I met the charming Susan Woodard years ago at a tea event for one of our magazines, Victoria, and just fell in love with her. She is a lovely lady who is so talented. I got to see and experience her amazing floral designs and was delighted to find out that she is an artist too. She has presented me with two paintings of Hays and Amelia that I just adore. Read Susan’s story below to get to know the fabulous lady behind the paintings.
Susan Woodard: I first realized that I had a particular talent in art when I was in second grade. It was an epiphany that hit me mid-project while arranging packing peanuts in the shape of a snowman along with the rest of the class. It was not until about fourth grade that a teacher identified my ability and nurtured it. I took private art lessons and attended special art camps in the summer, but growing up in rural Mississippi didn’t allow for a lot of exposure to visual art.
I graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree from LSU with a concentration in painting and drawing. During my time at LSU, I took a semester to study abroad in Cortona, Italy, in Tuscany. While strolling down the main street there one sunny afternoon, I noticed a handmade, leather-bound journal in the window of the tobaccoria store. I could not resist it although it cost about $75. I bought it (with my parents’ money) and soon felt some remorse and guilt for such a splurge! It sat empty for a few weeks until my teacher challenged me to fill it with watercolor sketches of vignettes and architecture and landscapes of our surroundings. It was his idea that this would be my final project, so I got to work. I painted in warm, sunny olive groves, on cold stone walls, stumbled upon an amazing choral mass by the local nuns, painted on the banks of the Grand Canal, inside the Accademia, in cafés, in churches, in piazzas, and on and on. I became rather addicted to the way I could enjoy, process, and absorb my beautiful surroundings by sitting still and painting them. So when Italy ended, the journals never did.
My graduate school artwork for my masters of fine art at the University of Mississippi was abstract and cerebral. When I graduated I was tired of making massive oil paintings and decided to follow my inner gypsy whimsy and live in New York. Right before I left, I took a vacation to the beach in Florida. As was my habit, I took my watercolor journal and found a peaceful chair to make some sketches. A rather nosey mom wandered over and asked me if I would paint her children. I politely refused a few times until I found myself sketching her babies. Apparently she was really pleased and told lots of other moms, and I left the beach with a nice amount of extra money for my move to New York.
While I worked in floral design in New York, that Southern mom group who liked the paintings grew and so did their demand. I would fly home each summer and paint their children. The children would stand still for about an hour in the summer heat, and I would paint them, head to toe, full of color and gesture but without the face! My habit of faceless painting began on a trip to Rio de Janeiro when I painted the Corcovado and my best friend told me he (Jesus) looked far more transcendent without a face. She was right, and after that I never painted a face again.
Although I enjoyed floral design, it was clear that making watercolor portraits was a more worthy use of my particular time and skill. I tired of the weekend hours and the hard physical work of flowers, and it became clear that if I were going to move forward with a career, I was going to need to go all out with vans, drivers, coolers, and employees, and that was just not what my gypsy spirit wanted. I left New York in the summer of 2006 and drove to Charleston, South Carolina. I let all my friends know in all points between Charleston and Dallas, Orlando and Nashville, that my little gypsy painting wagon was coming their way. I painted children until I thought my hand would fall off! It was so fun, and nine years later it’s still going.
I no longer paint from life, and I don’t travel as much as I once did to other cities since getting married and having children, but I have clients all over the country and make about 250 paintings a year. I now create 75 percent of my work from looking at photos that people e-mail me—by placing orders on my website—and 25 percent of my work comes from photos that I take by traveling to cities and doing shows. I usually travel and do shows in Houston, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Memphis, Nashville, and other towns in the South, although this year I hope to go to San Francisco. I love for people to host me. They get free artwork for doing it, and I get the delight of traveling and meeting my subjects in the flesh. It just takes a motivated mom who wants to pull her friends together, and I am there. I need a minimum of 7 clients to make the trip unless it is close to where I live.
My website is susanwoodard.com. Please feel free to visit online. I’d love to get started on a painting for you!
What kind of artwork do you have around your home?