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Art as lifesaver

Scott Sutton relied on his passion to get him through dialysis, and a fan eventually gave him a kidney.

August 28, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Scott Sutton thumbs through one of his books at the Art-A-Fair. Sutton is a children's book author and illustrator and encourages children to read in the process.
Scott Sutton thumbs through one of his books at the Art-A-Fair.… (Don Leach / Coastline…)

Scott Sutton's art saved his life.

Or, perhaps more accurately, a collector did.

The Austin, Texas, resident began dialysis 11 years after being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1991. It kept him alive but caused an inordinate amount of pain, he recounted. After two years of treatment, Sutton's wife thought he wouldn't last much longer.

Word of the artist's deteriorating health reached a buyer who had followed Sutton's career and purchased some limited-edition paintings. In a moment of serendipity, she offered to give him a kidney.

His donor, whose blood type was a match, underwent a battery of tests to determine her compatibility in 2005, and the transplant was done some time that year. Sutton, a Corona del Mar High School graduate, noted, with awe apparent in his voice, that the new organ was working well before he was out of surgery.

Sutton declined to name the donor but said that she currently is teaching English in Italy.

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The 60-year-old reflected on those earlier dark days when art helped him through his pain.

"It's pure creativity — it calms me down and makes me feel good," said the children's author and illustrator, whose 20th summer at Art-A-Fair is winding down.

Guests who wander over to his booth are greeted by copies of his books and artfully hung colorful and imaginative paintings.

Sutton first exhibited his work at the Sawdust Art Festival in 1971 after he discovered the richness of the art colony of Laguna Beach. During that time, he kicked off his career as a commercial artist and began displaying in the now defunct Sherwood Gallery. His wife fashioned dolls to accompany his watercolor, pen and ink concepts on watercolor paper.

This period marked the birth of his wildly popular "Family of Ree" characters and paved the way for a similarly named six-book series, which was first published in 1985. The 25th anniversary edition is now underway.

"I like to write in rhyme," said Sutton, who is influenced by Dr. Seuss, E. H. Shepard, Arthur Rackham, N. C. Wyeth and other greats. "I like constructing worlds with words and being able to illustrate those worlds with pictures."

Sutton, who started his first book in a creative writing class as a high school junior, has since developed "The Kuekumber Kids," "How to Draw Stuff" and "The Adventures of Dinosaur Dog." He now travels to schools, bookstores and libraries, walking children through the creation of characters as part of his Education Through Imagination workshops.

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