter Fantasy for the first time. As a Celtic artist, Rado has worked in mental and physical health for four years. Her artwork, with its visually stimulating bends and curls, leads the brain to a meditative state called “relaxed awareness.”

“With the help of visual and tactile tracing, Celtic art therapy has benefited people with autism, ADHD, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other neurological conditions,” Rado explained. “Winter Fantasy is a fantastic opportunity for me to introduce this system to a number of new and interested individuals.”

Jenny Malloy, an acrylic and mixed-media painter from Laguna Hills, echoes Rado’s excitement.

Malloy was 7 years old when she accompanied her mother to her first-ever Winter Fantasy.

“I felt at home with who I was at the Sawdust Art Festival because I was surrounded by very talented people who loved the arts as much as I did,” said Malloy, now 28.


No longer a “wide-eyed, eccentric young girl,” Malloy is only days away from unveiling her artwork — reflecting an active imagination and affinity for experimentation, be it with shot glasses or radio antennae — in a turquoise booth, flanked by sparkling ornaments and a metallic garland.

“I believe [this festival] embodies the freedom of expression of the human spirit, freedom to connect with inventive individuals, and the freedom to share beauty with the Orange County community,” Malloy said. “To say I’m thrilled to share my artistic voice in the Sawdust Winter Fantasy this year is an understatement.”

Twitter: @coastlinepilot

If you go

What: 22nd annual Winter Fantasy, “Art for the Holidays,” at Sawdust Art Festival

When: Weekends through Dec. 9

Where: Sawdust Art Festival, 935 Laguna Canyon Road.


Cost: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 12 and free for those under 5, and $9 for season pass.

Information: (949) 494-3030 or