I had the privilege of meeting Suzie Baker, briefly, at the Oil Painters of America (OPA) National Convention, held in Dallas, a few years ago. However, the first time I became acquainted with her work was when she won the Artist’s Choice Award during the 2014 Outdoor Painters Society “Plein Air Southwest Salon”, of which we are members.
The painting was surely a runaway favorite, as it is phenomenal.
She is a woman of high energy and enthusiasm; you can see it in her work. She’s also an OPA Director. If you’re an OPA member and have something of worth you’d like to contribute to the site’s weekly blog, she’s the go to person.
I wanted to interview Suzie a few years ago, but she refused…giving some lame excuse like, “Not qualified, not ready”. Well, in my book she was ready then, but now, even more so. She’s won a ton of awards…wins something in just about every competition she enters. She has plenty to offer, in fact, so much good stuff that I’ve divided her interview into three parts. I’m so glad she relented!
You’re not going to want to miss any of this. So, here she is…Suzie Baker. (Click images to enlarge)
How has your advertising background helped you as a fine artist? Working as a designer and then an art director, the “real world” gave me exposure to a professional environment as an employee; then, the stakes were not as high as going it alone as an independent artist. The value of working in a professional environment, using design and photo editing software on a daily basis, prepping jobs for print, meeting with clients, and directing illustrators and photographers were all valuable tools I could bring to bear as I segued into being a full-time artist. My design work and painting overlapped some too so that I could supplement those early lean years with design income.
Who have been your major artistic influences, and why? There are too many to name…my high school art teacher, college professors, peers, and those who laid the groundwork before me, and to all the usual dead guys and gals, plus a few illustrators for good measure. I’ve taken workshops from many terrific artists whose instruction resolved many a painting conundrum and served to square my shoulders and send me off a better painter. The best teachers are like great counselors, they don’t do it for you, they help you to do it for yourself. The best students are those who have whacked their brushes against the same problems long enough that they know the solution when it is presented to them.
What’s your definition of art? That’s a big question. Here goes: Art is a tangible expression of the human condition. From painting to verse, stage to cinema, paper to screen, pragmatic to nonsensical, art is humanity’s way of communicating an inward idea or experience outwardly.
Your landscapes reflect an absolute joy of painting, is that because they are rapidly painted or is it something else? I’m glad you see joy in my work. It is an intention of mine that my work have a spontaneous, confidence to it, but like Dolly Parton says, “It cost a lot of money to look this cheap!” Similarly, it takes a lot of planning to look this spontaneous.
How would you describe your painting style? I would describe my work as representational, painterly, impressionistic, and responsive. I hope others would use adjectives like inspirational, masterful and worth every penny. Haha. Maybe I miss that mark a good deal, but hopefully, I have many years of painting yet in me to merit those descriptors.
What do you want to communicate through your work? When I look at work I admire in galleries or museums, online, and in books, I feel a need to get to my easel. I hope my work does the same for others. Additionally, I get a great deal of satisfaction when a collector comes back to me and expresses a sustained joy in having my paintings in their home. When I worked as an Art Director in ad agencies, never once did anyone tell me that my brochure or annual report brought them joy while having their morning coffee. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right.
Your still life and figurative work feels significantly different than your landscapes; is that because of the subject or because they’re done in the studio in a controlled environment? I recognize that my work can have a variety to it. I think some of this comes from my design background in which I might be called upon to come up with a number of visual solutions to a single problem. Another reason is that the studio allows me to have more control over variables whereas plein air environments give a set of variables that can change at any moment. A model might be too chatty or fall asleep, but the light doesn’t move, and they never knock over my easel, as a blast of wind has been known to do in the field. In that regard, I can take a more measured approach with my studio work while my plein air paintings trend to be more responsive. I also employ a variety of approaches in my plein air work. This past summer, for example, I had three events back-to-back and taught a workshop in the mix too. Painting that much on a nearly daily basis freed me up to take risks and try new things.
