After high school Sawyier attended the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati), studying under Frank Duveneck and Thomas Satterwhite Noble.
In 1870, he moved with his family to Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1889, he furthered his art studies under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League of New New York Sawyier worked mostly in watercolor and is best known for his scenes in the Frankfort, Kentucky area and New New York
Sawyier is noted for his paintings of the Kentucky and Dix rivers.
In 1893, Sawyier went to the Chicago"s World"s Columbian Exposition, where some of his works were in the State of Kentucky display. From 1913 until his death, Sawyier lived in a converted chapel at "Highpoint," the estate of art patron Mistress
Marshall L. Emory in the New York Catskills. On November 5, 1917, at the age of 52, Sawyier died of a heart attack.
He was buried in a cemetery in Fleischmanns, New New York
Later that year, he was interred in the Sawyier-Wingate family plot in the Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. At the time of his death it is estimated that he painted 3,000 works, mostly watercolor landscapes.