Featured Artist - Susan White, Issue #58
by Susan Schaefer
From childhood onwards, I have felt the need to create art. When not drawing, I was exploring and observing the natural world around me in rural Manitoba.
I now reside on Vancouver Island, where I am daily presented with breathtaking views and surrounded by wildlife.
Coming from a jewellery maker background, why did you make the transition to a pastel artist?
I have always enjoyed making things, and have tried my hand at most crafts over the years. I took a jewellery making course at the Alberta College of Art in 1995, and completely fell in love with making metal jewellery as there are so many directions you can take it.
I worked in copper and silver, and learned how to make glass beads to add to it. I also add- ed polymer clay to the metal framework of the jewellery. Jewellery making involves a lot of problem-solving; the ultimate object has to be functional and wearable, as well as beautiful. Of necessity, the work is very small scale, which I started to find frustrating. I would find myself responding to a texture or colour I would see, autumn leaves for example, and want to convey it through my jewellery but never feel I was succeeding.
When I moved to Vancouver Island, I didn’t have a space for a functional jewellery studio anymore, and was ready to leave that part of my life behind. For fun, I took a drawing class at The Old School House Arts Centre from Martin Hill. It reminded me how much I used to love drawing. I was asked to be part of a small art group, and was inspired by all the different mediums and styles everyone was working with.
Coloured pencil seemed like a logical progression for me, and I had worked with them years ago. I was astonished by how much coloured pencil work had changed since then; it was now looking more like paintings than drawings. I didn’t feel it allowed for much spontaneity, or scale. Enter pastel.
What is it about pastels that you enjoy?
Everything! I think of it as a “no-pressure” medium. I love that it is a dry medium. I don’t have to worry about my paint drying out, or waiting until the paint is dry. I can leave a piece up on the easel, and do ten minutes of work on it if I want, and just walk away.
I work on UArt paper, which is basically artist grade 400 grit sandpaper. The paper really grabs the pastel and holds it, so there is very little dust created. I usually put down many layers of pastel to get the effect I want, and have yet to run out of “tooth” on my paper of choice. If that were to happen, it is a simple matter to brush the excess pastel off, or even erase it and start fresh.
Then there are the pastels themselves. When I am painting in public I have my box of pastels, arranged by hue and value, and people love to look at them. They are such beautiful saturated colours, almost pure pigment with a little bit of binder to hold them in stick form. Sliding one across the sanded paper, and seeing the colour transfer onto it is a magical experience! If I want detail, pastel also comes in pencil form.
What is your favourite subject(s) to paint?
My subject matter seems to fall into three categories; wildlife portraits, botanical subjects and still life. Regardless of subject, I find I am always attracted to lots of detail, and the effects of light and shadow. Anything with strong shadows and/or reflections has been pulling me in lately. I do love the process of working on a subject, stepping back and seeing that yes, it does actually look dimensional! As a realistic painter, I find that exciting.
What does Associate Signature status in the Federation of Canadian Artists mean to you?
To me, it is a validation from my peers. As an artist, it can be difficult to know if your work is “good enough”. Possibly that shouldn’t matter, but it does to me. Applying for signature status was one of my covid projects in 2021.
It is quite an intimidating process, sending off images of 10 of your best to be judged by a large jury panel. Then if you pass that test, sending 3 paintings to Vancouver to be judged in person. It was one of my highlights of 2021 to be phoned by the executive director of the Federation of Canadian Artists and told I now had an Associ- ate Signature designation.
You’ve recently become part of the The Side Door Studio. Please tell us about that.
I was accepted as one of 10 artists who shared a studio at the Old School House, in 2020. I was very happy about this. Unfortunately it hap- pened right about when covid shut everything down. Six members of that group, including me, recently became the Side Door Studio, and moved to a new studio space at TOSH in January, 2022.
I enjoy being part of this cooperative. We take turns painting in the studio, and hang our work there. The paintings get changed out every month, so there is always something new for visitors to look at. We all promote and sell each other’s work at the studio. I like getting out of my home studio and painting there, and have begun painting at the MacMillan Gallery in Parksville as well. It’s always fun getting to talk to other artists, and the public.