Susan Birth – Painter

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

Eons ago I was a teacher of languages and I've worked as a freelance translator for many years now. So, no real background as an artist as such. I've always drawn and painted though. In 2017 I decided to focus much more on doing what I loved most and set myself the target of Worcestershire Open Studios 2018. This year I'm aiming to translate less and paint more.

Key worker 'Severn Swans'

Tell us a bit about your creative process.

I don't follow a specific creative process. I often start with a collage layer for underlying colour and texture, and then build on layers of acrylic paint and glazes, sometimes finishing with touches of collage. Or I may start with a layer of paint plastered on with a palette knife... I guess I adapt my processes to suit my intention, which tends to be a vague image that's been building in my head for a few weeks. I'm usually working on a few pieces at the same time and I have to fit my translation work around painting, so it's impossible to say how long it takes to create one painting. However, it's a question that customers often ask me, so perhaps I should start timing myself.

Where you do usually work from?

I work from a home studio, a large upstairs room. I'm lucky to have this space all to myself and I simply don't care how messy it gets (except in the week before Open Studios). This year I had hoped to be able to also work from a new studio space outside my home as one of a small group of artists, but the lockdown has prevented that happening for the moment.

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

I wouldn't say that any of my techniques are unique, though I learned some interesting ideas from Malvern artist Dora Williams (now in London) and these helped me add even more variety to my artwork.

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

My current favourite piece of work is called Refuge and was purchased earlier this year by Anna Taylor who runs Elmslie House in Malvern, where it now hangs. I have a special affection for it because it's a landscape that I'm truly happy with at many levels: colour, looseness of style, composition, mood, etc.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

Like my creative process, my inspiration varies hugely. I'm sometimes inspired by a stunning photo posted on social media or taken by a friend. A particular photo may pop up that really makes me want to interpret it in paint in my own style. I always ask the photographer for permission first! At the other end of the spectrum, during the lockdown I created a series of imagined landscapes that just magically appeared in my head.

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

My advice to artists starting out would be: don't be a lonely creative. Get to know artists in your local community and online. Then you can feel part of a community, help each other, learn from others, stay aware of what's happening in terms of art-related events, etc.

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

Most of my sales have been made in the context of Worcestershire Open Studios but I've also sold many paintings in local exhibitions, various popup art events and art fairs. I'm aiming to start selling more online and so I'm working on extending my website and increasing my social media presence. I paint landscapes, floral pieces and still life pieces. There's no doubt that my landscapes have been the most popular - both originals and prints. This year I'm scaling down my print production in favour of originals and art cards.


How has lockdown changed your creative process?

At the start of the lockdown I struggled to paint at all for about a week but I would say that in general I've been more productive. My translation work tailed off and I've had more time. A collaborative project with artists Cherrie Mansfield and Caroline Hall needed videos showing our creative processes and this has forced me to learn how to record and edit video. So I've learned this new skill and plan to put more videos on social media in the coming months.

Tell us about any future projects you have planned.

Just prior to the lockdown I had started leading lunchtime 'art for well-being' workshops at The Kiln in Worcester. I very much enjoyed this experience and hope to resume these at some point in the future. It's my dream to be able to work from a dedicated artist space with a small group of other artists and this so nearly happened before the lockdown! Hoping for progress on this later in the year or perhaps early next year...

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Welfare for Healthcare recently asked me to create 'Severn Swans' artwork for merchandise in their online shop to raise much needed funds. Earlier in the lockdown this charity, driven by H-J Colston-Inge and Frances Burton, raised over £10,000 to provide care packages for key workers in Worcestershire hospitals. It is now adapting to the changing landscape by supporting healthcare workers in various settings, e.g. in GP surgeries and care homes, and other key workers. They are listening carefully to how and where financial support is needed. To give just one example, they will be allocating funds towards psychological therapies for healthcare workers. If anyone reading this would like to help raise funds please visit The items make great gifts!

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

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