Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Visit With The "Painter Of The Past"

I recently interviewed a very talented and delightful artist:
Suzanne Davis "The Painter of the Past"
Here is what Suzanne had to say about her art, her passion.

When did you first realize that you had a talent for painting?

I’ve always enjoyed keeping my hands busy doing something, but my enjoyment for painting wasn’t discovered until I became a Mom. It started with stenciling and decorative wall treatments when we purchased our first home and then that developed into a small word-of-mouth business when my boys were old enough to start school.

Working with a client on color choices, textures and design was fun for a few years, but I found that I was becoming disenchanted with the business end of it and wanted a simpler, less complicated creative outlet.

Both of our boys have some developmental delays, so, after a few years of traditional school, we decided to home school them, which allowed me to stay home and paint.Plus, sitting and painting was a lot easier than climbing up and down ladders!Once I began painting on canvas, the next step was trying new surfaces and mediums.I began painting with a mix of acrylics and oils for canvas work, and last

year, I discovered the joy of painting in watercolor. I also really enjoy finding new surfaces to paint, other than canvas. This keeps me interested and inspired too. In general, I like to experiment; each time I try something new, I learn more about myself and my style as an artist.
Why this particular style of art? What drew you to this particular style?

My style of art has developed over time, and I believe my love of history has influenced the process. What I love about 18th and 19th century art is that most of the portrait painters during that time were untrained. Their art has a sweet innocence to it that drew me to that style. I particularly love portraits of children holding a play toy or favorite book in their hands. The children were probably allowed to hold something so they would sit still during the portrait sitting, but it is endearing to realize that their treasure is now painted for posterity. It reminds

me that these were portraits of real people.

Like those artisans of the past, I’m self-taught, but I’ve learned a great deal from them by studying their work. I hope that my art captures some of the innocence and na├»ve style found in the paintings of the portrait artist of the past, like Ammi Phillips, John Bradley, or Joseph H. Davis, while honoring their legacy.

Who was instrumental in helping you to discover this talent?

My husband is extremely supportive. His input into my work is invaluable and he often has new ideas for me to try. He has always encouraged me to do what makes me happy and his support allows me to be a stay-at-home/ home school Mom.

My boys have been supportive too, and are very honest with their opinions. My oldest is a budding artist, and he will definitely let me

know when he thinks something doesn’t look quite right! Their critique of my work is often unwarranted, and can be very humbling, but has hopefully helped me grow as artist.
What do you think sparked the desire to pick up the paintbrush and "go for it"?

My motto when I was painting faux finishes on customer’s walls was, “its just paint.” I would tell the customer that if they weren’t happy with a color or finish when I was done, it could be repainted. The paint wasn’t permanent. No one ever took me up on the repainting of a wall, but I’ve repainted my own walls numerous times to practice a technique. So much so, that my husband joked that the square footage of our home was shrinking because of all of the layers of paint on our walls!

That mindset also helped me try my hand at painting on canvas. If a painting doesn’t turn out the way I have imagined it, then nothing is lost except some paint, and I have gained valuable insight on what NOT to do next time. Every time I pick up a brush, it is always a practice session for me, a new discovery to be made, and hopefully I improve with each brushstroke. It also helps that I was an elementary school teacher before I had children, so the learning process is important to me and goes hand in hand with creativity.

What is your greatest challenge in creating an image?

The challenge is deciding what image I want to try next. There are so many examples of “folk art” and primitive portraiture from the past, that I am always finding new-to me artists that inspire my next painting. Once I find an artwork, or a compilation of paintings that inspires me, I begin with a hand drawing of what I want to see in the final painting. I’ve found it to be very helpful to draw in detail what I envision. Also, if a customer wants an original painting of one that is sold, I can repaint it from the detailed drawing.

