Today we meet Atlanta based artist, Susan Westmoreland. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Susan via Zoom and I was able to get an inside look at Susan’s studio during our chat which was such an amazing experience as an art lover. Having the opportunity to interview artists and authors this way really allows you to see the most authentic version of the person that you’re chatting with.
During our conversation, Susan shared about how her love of art developed at a very young age, what inspired her to start painting again, her fellow artists who inspire her and a sneak peek at the pieces that she’s been working on lately.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I knew at a very young age. My mother was an artist and I would watch her paint and copy what she was doing. Art was always my favorite subject in school.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
It has to be nature. I can get really inspired when I travel, and the beautiful surroundings. I also love to paint animals and figurative as well, so I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to what inspires me the most. Like many artists, I go through phases. For example right now I’m painting a lot of shore birds, but then I’ll go through a phase where I’m painting a lot of interiors. Many of the things I paint are subject that I think would be prettier in a painting than in a photograph.
Who are a few of the artists who inspire you?
Alice Williams is my biggest influence. She used to live here in Atlanta, and I studied with her here in the States. Once she moved to France I started traveling there and prior to COVID I would organize her workshops during my visits.
Gary Bodner, a local artist in Atlanta is another artist who inspires me. We paint together each week. He is such a dear friend and he’s been such a help to me as an artist. He’s been a mentor to me as an artist and he’s just a great person to know.
Jim Richards is also a local artist and I study with him twice a month and he’s absolutely brilliant and has shown me so many techniques and artist methods that have helped me grow as an artist. He is certainly not an artist who ‘lives in a box’.
What color palettes or color in particular do you like to use frequently in your work?
I really love color, so I’m all over the board. Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of painting on linen and I’ve been keeping the natural background. Since I paint in oils, I find that they have the most brilliant colors. I love using bright, rich colors in my work.
You paint a variety of subjects from birds and animals to cityscapes. What drew you to these particular subjects?
I didn’t start painting seriously until I turned 40 and I went to Italy for the first time. My husband surprised me with this trip and when I was walking around I kept saying to myself that I needed to start painting again.
I had stopped painting when I had my daughters, but when I came back from that trip I was just ready to go and all I wanted to do was paint. It was at that point I really knew that this was going to be my main career.
Do you paint from life, photos or imagination?
All three. I love to paint en plein air. It’s the hardest thing to do, but I feel is the best method of painting to improve your work. Of course we can’t always paint from life. When I travel I’ll take photographs and I’ll paint from those. It really helps that I’ve been there and know how the light was that day and how I felt while I was there.
When I’m working from a photograph, sometimes I’ll alter the composition and use my imagination. For a still life that I’m currently work on, I really didn’t like the background of the chair that I painted, so I’m going to put more of a French chair, and that’s completely from my imagination.
Another of my recent paintings (that’s actually a diptych) are of some birds that I saw walking along the beach and I just had to come home and paint them.
What is a typical day in the studio like?
I usually like to get down to my studio early in the morning while I’m fresh. I always work on several paintings at once so I’ll work on one painting for a few hours, take a break and then start on another one. I go between what is inspiring me on that particular day and deadlines I’m working on.
Since you mentioned that you work on several pieces at the same time, what are a few of the pieces that you’ve been working on today or this week.
I’ve been doing this acrylic backgrounds where I’ll make a kind of abstract in the background. So in one of the city scenes that I’m working on right now, I drew in some of the buildings with my oil sticks and I really like what was happening with the painting. It was kind of a happy accident and so I just kind of picked out a few edges and shapes where I wanted the viewer to focus, but I think I’ll leave the middle of the painting with just the oil outline as I really like the effect and the feeling that it gives to the painting.
I’m also going to change the chair in the painting I mentioned previously, and I’m also working on a scene from an island off the coast of Venice. So those are three of the paintings that I’m working on at the moment.
Do you have a piece or pieces that have been your favorite to create?
That’s a tough one! I would say the birds on the beach were my favorite to create. They’re just so fun. I also like painting animals and horses. At the same time I also like to do quite a lot of city scenes. So I would say it’s between birds and city scenes.
What are your words of advice for budding artists?
I keep remembering what Alice (Williams) told me. If you paint what you love then your best work is going to come through. Abstracts are so popular these days and there are many artists who decide to give it a try. Sometimes it works out for them, and other times it doesn’t.
I’ve never been called to paint abstracts. I like to paint in a abstract way, but I like my work to be somewhat representational. When I approach a gallery I try to figure out what they want and they often decide they only want birds, or cityscapes. However I find when I paint what I love I feel that my best work comes through.
An example of this is when went to the beach and saw the birds I couldn’t wait to get home to paint them, but if I had to come home and paint something else, I don’t think it would have been as much fun.
So my words of advice are to paint what you love and then your work is only going to excel.