Interview with Susan Shie – one of my inspirations!

Susan Shie Bio:

Susan Shie is a full-time artist who paints, draws, writes, and sews in order to create her time-capsule style of personal artwork. She teaches her unique method in workshops all over the world.
In 1997 Susan created St. Quilta the Comforter, an icon of universal kindness based on her own mother, Marie Shie, a passionate nurse who studied natural healing. St. Quilta appears throughout The Kitchen Tarot series, which Susan began in 1998 with the Colander piece for the traditional Fool card. Each new mixed-media art quilt had its own size and proportions, and during the first year, she made only two pieces because her painting and hand sewing were so time-consuming Susan’s processes were slowly evolving over the 11 years of making the 22 major cards. She learned to use both airbrush and airpen, and slowly switched from intense hand sewing and beading to obsessive hand journaling and minimal machine sewing. These changes allowed Susan to work faster and on much larger pieces, but her unique style and imagery remained recognizably hers. She chose kitchen objects to represent traditional tarot-card symbols because the kitchen is the center of the home and family, where nurturing and healing occur. She believes that we can heal the earth, one kitchen at a time. Susan teaches adult art workshops internationally and at her home in Turtle Moon Studios. Website: 
Debra: Susan, I would like to thank you for taking time to give my blog followers a glimpse into your world. I must say I have been influenced by your work’s subject matter, color pallette and composition since I first saw your work several years ago. As and artist, painter and art quilter, I most admire the freedom in which you compose your pieces. I would love to know your process in a nutshell. Do you journal about a piece? make a list of points? plan out the composition or go straight to canvas?
Susan: I used to enjoy just starting with a blank canvas, as I so much love the freshness and innocence of accepting the first draft of anything. But now I make sketches, sometimes just one or two, sometimes a lot.  Then I don’t look at them, when I actually go to draw my big piece on the large cloth panel, using black paint and my airbrush.  I can peek at my favorite sketch, to see basic placements, but mainly the sketches are how I develop what’s going to be in the piece, and what the actions will be.  I let it change as much as feels good, when I put it on the cloth, but that first drawing on the fabric has to be fresh – no copying. It needs to flow out, and I love that process so much!  It’s scary until I get the first shape on the cloth, and then, whether it’s in the right scale to match my sketch or not, it is what it is!
Debra: Has this always been your process? Or has the process evolved over the years?
Susan:  My way of working has always been pro-innocence, even though I have all those years of art schooling behind me.  I want to see what my soul brings up to the surface.  I love naive art and kids’ art, and those are so loved because of their freshness.  If you don’t waste your time contriving and judging, you can let it just come out naturally. I’ve never let my students use erasers or tracing paper, etc, when they take my classes, too.  We all watch what comes out of us, and most people are quite stunned at how much they like what they’ve been keeping blocked for so long.  We’re all artists, you know, but it seems like that’s a big secret!

Neo Buddah 2005

Debra: Is there now, or has there ever been a time when you are apprehesive about starting a piece of art? Or a time in which you were concerned about the outcome of the piece?
Susan:  I get all scared sometimes, before I make that first mark.  I’ve had a glass of wine more than one time, to get up the nerve to grab that airbrush and paint. Everybody can freak a little on a gigantic expanse of white cloth that’s waiting for them to make their move!  And I’ve put a few patches over things that really bugged me and started those sections over, but at least I use a fast patch of whatever piece of cloth I can grab, to make that patch from, and once it’s in place, it stays put.  One wishy washy change is ok, but then let it go!
Debra: If you were not a quilt artist what other avenues might you have considered as a life path?
Susan:  I think of myself now as a painter, not a quilter.  I started painting mostly in art, tho I always sewed my clothes, like Mom did, when I was younger.  I feel like I’ve come full circle back to painting, and I sew my pieces yet, because they’re much easier to handle in many ways, than huge stretched canvases would be. That was how I got into quilting in the first place – a need to have huge pieces be more portable. And it was also a feminist choice to add sewing to my painting. When my fingers got numb from hand sewing, during the same time that I was developing my airpen for small writing, in the mid 2000s, I decided to mostly ditch the handwork.  These pieces would look the same on stretched canvas.  I am a painter and storyteller, and I like to sew my paintings, which in my college and grad school years, I called soft paintings.
Debra: I know that you repeat imagery in your work that is symbolic for certain things. Can you talk about that symbology and how and why you feel it is important to repeat the images from piece to piece?
Susan:  I like having my own visual language, so to speak.  Pies, for instance, represent gifts and blessings, since we are really blown away, if someone bakes a pie from scratch for us.  I use eyes a LOT. They are the symbol of our souls for many people, not just for me.  And since I have bad eyesight, I want a lot of good eyes around me.  I use the Hindu eye placement on the forehead – the third eye. And I invented the eye on the throat, where the Throat Chakra is. That one is for communicating more soulfully, more intuitively.  I put a teacup on St Quilta’s head, and sometimes on women in my family’s heads, too.  Cups in Tarot are an image of love and compassion. This one is always full.  Mom was like that: always there with real compassion and kindness.

