Susan Birth – Painter

Can you tell us about yourself and your background as an artist/maker?

I'm originally from North Devon but Worcester has been my home for a long time now. I've worked as a language teacher and then for many years as a translator. In early 2017 I decided to 'go for it' and follow my dream of becoming an artist, or as I thought of it then 'a real artist'. So I worked towards my first target which was Worcestershire Open Studios 2018. I took classes, improved my knowledge of techniques and media, learned a lot from fellow artists and started to use social media to promote my art practice. I had never used social media platforms before! I decided pretty early on that I didn't want to 'dabble' or see it as a 'hobby', but that it would be a business that I would develop. I took part in art fairs and exhibitions, began to hold local exhibitions of my own and generally made the most of opportunities, including submitting work to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours for their annual exhibition at Mall Galleries in London. The fact that I had pieces accepted in both 2019 and 2020 certainly boosted my confidence and I eventually ditched my imposter syndrome tendency!

Yew Trees Artist Studios

Tell us a bit about your creative process.

My creative process involves mixing acrylic paint, inks and collage (and sometimes other media too) to produce mixed media artwork in what I hope is my distinctive style, with variety, texture and interest. In fact the creative process starts well before that. Like many artists, I've already worked out in my head pretty much what overall effect I want to achieve before I start. That's not to say that things don't change along the way, because they always do. Sometimes I start with a layer of home made collage paper or other paper, sometimes layers of gesso to give texture from the start and sometimes just paint or ink in which case collage sections may be added later. It all depends on the subject and what I feel is the right starting point for a piece. I do love layers and I'm especially fond of using glazing medium mixed with just a little colour to add interest and depth. Customers are always asking me how long it takes to make a piece of work and that is the hardest question to answer. I'm often working on several pieces at once. I may leave a piece hanging around while starting another... One thing I certainly don't do is time myself!

Where you do usually work from?

I used to work in my home studio, a converted bedroom, but since August 2020 (when not locked down) I've been based at Yew Trees Artist Studios at Bevere Gallery on the edge of Worcester. I'm one of three artists working there, each with our own studio. There's a shared gallery space and a decent size outdoor area. We're open to the public Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm. Visitors can view our original artwork, browse our shop with prints, greeting cards, etc., see work being made, chat to the artists, etc. We're right next to Bevere Gallery (mainly ceramics) and their popular takeout café. It's a great place to visit and to take friends & family. Always a warm welcome and never any expectation to buy! The site very much has a countryside feel to it and I love working there.

Have you developed any unique or unusual techniques in your work?

I have one or two unusual techniques that I use in my mixed media work, but I'm not telling what they are, yet!

Tell us about a favourite piece of work and what it means to you.

My favourite piece of work at present is my painting 'Diglis Basin Approach' which I painted earlier this year after some wintry walks in the Diglis area of Worcester. It's one of a set of three and I'm pleased with them all, but this one has a certain magical quality that I like. It's also done in a fairly loose style which is something I'm always aiming for.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

My inspiration for a painting can come from any number of different sources. It could be a photograph that cries out "please interpret me in paint!" or it could be a memory of a walk or visit... in particular travels in south west France where the countryside and villages are so beautiful. I also enjoy the challenge of a commission or having to work based on a theme, for a community art project for example.

What advice would you have for artists who are just starting out?

I would advise artists just starting out to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. In particular they should look at the Worcestershire Open Studios offers available to member artists. There will be something there of interest and of use. They should sign up to and read Severn Arts' monthly newsletters, keep an eye on local social media and press to find out what's going on in their area and generally look outward, not inward. Lastly, don't be a lonely artist - there's so much to be learned from other artists.

If you sell your work, can you tell us more about how you do this?

I'm lucky to be able to sell my original artwork in person at Yew Trees Artist Studios, though I've also sold original paintings through contacts made online and in networking groups, and at exhibitions. I have an online shop on my website which is mainly for printed art products - fine art prints, greeting cards, art coasters, etc. I'm finding at the moment that many visitors to my studio are interested in buying my paintings of local scenes.

Diglis Basin Approach

How has lockdown changed your creative process?

Through the various lockdowns and restrictions, I've kept on painting. In fact, I would say that I've been more creative and for longer periods. I think that as artists we're lucky to have this urgent desire to create. In difficult times it helps us focus our minds and home in on our process, thereby giving our brain a kind of rest from all the other anxieties out there. I know this hasn't been the case for all artists though.

Tell us about any future projects you have planned.

I'm aiming to hold some 'Fun with Collage' workshops in the summer in the area next to the studios.

See more of Susan’s work on her Worcestershire Artists page.

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