Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding the Tribe

Artists are a different breed. It is true. Sometimes that reality is exciting and rich. Sometimes it alienates us and seems like a curse. Without some support and understanding I don't think we can really reach our true potential as artists. We communicate with our work and we need to be acknowledged. When I look back on my life I can name a handful of those people who appeared in my life and understood. They were artists. The first was when I was ten. A ninety year old woman who had been a sculptor.  I still have her tools and count them as among some of my most precious things. She gave me clay and actually praised the results. No one had ever done that. She made me believe that I could do it. She changed the course of my life. This photo of her hangs on my office wall. She was the first and there have been others since then. These people have appeared in my life when I least suspected it would happen. Some are mentors, some where teachers, some came from the pages of books and the walls of museums. Some become life long friends. It doesnt matter what role they take. I have known when I met them that there was a spark, there was something important there. There was a connection. And, I have to say that in my life they were all serious working artists whose work was very far ahead of where I was. In short, these people raised the bar. Just knowing them made me aspire to being better! They helped me to feel that I could! Having those people around me has been one of the most important elements along my journey of making art.

Julia Weder 

When I moved to Port Townsend I met one of these people. I met someone whose work knocked me off my feet. I couldn't believe it. I had never seen work like this. It isn't that I wanted to paint that way but seeing that work I knew I could reach deeper. Along with it was fear. Part of me despaired that I could never be that good, that powerful and free in my work. Her work is so authentic, so unique. What I did come to really understand at a deeper level is that we have our own individual voices. No one can paint like you or like me. We are who we are and that is where we can really find our power as artists. This person has become a very dear friend and of course all we talk about it art and life. They are the same.

My days go so much faster than they ever did. Now getting to the studio is what matters most. I have simplified my life and have found myself spending less time with acquaintances. This sounds a bit arrogant but time is limited now and I have so much work to do. When I am not in the studio I am still in that place of my art. It rolls around in me all the time and needs space and focus. My artist friends know that and we can share that with each other. Now I cherish my artist friends more than ever. We go through similar challenges in our lives. We understand! My mentor, Adele Earnshaw taught me much about being a professional artist. We met in 1986. She was my first watercolor teacher. She is a world renowned painter. I respect her immensely. She has worked for years in the arena of wildlife art, in a man's world, and not only held her own but excelled. We have been are very close friends for almost 30 years. I count her as family. I learned a lot from her in those early days and I still do. One thing that she told me was to keep a list by my phone of excuses when someone ( non artist) calls and wants to go to lunch. "You don't have time for that! " Adele would say, "You have to paint!". She would call me and say, "Are you painting?". I learned the ropes of galleries, framing, marketing and discipline. Most of all she loved to say "Paint, Paint, Paint!!". I in turn have told that to my students for the last 30 years too!  I have told her often and I know it is true that I would not be where I am without her support. Then there are those great artists whose work we love but never meet. I have been to museums all over the world. I have seen the work of those great dead painters and those great ones who still grace this planet with beauty and power in their images. I need to see that work. I need to know that I have a tribe. We need each other, no matter how that plays out. It raises the bar. It also keeps us humble.

I am so grateful to all the artists who have shared so much and made such amazing work and who have stayed true to themselves. I am grateful to have a tribe!

"The Last Roses", 2008


  1. So well said Susan. Love love the photo of your first mentor.

  2. Lol.... Keep a list of excuses next to the phone..... I do, and now my secret's out!
    Indeed it is so important to find one's tribe. I have not found my face to face art tribe but I have certainly made up for it in the blog world and on Face Book. The warmth, support and friendship I have received from so many artists has enriched my life no end. An unexpected bonus to the amazing artworld that opened up when I purchased my first computer. I know and love that feeling of days flying by once one is working in the studio. How lucky are we?!

  3. Robyn- That is so funny!! The list works well!!
    I feel really fortunate too! Doing the blog, as I am sure you have discovered is so nourishing. It is a big world with lots of artists out there! The connections are priceless. Thank you for being one of them.