Recently I interviewed Susan Schwake about her new book, Art for All Seasons. Besides being an author, Susan is an artist, a gallery owner and an art teacher.
Q) Hi, Susan – how are you? Congratulations on your fourth book in this series! Just in general terms, how have you found the process? How much control have you had over it? It’s so much work – writing, editing, design, publishing and promoting – has it come naturally to you, and do you enjoy it?
Susan: I have found the process exciting and exacting. With writing I find that my flow is best in the morning and keeping a schedule or “date” with myself keeps me on track. I love the process and order it demands.
Q) You have a life as an artist, a gallery owner (and curator), and an art teacher. Tell me how those lives contribute to this book. For example, because I know your work, I can look at Art for All Seasons and immediately see a connection between the lessons inside and your own creative style – light, playful, full of decorative touches and spontaneous juxtapositions – but perhaps for you it’s more about the teaching aspect?
Susan: Perhaps! It would be hard for me to split both my aesthetic and my teaching style as I see them connected deeply in childhood. My greatest task (in my own mind) is drawing out each person’s individual style while encouraging brave, experimental, spontaneous events in their work. I do not give models for the lessons in my studio but for the books I do show final outcomes with the disclosure that each person’s work will be different and to celebrate that difference. And to cherish the process most of all.
Q) Tell me why kids should make art. Is art important?
Susan: For children visual art is a way to express most personally, their world. As many adults don’t always listen to children as well as they should – a visual presentation of this can be most important on many levels – from serious to extreme humor!
Q) I like the seasonal framework for this book. Why did you choose that, and how do you think art activities change by the season? Found objects seems like a good example to start.
Susan: Living in New England we are seriously bombarded with the four seasons. Some years I hear Vivaldi’s violins roaring in my head while the black flies attack or the winter storms on! I think Nature and her changes are something to celebrate and to pay attention to. Using them as a springboard for inspiration and for materials is a natural fit for kids. Who doesn’t remember their rock collection from the 2nd grade?
Q) I also love the way you link an artist’s work with the lesson at hand, plus the fact that these are all working artists that you know. Tell me about using examples this way, and about finding inspiration in general.
Susan: Thank you DJ for being part of this process and bringing this question forward. It has been a goal of mine since starting my little school 20 years ago to introduce less famous artists to children than what they might learn about in school. The reasoning behind this is this: everyone may not be inspired by Monet or O’Keefe. Everyone more importantly – might not identify with a famous artist. Perhaps a young student compares their work to a master who’s work doesn’t resonate with them and they feel isolated. Each student (both young and old) that I have worked with seems to have different opinions on what art they like or identify with. Having a wide library of art books and a gallery filled with different artists we have been able to teach our students a variety of lessons based on elements of professional artists work. For example: Last week a newer student was creating a painting of a simple still life. She painted a dark line around all of the elements outlining each one. When I asked her about what she saw she said that it just seemed darker to her around all the elements and naturally painted that in. I grabbed a book of still life paintings by Cezanne and showed her his outlining techniques and encouraged her to continue following her style. It’s an affirmation sometimes for kids and adults alike to see something outside of the traditional realm of art that reasonates with them – or that they question.
Q) I have a five year-old, and part of her love for art is the process involved, as if the steps were some kind of magic trick. Do you think that making art is valuable in terms of learning patience? Do you see this at play in your own classroom? Does it work for adults as well?
Susan: The process IS why so many people make art. It is a good deal play and the permission of the teacher is what allows both kids and adults to make the magic happen. Too much emphasis on product detracts from the act of making and that interferes with learning the patience part – which directly evolves from making a lot of art. Sorry for the run on sentance but it is a cyclical problem as I see it. Adults and kids alike suffer from the same problem.
Q) Another thing that comes through in the book is how accessible art is – the entry costs are extremely low, all the rules are bendable (if not breakable), and there’s no right answers. Can you talk about a little bit about happy accidents, or the idea of the joy being in the process?
Susan: It’s always my greatest hope that my students know that everything goes, no rules – just physics in some cases – and that there is no cheating, just many solutions to questions. The job at hand is always joy in the process of making and knowing that there are many many art pieces to be made to get to the one you love best – so you might as well have fun on the way!
Q) If you could give parents one bit of advice when it comes to making art with their child, what would it be?
Susan: Let your child make their own work. Make something with your own ideas either alongside them or after they have gone to bed. Ask them to tell you about their work instead of asking What Is It? Let them make art!
Q) So what’s next? Does the series continue?
I have always wanted to make a book which a child could pick up and look at a series of simple directions and photos and make something on their own. A book that would cut into their screen time. A book that they would love and be excited to own. In September we are releasing ART CAMP which I hope will be just that book!
Thank you so much, Susan. If you enjoyed this interview, and would like a chance to win a free copy of Art for All Seasons, please like this post, leave a comment below or send me an email at email@example.com. I’ll post the draw results in three days.