I was supposed to be interviewing Susan about her art, but many conversations later, there was more to talk about. Susan has such wide ranging interests and is such an avid reader, it is hard to compare her energy with the peace and tranquility found in her paintings. Susan’s schedule is always packed. Besides being a member of the cooperative gallery, North Wind Fine Arts, at 85 Main Street, Saranac Lake where she serves as President and helped with their recent move, she is also a member of the Saranac Lake ArtWorks Board. She is originally from New Jersey, but she and her husband relocated to the Adirondacks in 2017.
After our initial meeting at her home studio, I was able to catch up with Susan during the Saranac Lake Plein Air Festival during the week of August 16, 2021. In spite of the challenging weather and intermittent rain, Susan was the image of relaxation seated under an umbrella in front of her easel, painting behind the Left Bank Cafe. Another bystander and myself chattered away while watching in awe as Susan stayed laser focused on her painting. It was during that same plein air week that she painted Cows in Clover, one of my favorites of the festival.
Cows also have a personal connection for Susan. “I grew up across from a cow pasture, and their ways were part of my every non-winter day. They probably made me appreciate nature, farms, farmers and barns in the way I do. We used their paths through the woods to get to the creek, and were ever watchful for the bull when he was put in the pasture in the spring.” She laughs when she adds, “He always got out!.”
Susan is particularly well known for her pastel paintings. Dedicating herself to master pastels and winning various awards, she was juried into the prestigious Pastel Society of America in 2015. She has had pastel paintings juried into shows throughout the Northeast, and her awards include a First Place award from the Adirondack Artists Guild Juried Show in 2019 for her pastel painting, Our Little Town, which she considers her most meaningful recognition.
In viewing Susan’s artwork at North Wind Fine Arts, I was drawn to Susan’s magnificent Touch the Earth. She explained that the large cloud mass in the painting appeared during an evening last summer when she and a group of artists had gone to Norman Ridge Road to view the comet Neowise. The clouds obstructed the view until it became dark enough to see the comet, but they became the inspiration for this beautiful pastel painting.
I admit that I am most fascinated by Susan’s abilities in plein air painting, which she makes appear effortless. In fact, her process is methodical and hardly spontaneous. She starts with the creation of a sketch with a ratio aspect. This is something that is usually done before she goes to the field, and Susan’s paintings reflect an almost scientific study of the techniques, as she is thoughtful about composition, atmospheric perspective, light and dark values, etc.
Passionate about plein air art, she is excited whenever she is juried into competitions, and she participates in plein art festivals and shows throughout the Adirondacks and the Northeast during the summer months. These festivals require dedication, requiring hours of painting in various outdoor locations, sometimes for two to three days at a time, concluding with exhibitions of the finished works. During the time Susan still lived in New Jersey, she would drive to the Adirondacks so that she could participate.
Susan’s career as an artist began with classes in high school and a teacher she credits with inspiring her. She later took art classes, architectural drawing, and history of art while studying interior design in college. She also began painting folk art, and attended folk art workshops led by Jo Sonja, a master folk-art painter.
While Susan eventually taught the technique, she found it to be confining and there was no market for it. During this same period and while her son was still in school, she wanted to make sure that she had a career beyond art, and she obtained a degree and certification as a medical assistant. Her work in pediatrics also fulfilled her love of helping people and using her analytic skills.
While her art is exquisite, Susan is not content to just keep using the same techniques. She’s wildly curious to see what she can accomplish with her art, and so she seeks out classes with master artists she admires. She also has some definite goals about how she would like her painting to change. She recently spent four days at an intensive workshop with the renowned artist John MacDonald in Landsgrove, Vermont. The style of painting she is most inspired by is known as the Hudson River School of Landscape Painting.
While she is already commercially successful, Susan is on a quest to become even better at what she does. She has an open mind about her art and life in general. I found her perspective insightful. “While I enjoy the work of creating art, selling it is an affirmation that what I do means something to others. Artists spend a lot of time alone because that is what the work requires. It’s almost like raising an infant to maturity—suddenly that child or that piece of art is ‘finished’ and ready to go out into the world. My hope is that my art will afford its viewers or its owners a bit of a respite, some quiet time away from our realm of worldly concerns.”
In pursuit of that goal, Susan is always on the lookout for her next painting and she is constantly snapping photos. Be it a field of wildflowers, a historic barn, or the glow of the setting sun, they will soon work their way into brilliant pastels or oils of the familiar Adirondack landscape.
Photos and images provided by Susan Whiteman.
For more information about Susan and to see her art, go to: http://www.susanwhitemanpastels.com/
North Winds Gallery at 85 Main Street Saranac Lake, New York: https://northwindfineartsgallery.com/
To learn more about the Pastel Society of America go to: https://www.pastelsocietyofamerica.org/
For more about Saranac Lake Artworks go to www.saranaclakeartworks.com