In today’s artist interview & sneak peek we have a visit In The Studio with Susan Irish. Susan is a Charleston SC artist, gallery owner of Fabulon and former teacher. I mention this because she still teaches and has the heart of a teacher! I’m so grateful for the artists who invite us to visit their studio! We can learn so much from each of these visits. Susan is organized in spite of her many medium and interest in using found objects, these photos are not styled so this is typical of what her studio space looks like on an average day.
In The Studio with Susan Irish-Artist Interview & Sneak Peek-Part I
Heather::When you realized were an artist?
Susan::My dear friend Olga would introduce me to all of her friends as “this is Susan, she is an artist”. By the third introduction I started to believe her and by the 5th time, I began using the title, too. But I was always interested in art since childhood. I took art classes, made art, went to college for design. I collect stuffed, like furniture and fabric, even as a kid.
Heather::What materials you work with?
Susan::Primarily I am an encaustic painter. I was classically trained in oil then discovered encaustic. I loved it so that I thought I would never use anything else. When I opened the gallery, I become too busy for the time encaustic takes so I tried to go back to oil. It took too long to dry so I experimented with acrylic. Now I switch back and forth as I learn new techniques and I try to incorporate then into the other medium.
I use a lot of found objects in the encaustic: rust parts and words from papers and books.
Heather::Is making art your primary source of income? Do you have a partner who helps to support you?
Susan::I am trying to be self-sustaining through paintings. I make a living by teaching. This is good for me as I constantly say out loud all I know to be true about art and art making. When I am in the studio, I try to hear myself, the teacher, echo in my head versus the critical editor which can be so detrimental to artists.
Heather::How much time do you spend in your studio weekly/daily?
Susan::I start my morning in the studio before I go to my day job and I stop in every night for at least 1 hour. But I am most productive and actively painting on the weekends. During the week days, I am planning, sorting, touching up or obsessing.
Do you work in solitude/seek out solitude or enjoy company (music, other people etc)?
Susan::There are times when I need music for background to block out all the other distractions. I usually choose classical or Andrea Bocelli because I don’t understand what he is saying. If I have music with words, it can only be at a specific time because the words end up in the paintings.
I prefer the solitude of my studio. Bridge, my dog, does have a bed up there but he knows that I am working and will lounge the entire time.
Heather::Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
SI::I am so so very fortunate to have the room over the garage which has a large shed style dormer. It is quite decadent and luxurious. But when I work with encaustic I am tethered to the electricity in a very small 3-foot square section. The rest of the space is pure inspiration. I have been in this newly renovated space for 3 years.
Heather::Is there anything you find distracting or choose leave out of your studio practice?
Susan:: The computer is my source of music. I try not to use it for anything else and I try to leave the business part out. But the teacher part always crosses over. Sometimes I need to stop painting to journal an epiphany regarding how to convey a lesson.
I like the Old English Professor style of decorating and find the stuff and clutter that may distract some to be inspiring to me so almost anything is welcome in.
Heather::When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall set up or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
Susan::The past space was very tight with a steeped roof like an attic. It was inhibiting to creativity and very claustrophobic. Light and space were so desperately needed. This was the biggest factor in the plan for renovation. Proper ventilation and lots of outlets for the melting wax is integral so there is a 12 foot built in counter style work station with 8 outlets and 2 exhaust fans camouflaged as shelves.
Heather::How do you use your space to support different phases or aspects (mediums) of your process? For example in kitchen design we refer to the “work triangle”, do you find any similar arrangements useful in your space?
Susan:: A chair with wheels is a good thing. This allows me to swing from my heat station to my planning table. But on acrylic waves, I stand. An easel I use was salvaged when one of the colleges I attended was renovated. The other is 20 years old and feels like an old friend. I often work on several paintings at once so it is very helpful to have two easels.
Heather::Do you use personal objects & memorabilia in your art? Do you collect memento’s, found objects or other ephemera, thing that evokes your childhood or playful nature=sense of humor (ironic, kitschy)? What is their Value to you?
Susan::I like to have my books and treasure visible. The artifacts and displays are important to me but they must have a sense of order and arrangement like a science lab. Having always worked in a school environment, this makes me comfortable.
Heather::Do these collections ever overwhelm you and if so how and when do you curate-edit them?
Susan::When the brain won’t connect to the hands, I sort and rearrange. Or when the dust accumulates, since I am lifting the objet I might as well try a new table scape. I perfected a method I call dust decorating.
Heather::Do you have a mantra, muse, mascot or area that you dedicate as an altar? OR-do you have any rituals, superstitions or routines you practice regularly in your studio?
Susan::The paintings over my work station are reminders of my personal missions. I also have a portrait of my children, my best creation ever. Once in an impulsive moment I wrote words on the wall in sharpie.
Next week we’ll be back to share more of Susan’s tips on Organizing, Storage and her Legacy as an artist. Do you have any questions for Susan? If so, please share them below or email me.
Do you have any questions you want me to ask Susan next week? If so please leave them in the comments below!
*The idea for the In the Studio series began while attending an art retreat where I curiously observed the differences in the creative cycle of order and chaos and what that looks like for different individuals. I’m very interested in sharing how organizing affects the artist’s creative process. Some systems and order are vital to our creative PLAY and learning to find a balance that works to enhance your creativity is what I hope to share with you through these interviews.
Is there a particular artist whose ‘Tool kit’ you would like to see featured? Leave a comment below and let me know!