Still Here

Still Here: Sue Martin

With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past several months have meant for them. Sue Martin calls herself a “late-blooming artist.” She began taking drawing and watercolor classes at the University of Utah in 1998, three years after leaving her corporate job in Washington, DC and moving to Utah. She soon joined the Utah Watercolor Society and began taking their workshops and eventually enrolled as an art major at the University of Utah and earned her Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2013. She continues her education whenever she can with various workshops and she writes frequently for 15 Bytes, including her Process Points column.

An abstracted painting by Sue Martin

As disorienting, sad, and stressful as the pandemic has been, it would have been a lot worse without art. I’m an introvert and can be quite happy alone for long periods. Just lock me up with my art supplies and I’ll be fine.

Before we had a clue about Covid, I had named this “The Year of Wild Abandon.” I gave myself permission to play with new materials, work larger, and not let myself get trapped into making sweet little paintings for some little art market. I hoped to evolve bigger themes and a bold, expressive approach.

When the first lockdown started in March, I moved art supplies from the studio I share at Bogue Foundry to my small studio at home. Oils, watercolor, acrylics, mark-making tools, gel plates – I was well prepared for any inspiration that might strike.

To stimulate playfulness, I signed up for a video-based, self-paced course on abstract painting with oil and cold wax taught by Pamela Caughey. Though I started it before lockdown, it was the perfect motivation to keep me painting through March and April. Then, I thought, this is the perfect time to learn and experiment more. I took a Zoom class from Zoey Frank on multiple figure composition, using old master paintings for compositional structure. Next, a class on abstracting the landscape from Scott Gellatly, followed by a portrait class using the Zorn palette taught by Sarah Sedwick, and a figure class from Martin Campos. It’s been a regular smorgasbord of painting topics and techniques.

From spring into the fall, I worked on my plein air skills with outings organized by Anne Becker and Plein Air Painters of Salt Lake City. At least once a week I joined the group at local parks or in the canyons and tried to keep my work loose and painterly if not abstract. I don’t really consider myself a plein air painter, but this was a way to be safe outdoors with artist friends and practice painting from life.

Since travel was limited to the state of Utah, I figured I’d do some self-care to get me ready (hopefully) for some travel next year. I had cataract surgery which corrected my vision (no more foggy glasses with masks), and I had foot surgery intended to make distance walking more comfortable.

As productive as this may sound, there were many days when I woke up and wondered why I should get out of bed. Though I’m not usually prone to depression, this was the closest I’ve ever been. I tried to work through it by journaling and painting. Four self-portraits are among a half-dozen covid-themed paintings. One painting – “Eye On the Finish” – won an award in the virtual exhibit sponsored by the International Society of Experimental Artists.

I expected art sales to be non-existent with shows canceled or moved online. Yet, my participation in Art in Pilar’s Garden, as well as other sales to collectors, resulted in a pretty good year. Good enough for more classes and supplies.

Yes, having art to occupy my time, mind, and need for expression definitely saved my sanity. If I make it through the pandemic, I will have a good foundation for 2021 – Year of Wild Abandon Redux.

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