Suzie Baker, Art with Energy and Passion

As the winner of the “Best Composition” award at the NOAPS 2016 Best of America Exhibit, I interviewed Suzie with some questions about her art and her process…her answers struck me with a sense of intense energy and passion for her art.  Here is the interview:

Artist Suzie Baker   “Vigil”, oil on linen panel, 30×24

PT: What got you started on your path to art?

SB: I was one of those art kids, continually drawing, painting, creating and leaving eraser shavings all over the dining room table.  When it was time to go to college, I knew my major had to be related to art.  Always a pragmatist, I chose to major in Graphic Design figuring I would be able to get a job with benefits and a reliable paycheck.  I received a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University in 1992.  Following my degree program, I worked as an ad agency Art Director before trading my Pantone swatches for a brush and palette.  That transition came when my family moved to the Middle East in 2008 with my husband’s job.  That major life event served as a reset button for me.

PT:  Any mentors along the way?

SB:  I had some terrific early teachers in high school and college.  After returning from the Middle East in 2010, I began seeking out artists whose work I admired and signing up for their workshops.  Over the years, I’ve studied with Clayton Beck, Rob Liberace, Judy Carducci, Dan Gerhartz, Jeffery Hein, Jill Carver and Michael Lynch.  Every one of those workshops informed my paintings and contributed to the way I approach the canvas today.  I also participated in the Cecilia Beau Mentorship program.  To my great fortune, I was mentored by Rich Nelson who is still available to me when I need some “been there, done that” advice.

PT: Of artists that have gone before you, do you have particular artists that you admire and that have been inspirational to you?

SB:  Well, let me just jump on the Sargent, Zorn, Sorolla, Fechin bandwagon and add to that Velasquez, Rembrandt, Cassatt, Dean Cornwell, Norman Rockwell, William Wendt…now I’m just getting all stream -of-consciousness, and I haven’t even started to name living artists and my peers that regularly inspire me.

PT:  What genres do you prefer?

SB:  I am not limited to a particular genre, though I do stay within the representational realm.  I regularly paint landscape, still life, and portrait/figure work.

PT:  What was the inspiration for the piece that won the award in the last Best of America show?

SB:  That’s an easy one.  The model.  Dave Malin, friend and fellow artist, often models for me.  Dave is a collector and maker of costumes.  I’ve painted him as a cowboy, doctor, patriot, pirate and (not ironically) a Renaissance man.  Every year for the last three years, I have done at least one ambitious piece with Dave as the central character.  I plan ahead somewhat, but ultimately, I let my original plan morph into the final setup before beginning to paint.  In the painting Vigil, oil on linen, 24×30, Dave takes on the persona of a doctor holding vigil through the night.  The book at his left hand is Dr. Chase’s, Third and Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician from 1891.  I hope the viewer is compelled by the narrative of this painting to wonder about the condition of this physician’s patient.

PT:  Can you describe your working process?

SB: I hired Dave for a day comprised of two three-hour sessions.  I did the setup, lighting, block in and a majority of the painting on the face and hands from life.  I left the still life on the table at his left elbow in place to work on in my studio.  I brought the painting to completion from photographs I took and my established color notes from when Dave was present.  Note about using photography: I feel obligated to point out that there is no substitute for working from life.  You just don’t get the experience of accurate drawing, color and value range without it.  When you do use a camera, particularly in low light situations, a good SLR camera with a fixed 50mm lens (to avoid distortion) and a minimum knowledge of how to use it and set white balance is a must.

file-feb-15-3-06-54-pm   Here is Suzie’s palette

Included here is a recent study for a larger work I did with Dave titled, “To Every Purpose”. This shows my process of working from block-in to finished painting.

Artist Suzie Baker   Artist Suzie Baker   Artist Suzie Baker   Artist Suzie Baker

PT:  How do you start your day at the studio?

SB:  I wish I could say that I was regimented about my day in the studio and that I paint every day, but that is just not the case.  If you are a working artist, you know that time can easily be monopolized by the day-to-day business of art: email, book keeping, marketing, studio upkeep, framing, gallery relations…all have their demands to be obeyed.  I can say, however, that I am working most every day, sometimes it’s in my home studio, or at my travel easel with a painting group, or in my beloved Toyota Sienna minivan traveling to Plein Air events or teaching workshops around the country.


Painting En Plein Air at Olmsted Plein Air Invitational 2016.

PT:  What is your greatest achievement to date?

SB:  Honestly, it’s 23 years of marriage.  Admittedly, this is less of an achievement for me than my husband; I got the sweet end of that deal!

PT: Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

SB:  I often say that your best art supply is a supportive spouse/relationship!  Find one of those and take excellent care of it.

Also, draw, draw, draw!  I know it’s tempting, especially if you’ve waited until retirement to start art-making, but drawing is too foundational to skip over.  The great thing about drawing is that it teaches values as a byproduct which gives you a leg up once you move over into color values.  I habitually carry a sketchbook.  Additionally, I often take breaks from painting to do life drawings, and my paintings always benefit from the break.

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