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. Born and raised in Utah, Susan N. Jarvis lived in Iowa and California before returning to Salt Lake City, where she established herself in a studio at Rockwood Studios. Drawing from her 20 years as an art specialist in public schools and then as a teacher in a private school, she began to teach adult art classes in her private studio. She paints in a variety of media, including oil paint, acrylic and watercolor and is best known for her figurative and still life work.
Susie Jarvis in her studio
I have always been an artist.
My first work of art (as a toddler) was scribbling over my mother’s white chenille bedspread with ruby red lipstick. I’m told that it wasn’t received very well.
Today I stick to painting still life in my studio in Salt Lake City. There I paint images of common objects, and I love discovering and paying attention to the fine details in a painting that give it character and make it memorable.
I also derived great pleasure from teaching art classes three days per week in my studio. Then came the pandemic, and by mid-March I’d decided to suspend teaching art classes in an effort to protect the health of my students and myself. The art gallery in Carmel, California that was representing me had already closed.
I remember sitting on a chair in the middle of my art studio wondering how long I could survive with little or no income. Rent was due in two weeks and I only had enough in savings to last about 2 months.
For weeks I did nothing but eat, sleep, worry, sew cloth face masks and stock up on food. And then it happened. Someone who might have been exposed to Covid hugged me. A really long, emotional, teary hug. I had to quarantine myself in our basement for 14 days.
Being stuck in the basement was depressing. I felt desperate to feel useful or productive. I cleaned every closet and eliminated every junk pile. I painted the walls, put up track lights and sewed a comforter and pillow shams for the bed — all the while wishing that I was at my studio painting…
Then I had an epiphany that changed my life.
Why not do the same thing at my art studio? Two weeks later I held a business strategy meeting with myself and set up some goals and guidelines.
I applied for a Salt Lake County small business impact grant — and got it! I used this money to pay my rent and utilities through the summer and fall, buy essential supplies, and pay for some advertising. I bought a little video camera and tripod and began making instructional videos for students.
I am still in the process of creating instructional videos. My new marketing has created more exposure for me than I expected and I am now working hard to keep up with my commissions and art sales.
This pandemic changed me. My priorities are different now. Business is second and family is first, but when I’m at my art studio my time is far more productive than before Covid-19 and there are fewer distractions to dilute my efforts. It was a reality check.
Am I still here? Indeed.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.