Home Magazine Susan Brown paints the angles of a hidden California we can experience through her eyes

Susan Brown is an artist who lives in Santa Cruz and expresses herself painting landscapes using different mediums depending on the feelings she aims to evoke. 

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Kooness: Where are you from and how does that affect your work? Describe your "Location" series?

Susan Brown: I live in Santa Cruz, California, a town known as a beach and surf town. I decided not to paint the typical "local" beach scenes, but to show other places in Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz County that are of interest to me, including those I think are very iconic spots. These paintings are called "Location" series. They range from Santa Cruz city paintings, including Van Ness Ave, (which is the street I live on), showing the area across Monterey Bay as well; to various spots in the small coastal town of Davenport, including the iconic Davenport Roadhouse, one of the first B&B's in California. I also have a number of paintings showing a valley that is between Half Moon Bay, and Santa Cruz. It's seen briefly as one drives S. on CA Highway #1, almost as a vision or a dream. I painted it in various palettes, from representational to more abstract.

K: What is the artistic process behind your work?

SB: Approaching a blank canvas takes me a lot of time, especially for more complicated subjects, such as my Location paintings. First of all, I decide the subject of my work, then the medium I want to use, as I work in charcoal, oil, acrylic and watercolor. Once I make those decisions (which can take weeks) I usually make sketches, and color studies, especially of areas that I think will be more difficult. I paint a loose sketch then on my canvas, usually over a watered down acrylic base which gives a glow of color shining through the painting. Later, I will continue with the details. I have a lot of brushes of various sizes. I choose which ones I use depending on the type of area to cover, as well as the detail. Some detail requires tiny brushes!


Susan Brown, Davenport Evening. Courtesy of Teravana.


K: How do you make your artworks?

SB: Depending on the difficulty of the painting, it can be very "painstaking!" For example, my painting, "Santa Cruz Downtown" includes very difficult perspectives and geometries., especially the six crosswalks that intersect the scene. It was very difficult to get the exact perspective and to make sure they were in the right placement and design. This painting also includes an aerial perspective as one goes towards the background, which is actually at the top of the painting. Some of my works can be very architectural. First, I work on their forms (and make sketches first to get the proportions and composition.) I create color studies to determine which works best for the mood I'm aiming for. Once I have made these practical decisions, I also think about the intention of the painting and how best to achieve it. 

Kooness: How do you develop your art skills?

SB: In order to improve my art skills I continually study with art teachers that I consider to be masters of their techniques. For example, I studied 9 hrs/week during the Covid lockdown and for a year afterwards with a master portraitist in order to learn portrait painting, which I think to be one of the most difficult things to paint with accuracy. (I believe one needs to know proportion and anatomy and paint accurately.) Also, through an acrylics' master painter, I've learned that in order to achieve depth with acrylics, especially with my complex work, I had to paint in layers. That means after the initial sketch on my canvas, I paint a primary layer, such as a building or road, then varnish it and let it dry. I do this with each subsequent layer as detail is added, which sometimes means six to eight layers on each painting, ending with a final varnish. 


Susan Brown, Taqueria II. Courtesy of Teravana.


K: What inspires you/Where do you find inspiration?

SB: Besides studying the works of artists who have come before me, including Matisse, John Singer Sargent, Richard Diebenkorn and Alice Neel, I find inspiration often by accident. I will see a scene, such as a building that has colors I feel the urge to paint. Or I see a person that appeals to me and I ask to take a picture of them which I later use in one or more paintings, such as "Whale City Bakery," and the "Taqueria I and II". Sometimes a part of a painting will just speak to me, as with "Taqueria II, Red Car”: originally I didn't have people in it, but as I was painting the scene, it was clear that I needed to have the people eating at the tables in front of the building to have the effect that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to portray people enjoying themselves after Covid restrictions were lessened. My abstracts works are different, much more spontaneous. I choose a theme and a color palette, then I often squeeze a lot of paint (acrylic usually) and take a squeegee to spread it in various ways across my canvas. Doing abstracts frees me up after my very detailed work!

K: How can your work help or affect societal issues?

SB: My series, "Today's World" is a comment on situations that affect today's society, including Covid, immigration and loneliness. I intend that my art will serve to show that we all have experienced similar situations, that there is a sense of community of all people.

K: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of professional art?

SB: My favorite part is to show my art in person; to talk with art lovers and collectors that want to hear the details behind a painting. It's also very fun for me to speak to younger people about art history and how my art is part of a continuum. My least favorite part is to market my art including the tedium of setting up email lists, and the promoting, such as sending emails, and doing social media of my shows and awards (as I don't want to be too intrusive or self promoting), and to finally organize the inventory of my artworks, which is my project for the year!  


Susan Brown, Lady in Waiting. Courtesy of Teravana.


K: What have critics and collectors said about your work?

SB: I've been honored to have been accepted into quite a few juried exhibitions, and associations, such as the San Diego Museum of Art Artists' Guild, American Women Artists, and National Oil and Acrylic Painting Society,(NOAPS), and have won awards and grants. A key component of my works is the quality of the light and shadows. I've been told that my handling of light and shadow is one of the best parts of my paintings. Also, when I have shown my work in person, through gallery exhibitions, the juried Santa Cruz Open Studios, as well as at an Expo in France, I've gotten much positive affirmation and have sold quite a few original works as well as many prints and cards. I'm fortunate to have several serial collectors who continue to purchase my work. I also have several local stores that promote and support my work by selling my prints and cards.

K: What are your ultimate career goals?

SB: One of my career goals is to generate more online sales, including from galleries such as Kooness. I'm glad to be accepted into such an excellent online gallery, but I don't know the best way or the process to stand out from the crowd, as there are so many artists vying for collectors' attention. Also, I intend to be more proactive and to generate sales through my social media, including IG @susanbrownfineart. I'm looking forward to teaching again at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico; the place where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and worked. It's a very remote, special place that I love.

Cover Image: Susan Brown Taqueria II. Courtesy of Teravarna

Written by Kooness

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