These three panels were painted within thirty days of each other at Telluride, Door County, and Easton Plein Air Events. They show a variety of approaches taken to describe the scene in front of me. The Door County apples were actually painted over an unsuccessful, scrapped down canvas from Telluride.
Do you believe one’s style of painting reflects their personality; if so, what’s your style say about you? I suspect one’s work must be an amalgamation of personality, life experience, training, social/historical trends and market forces. I first landed on my preference for direct painting in college. While we learned to paint in the layered approach of the old masters, we also learned to paint in the direct manner of Manet and the Impressionists. I can point to one assignment that had a profound effect on my painting style. My professor, Peter Jones, arranged two still life’s of simple flower cuttings in glass jars. Once our palettes were loaded and brushes were ready, we had 30 minutes to finish each painting, one right after the other. I didn’t have time to overthink, I just painted. The result of which was a revelation of free and expressive mark making that I strive for even to this day. I feel like I need to qualify this experience with a note that I had already had extensive drawing experience and instruction, many painting classes, as well as color theory and design, and so forth. If my professor had given this assignment on the first day of Painting 101, I suspect my memory of it would have been one of discouragement rather than exhilaration.
Continuing with that thought, do you think one’s personality can be a limiting factor in the type of work they’ll create? I can only speak for myself here, but I would have to take medication to paint in a hyper-realistic way, or as the old masters did, with layer upon layer of glazes. I feel overwhelmed just imagining myself painting that way. However, I sure do admire when others do it well. I think the primary limiting factor in the work we create is not our personality, but rather the junk we throw in our path that stops us from creating in the first place. Steven Pressfield calls all that junk, “resistance”, in his book The War of Art. This book should be dog-eared and highlighted; if an audio book, it should be a part of every artist’s bookshelf or digital library…and listened to regularly. It’s a good ol navel-gazing romp that leads to the kick-in-the-pants we need on a regular basis. Also, check out, Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
Your work feels very honest, particularly the landscape work; is that because of your love for the subject, or is there something deeper? I’ve learned over the years to paint what stops me in my tracks; if I can see the painting done in my head and I like it, then my finished piece will be the better for it. If I stop at an “it’ll do” spot and try to make something of it, it’s often a flop. Sometimes, I can see the painting in my head but it just doesn’t meet my own expectations, or I don’t have the skills to execute it just yet. In those cases, I end up with a wipe out, and that’s OK. Better a failed attempt than no attempt at all. Many a wipe out has gone on to become a frame- worthy painting.
Why are you an artist, and what do you hope to accomplish as an artist? That’s like asking why do I love my kids! My paintings have had their share of diaper changes and sullen teen years, but they have also brought moments of unquantifiable joy and immense pride. Humor me and let’s roll with that metaphor a minute longer to point out that painting, like raising children, can take more investment than they return for a long time. My sincere hope, on both fronts, is that neither kids nor paintings end up languishing in my basement; “basement” is figurative, not literal. I live in Texas. We don’t have basements.
Where does creativity come from, and can it be taught? I believe creativity can be encouraged or discouraged. To that end, all the “non-creative” practice, experience, study or learning we do, serves to strengthen our skills and prepare us to confront a problem with creativity. This holds true wether applied to music, engineering, social work or painting. At a plein air event, you can see this at work when a group of accomplished artists who have essentially the same raw materials: themselves, the environment and their tools, apply their unique mix of skill and knowledge and experience to produce some unique and dynamic paintings. “The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.” ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.
NEXT WEEK (Part 2): “Plein Air Painting”
I hope you like the new look of the blog page. Readers have commented over the years about the difficulty of reading white type against a black background. At long last I’ve taken it to heart. Actually, I had to wait until my grandson got older, and knowledgeable enough, to make the changes for me (ha ha). Thanks for your patience. Hope you also enjoy the enlarged type.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE
Pototschnik’s work may be purchased through the following galleries: