Here we are again! Aren't short weeks the best?
I first "met" Suzanne, or rather her work, when I opened my Etsy shop a few years ago. She is the artist of Silver Tree Art, a creative guide, a wife, and a mama. Her watercolors and encouraging words mesmerized me-- she uses colors and shape so beautifully! I've enjoyed following along with all her projects on Instagram, and I hope you will do so, too! I'm so pleased that she agreed to answer my questions, and that she sent these amazing photos to share!
Speaking of photos, all of these photos (unless otherwise noted in the caption) were taken by Rebekah Brunson of Rebekah Brunson Studios. They take my breath away!
1) Tell us a little about yourself-- your family, other hobbies, when you started creating, and your favorite mediums. Did you draw a lot as a child? Do you have any formal art education?
much of my childhood was spent outdoors - playing in sand and mud with flowers and sticks in hand. i remember drawing in the dirt, on paper, and making color stories with flowers and leaves and shells. i loved my crayons and pencils. i loved my colored pencils and pens. my mother could make any outfit. my grandmother was always stitching a quilt. good southern food was on the Sunday table, much of which was gathered from their Mississippi gardens. my grandfather could fix anything. i grew up creating, making, and seeing everything around me as a resource for use.
my art education was informal. cooking with my grandmother. painting with my mother. sewing and cooking in home ec. & art classes in school and in 4-H. i made things, and i took great delight in doing so. i felt my self when my hands were working. after years of hearing "you're so creative" and "you're a natural artist" i began to believe that maybe i was creative, and at heart i was an artist.
my formal training went from business and education courses and degree to counseling and guidance degree to a degree in divinity studies and then post-grad chaplaincy and coursework in bereavement care. my training through experience has earned over 15 years of small group facilitation, pastoral care, and integrating art and spirituality into my retreats, gatherings, and work.
a favorite medium i used in high school were watercolors. i borrowed my mother's at home, using her tubes carefully and without waste. it wasn't until 10+ years later that i bought myself a delicious watercolor pan set that i began using daily. then i upgraded to a 48 pan set and my favorite colors in tubes i'd add to pans. i love the portability of pan sets, brushes, and paper. i have used "watercolor crayons" or water soluble paint sticks for years. adding the watercolors, ink sticks, pencil, and oil pastels, i create my mixed media "watercolor dreamscapes" with great joy. they are my most unique creation, and add to my creative portfolio in a way that no other art i create does. they speak the language of my soul. they are a form of prayer.
my other works include mixed media canvases integrating acrylics with pen, pencil, water soluble paint sticks, oil pastels, and vintage papers. i love the layering and the transformation that takes shape in each work when working through the awkward adolescent middle of the layering to the final stages of creating that lead to completion.
my work moved from church ministry as an ordained minister to overlapping contract work as a bereavement group facilitator to retreat leader. over time, i began to see myself as a minister and artist offering space to BE and to heal while gathered around the table. sometimes the table is exactly where you sit as you hold your device or gathered across from me in the studio. i create art on my own and the art of being together as we gather and create in each other's space, breathing the same air, holding hope, and being present.
my art is a ministry and presence of hope as people offer my art as seeds of love. from buttons to art, i am integrating my call to serve the world in love and to help usher healing.
as a mother of two and spouse to my love, i am finding myself benefitting from clear boundaries between work and play, rest and life together, and playing together. it's me - i was working all the time and never turning off my business brain. i am working smarter these days with defined time for work and time for home and time for play. we have a great time together, especially when we're all well fed with good sleep. we love being outdoors and listening to good music. so, we're making good time for the things we love together. hiking, biking, camping, time on the water, gardening. all good time together, provided that i am taking care of myself, giving time to my business, and exercising my body and mind. art is often integrated whether painting with my 3 year old sweetpea or teaching my 10 year old to cook a new dish. i feel creative and loved, all of which influences my energy and presence of mind as i pick up my brush or pen or work digitally.
2) What inspires your paintings/ drawings?
like so many artists, the world around me inspires me tremendously. reflections in water. nature. colors of flowers and the variations in line and texture. i am inspired by stories, faces, places, and the Spirit at work within and in the world. i am inspired by dreams, open windows, and blank pages. often i use colors from the food in my lunch bowl or the colors in the garden. i love seeing other artists work, studios, sketchbooks, and journals. i love a good cup of coffee and a hot mug of tea.
moving my body increases my creative flow. meditation moves my writing to new spaces. i feel most connected to the work that is within me when i am connected to the life around me. my writing is good and spot on when i am listening to Wisdom speak as i move through my day. when i am listening to my tribe who gathers near, or taking notice of the stories shared in the line at the grocery. folks share their lives with me in very open ways, and i find that openness and vunerability a gift and inspiration.