Magic Lama 2008

Debra: What landed you in the world of cloth and stitching opposed to clay, or jewelry, or oil paint and canvas?
Susan: I did stretched canvas paintings from my junior high days on, bigger and bigger ones. They just got too big and awkward, so I switched to cloth, so I could fold my paintings up. But I’ve always sewn, even making custom tailored, custom fitted leather garments in my Jimmy’s leather shop for years.  I was doing ceramics when I went back to college in the mid 70s, because in my own pottery, I only had an electric kiln, and I wanted to see if I should build a gas one.  That one class in clay led me to be in college full time, finishing 9 years later with my terminal degree in Painting at Kent State’s School of Art. But you know, you have to focus.  Painting is at the bottom of all my art (and painting includes drawing and writing, for me.  I’ve ALWAYS done both of those things, from the time I could make anything.)
Debra: When I was 5-6 years old one of my favorite things to do was to swing on a homemade wooden swing from a huge tall oak tree in my back yard. I would literally sit and swing and sing and have a grand time for HOURS! That peace, freedom and solice is one of my fondest childhood memories. I now know that it was “creative” time and it was meditative, even at 5.
 What can you remember about when you were 5-6 years old, that just by thinking about it, can bring you back to that time?
Susan: My mom let us keep a table full of plasticine clay in our playroom.  One of my brothers and I would play with that clay, making new things from squishing down the last ones we’d made. This clay doesn’t get baked. It’s modeling clay, and it just needs heat from your hands to soften it to rework it. Playing with clay, drawing on the bench during church, drawing endlessly, those were my favorite creative things at 5.
Debra: Who do you specifically create you art for?
Susan: I hope everyone can get something out of it, but I know not everyone does. So I make what I like. You’re never going to please everyone, so you need to center and do what is genuinely yours. I know some people really hate my work, some love it, and some are non-committed about it. What you DON’T want is for YOU to be non-committal about making your art.  I need to feel passionate about what I’m doing, and if I don’t feel that groove, I make some art until I feel it and then jump into the big work. You have to keep doing it!
Debra: Is there always a message?
Susan:  Yeah.  But you don’t have to read it!  I feel my art has to “work” for me, even if no one ever reads a word of it. The words need to look right as design elements, meaning they need to be a harmonious part of the composition. When you’re in the groove, they ARE harmonious. When you’re not feeling the work, it can get off key easily. Better to take a walk and come back to it fresh, than to force things out that you don’t feel!
Debra: If you could ask the universe one question, what would that be?
Susan: How can I move my work along so that it really helps people and all the earth to heal?  I want to contribute to that healing, to a positive energy that grows and swells in the world.  I know some folks in my little town of Wooster, Ohio, who’ve invented a glass product that actually cleans polluted water, without any chemical crud being involved.  I would love to be able to contribute like that!
Debra: You have a severe vision disability. Has that been a frustration or a blessing?
Susan: Both, I guess.  But getting frustrated doesn’t help anything. I think I get the most frustrated now, because I wish I could drive up to see my kids in Cleveland, drive to visit friends, help people out, etc, etc.  But if I could drive, I wouldn’t be making my art as much. I’m sure I have such poor eyesight for lots of good reasons.  I wanted to be a nurse like Mom, when I was little, and she gently told me my sight would keep that from happening. So I stuck with my art.  But I coulda been a nurse who makes art in her free time!  But I know this is what my soul wanted most, to be most useful by making art.
Debra: I am going to play a silly association game with you to wrap up. Below I will list a list of words. Without planning please just write what first comes to mind. Here we go…
Inspiration: stars
Sky:  love
Obama: honest
Pie: love
Intentions: purpose
Why: coz
Women: tribe
Shy: thoughtful
Men: tribe
Cry: cleanse
Historical Figure: Eleanor Roosevelt
Sigh: relax
Torment: relax more
High: positive
Energy: even
Bye: later
A lot of those rhyme with my last name … ! In school, we always ended up being called Shie Pie, as if the person who said it came up with it out of the blue!  🙂
Debra: Susan thank you so much. One last question….Do you have a personal mantra? If so what is that mantra? If not what do you want to say to the people reading this blog.
Susan: believe in what you do.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Custom Patches
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 06:51:09

    I truly enjoy looking through on this website , it holds fantastic blog posts…!!
    Custom Patches


  2. Alice Combes
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 17:03:26

    Great interview, love her work!


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