However, the actual execution of that image onto the painting surface can be challenging because I tend to be a perfectionist, and I’m limited by my own skill and vision of how I want the image to appear on the canvas. Thankfully, primitive folk art is stylistically very forgiving. Sometimes I just have to say, “It’s done!” provided, I can recognize a hand as a hand or an eye as an eye after I’ve painted it!

What are the best joys you get from your work?

Painting is rewarding because it brings me the joy of creativity. I love the challenge of trying a new medium, or surface area or art form. The fun for me is learning how a new surface responds to paint or discovering a new painting technique. I’ve recently tried my hand at painting miniature portraits, and this new challenge is proving to be a lot of fun.

It also brings me joy when my customers are happy with their purchases. I’ve met so many supportive and encouraging people since I’ve started selling online. It makes me happy to know that some of the paintings I’ve done are hanging in someone’s home, someone who appreciates the early American style as much as I do.

How long have you been doing this type of work?

Originally, my art was mostly done for friends and family members as gifts, but as a stay-at-home mom I wanted to help monetarily in some way. So, after so many paintings started piling up, I found a local shop in our area that allowed me to sell my wares.

The owner allowed me to sell my art and also do some custom work for customers of the store. This relationship ended when my family moved and the owner sold the shop, but I soon discovered new opportunities to sell online with others who had an affinity for Early American art. I’ve had my own online shop for about two years now.
What inspires you the most?

The anticipation of the potential outcome of a painting is very inspiring to me. I might begin with a very clear idea of what I want to paint, only to find it taking on unexpected dimensions as it develops. The process itself – from concept to finished painting – is very inspirational to me. Each skill gained, each new technique tried drives me to keep developing and experimenting.

When I’m asked to paint a custom portrait, the inspiration is there in the photo of the child I’m to paint. Through the custom portrait process, I’m able to work with the client again on color and design, as I did with decorative painting, and that part is always inspirational.
What types of awards have you received?

A few years ago when I was doing decorative painting, I received my certification in stenciling through an organization called the Stencil Artisan League, Inc. (SALI) for stenciling on walls and fabric. But most recently, I was selected for the 2009 Holiday Directory in Early American Life magazine for my painted silhouettes. I’m quite honored by this, considering my love of early American art, and my desire to

Where can folks find your artwork?

I sell through a few online markets, including Etsy (peartreeprimitves), and I also have a website, and blog: ~Painter of the Past~


  1. What a wonderful, insightful article about Suzanne! She is a dear friend of mine and extraordinarily talented!

  2. These are so beautiful. I'd love to see my children painted like this - wouldn't that be fun!

  3. I've known Suzanne, through blogging for quite awhile. She is an amazing artist.

    We live just outside a small town, in NE Missouri. My husband is from here. I am from a small down in SW Missouri. I'm very interested in your blog and will add it to my list.

  4. What a lovely article you have done about Suzanne.
    She is a wonderful artist.
    I have a lovely 18thc drawing that she did and it's one of my most treasured little works of art.
    This is such a wonderful well done article about this lovely artist and and well deserved!

  5. thank you all so very much for stopping by, and for becoming a follower of the blog, and adding us to your blog lists. We are delighted to have you all visit! So glad that you enjoyed the article. And a very special "thank you" to Suzanne for allowing the interview.

  6. Thank you for interviewing my Auntie Suzanne. She is quite brilliant and I'm glad others get to hear about her. You have a lovely blog!

  7. What a great article about Suzanne! She really is an amazing artist!


  8. Tina, thank you for asking me! It was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed getting to know you through the process.
    (Thanks too, to all those who stopped in to read and to are all very sweet!)

  9. I visit Suzanne's blog alot, it is wonderful. Your article was great and I will definately be back to read more!

  10. Suzanne's is one my favorite blogs, she is certainly very talented. Thank you for the interesting article!

  11. I've known Suzanne through the blog world for a while now and she is such a wonderful artist, I'm thrilled you interviewed her.

    It is lovely to know such a sweet and humble artist.....Suzanne is a treasure.



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