3) Spirituality plays an important role in your work. Can you tell us about what you believe and how you find faith and creativity to be so connected?
as a child i was given a language of God through my family's deep devotion to daily prayer life, service to others, sharing food, and regular participation and leadership in a local church. my grandparents unlocked the church doors. my grandmother made the flower arrangements or pulled the silk flowers that she arranged. my mother played the church organ. the rhythms and routines of a faith-based life were instilled within me from the beginning. over time, i found my spirituality deepening and growing as i was cane fishing at the pond, listening to birdsong, planting the garden. often a grandparent was telling a story or sharing about their life in faith. it became so integrated.
i felt called to serve and share love at 16 and crafted formal education around what others i admired counseled me toward - business and divinity studies. through it all, i worked in 4 churches, with a preschool, in hospitals and continuing care facilities. art was always a part of what i carried with me, how i worked with groups, and how i processed the work i was doing in the world.
art became a way for my spirit, my soul to connect to the word. i began thinking of what i offered and practiced as "creative spirituality" and "soul care". my art is my soul care. when i hear stories of love and loss, babies born and who have died, stories of rape or abuse. i turn to paper and paint. and i create. i pray. i send love and hope and healing mercies. i breathe in and breathe out and deepen my spiritual practices.
4) You also make custom stoles. Can you tell us about those and their significance? How does your sewing inform your painting and vice versa? Do you see those mediums as totally different, or is there overlap?
my stoles are a connection to my ancestors, to my tribe, and to myself. my stoles are outside of my Silver Tree Art business, and done on my own time. each stole (photos above, taken by Suzanne) is made for the intended clergy i create her for. it's a form of prayer and hope and love, piece work that becomes peace work. while sewing, i take so much delight in creating color stories made from combining my raw silks and faux silks. i love stitching on my machine and by hand. i think of each stole as a fiber canvas. in stitching these stoles and liturgical alter cloths, i give myself permission with linear work. while my canvases are often filled with curves and circles, the stoles have distinct lines.
the altar cloths ((the last was the size of a queen quilt)), i go with a very abstract approach. it's very inspired by the day and the moment. i pull together colors and textures, mix color stories. then i cut them apart and reattach them to make something completely new. it's freeing to give myself permission to cut apart something i've just created and make something completely new from it. it's my jazz.
there's overlap in the color stories and yet difference enough that i am drawn again and again to each medium. one informs the other in that my hands enjoy the process of each - cutting and stitching, and finger painting on canvas and by brush with watercolor. in some ways the work is seasonal, with the ebb and flow of stole requests, i am able to create them outside of my "working hours."
for myself, i make quilts that are unscripted, full of color and story, and combine all the gorgeous cottons i love. i also am hand stitching an english paper piecing quilt that is complete self-care. i find myself only able to do so much at a time, so it could be years before there is a quilt top. i love that longevity to my work and interest.
5) What does your creative tribe look like? How does it influence your work?
my creative tribe reaches near and wide. i am surrounded by women whose faith lives range from deep spirituality in liturgical worship to women who dance with the fairies and love the world fiercely. i find truth and resonance with these in my tribe who know who they are, who explore the world with an open heart and strong values, and who love me for who i am. i am strengthened by my tribe as i share myself and my work with them, and take their impressions very seriously. my editor for The Phoenix Soul, Amanda Fall, always pulls such goodness from me with her presence, her prompts, and her feedback. my friends are often makers who set tables of love and care for their families and for their friends and for neighbors who need support. they are my heart outside of my heart. they know me and love me. they are the well fertilized soil in which i grow deeper and more fully into who i am and who i am becoming. i meet with a friend and artist near-monthly to talk shop, talk soul, and dream big. i walk with an author/writer friend who helps me dream, grow, and honor this moment. the tribe is wider than these, and i am ever so thankful for each.
6) What word of advice would you give to other creatives as they develop their style and discover what inspires them?
read. write. paint. draw. play. spend time with yourself doing what you love, even for 10 minutes a day. 10 minutes will change your life. and as you grow from your 10 minutes of play, you'll find yourself devoting more time to your day, time with yourself that fuels you, fills your cup, and creates creative flow. the momentum of spending time with yourself doing what you love is so great. you'll learn and grow because it's in your wild creative nature to do so.
play is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as adults. i play when i am making my stoles. i play when i am watercoloring. i play when riding my bike.
soul care is another gift. when i sit for a cup of coffee or tea, when i read, when i gather with my tribe, when i serve the world around me, when i listen to Wisdom and my spirit within, I am caring for my sacred soul.
i encourage you and others to seek what feeds your soul, to breathe deeply and know what you most need, and then give yourself those things. along with that, listen to your interests. if you want to cut apart a magazine and collage, go for it. if you want to learn to draw faces, search out an online class. expand your creative horizon and you'll find yourself digging deeper and becoming you.
Suzanne, thank you for sharing with us! Your work, words, and heart are beautiful! If any of y'all are near Richmond, Virginia, I encourage you to check out Suzanne's creative retreats, and wherever you are, I think you'll find encouragement, beauty, and inspiration through Suzanne's work.
Have a lovely weekend, dear ones. You can find me on Instagram @stringandstory for all things quilty and creative and @mesaventureshak for adventures and cutie kiddo pictures. As always, I'd love to hear from you, and if you have any favorite artists I should know about, tag me on their photos! Tag me on yours, too, to show off your lovely creations!