Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. These amazing artists have offered to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the Featured Artist and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
TODAY’S FEATURED ARTIST: Susan Lyon
“I don’t think it is ever too late to start. I believe that people can learn fast if they put the time into it, and if you have enthusiasm nothing will slow you down.” – Susan
Q: Some insist that to be a master artist you have to foster talent from a young age: Sargent was sketching before he was 13, Richard Schmid began training in landscape painting at 12 and even your friend Michelle Dunaway said in her interview with you that her earliest memories are of a Michelangelo art book when she was 2.
Did you feel discouraged trying to learn the “ABC’s” of art while many of your peers at the American Academy of Art began pursuing art at much younger ages? Or, did you fall naturally into an understanding of the elements and principles that lead to mastery of drawing and painting. Do you encourage students at any age to go for it – or is it too late for someone starting at 40, 50 or beyond?
A: It took me a long time to get over my lack of confidence.
I definitely was intimidated by all the artists around me when I first started out. I didn’t think about being an artist until my senior year in high school. I thought I would go into commercial art, but I loved the drawing teacher at the American Academy and because of him I went towards the fine art side.
I don’t think it is ever too late to start. I believe that people can learn fast if they put the time into it, and if you have enthusiasm nothing will slow you down.
Q: How often are you on the road and how do you keep up with gallery and show demands when you’re away from your studio?
A: I travel around 2 or 3 months a year. I try not to spread myself too thin, I have just a few galleries and shows that I work for.
I don’t have a lot of overhead, so I don’t have to worry about making a certain amount of money each month.
Q: Probably more than any other artist we’ve interviewed your “style” has greatly evolved through experimentation and professional risk into using mixed media. As your husband and fellow artist said, “she isn’t afraid to fail over and over, until finding just the right mix of watercolor, pastel, glued fabric, paper of every sort, and even gold leaf or thick glitter.” What compelled you to use such bold ideas and materials, and did you consider it a risk?
A: As you get older you feel more directed towards trying something different. With age comes wisdom and not being afraid of rejection.
I have been inspired by artists that use mix media and knew that was the path for me. I think sooner or later galleries and museum shows will embrace unique types of work. I feel collectors want a choice.
Q: What words of encouragement, advice and perhaps caution do you have for someone eager to paint and exhibit their work, who lacks confidence or is afraid of what others will think or say?
A: My biggest advice is to not get into debt – live below your means. If you work with passion you can promote yourself through social media… you can have a lot of control of your future.
Q: Thanks to social media it’s easier than ever to find fellow artists. You’ve emphasized how important it is to surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people to remind yourself why you do what you do — to avoid losing yourself and forgetting the joy of art in the tedium of the daily “grind.” What works best for you – how do you keep your excitement for art alive?
A: I love Pinterest, I have a lot of ideas and don’t lack for drive. If I get restless, I like to take a trip – being away from home makes me happy to get back to work when the trip is over.
Q: I hope you don’t mind if I take a page from your book and ask you a couple of things you asked Michelle, because these are two questions every professional artist needs to confront eventually:
Why do you do art?
How do you sell/brand/market yourself and your art while maintaining your personal vision for your art?
A: Why I do art is I love to create. I love to study. I love to put all of my focus on something. I love the tactile feel of holding a stick or brush and moving it around. It puts a spell on me.
As for your second question, I post on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and my website. I don’t separate my personal vision with how I promote myself.
Q: I watched your interview with Michelle, so I know that you also teach (besides that, I’ve known about and loved your work since the mid 90s). What obstacles have you found that seem to cause the greatest stumbling blocks to artists progressing from amateur to professional quality art? What can they do to overcome those hurdles and become masters of drawing and painting?
A: I think the greatest blocks that artists have is not being too influenced by other artists… we all start out being inspired by master artists – we want to emulate them, but then you have to move on.
I had a hard time finding my own vision.. there are so many images out there that get imprinted on us. It’s a balance between learning from others, but then expanding on that.
Q: These questions are for the benefit of our readers who are lucky enough to be married to a fellow artist (or who may be thinking of marrying an artist!): Professional artists are known to have crazy schedules and tremendous demands on their time and energy – how do you and Scott manage everything?
A: We have very simple lives… we don’t have children and we choose to live in a place that has a slow pace of life. The only thing that we don’t do a lot is cook.
Other than that we don’t have a problem getting things done. We don’t have crazy schedules or demands on our time.
Q: In a recent blog post I talked about seeing your drawings at the Prix de West show (your work there was so delicate and powerful all at once). It’s one of the most prestigious representational art shows in the country, and you don’t get into a show like that without a lot of accumulated mileage and skill – both as an artist and businesswoman.
Have you had to adapt your marketing methods to keep your work in front of collectors? What insights and tips do you have for artists who dream of painting or drawing full-time?
A: I don’t know much about marketing… all I do is post paintings and a few shots from our travels. I don’t know if collectors follow me on Instagram…??
I think longevity is the goal.. just sticking around.. As artists we hope that galleries will promote us, but you can’t count on it. That is why you have to be consistent about keeping new images on your social media.
My tips for artists are to find other artists to paint with.. share the model fees.. give each other critiques… start a group that can have shows together… don’t have your prices too high in the beginning… don’t compare yourself to others.
Please comment below and thank Susan for sharing her talents and insights with us!
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Just a beautiful artist, and it sounds like a wonderfully focused individual! Loved her interview!!!
I enjoyed your interview with Susan. Her answers were sweet and simple. An inspiration for sure. Jan c
I was inspired by her simplistic approach to her marketing and her life. I hadn’t tried social media, wasn’t sure that was the way to go but will set it up. I haven’t kept on my website, my life is too busy and I take heart in her comments on keeping a simpler lifestyle. Thank you.
Thank you so much! As a someone “just getting started” after over 20 years of not doing any kind of art I’m encouraged. I love to see what others do and being online is a great tool. I love the way you capture people, their expressions, their dress. That’s a future goal of mine, but….baby steps.
You might like David Leffel’s work too. He works in low tones. He has had several books out over the years, and you can find his work on-line of course. Some of his work is kind of – what do I mean kind of — is depressed looking, but some of them are really nice portraits. I am like you in just getting going back into trying art again, I hope you don’t mind me suggesting his work. He also does some really mysterious looking still life’s. Have fun.
Susan Lyon’s work is just incredibly lovely…. every thing she does! For many years I have admired her beautiful art and will hope to continue admiring and enjoying her amazing gift for many more years to come.
Thank you, Susan, for sharing your generous and gracious time with us.
thank you for your keen insight. I like the fact that some of your work looks old masters – beautiful!