Capturing a joyful winter sledding scene and that special intensity of sunlight as it bounces off a snowy hillside, this week’s cover, “After the Blizzard,” is by Long Island–based artist Susan Sterber. She is as devoted to her watercolors as she is to stepping outdoors, in all seasons, to witness nature and the world around her firsthand. After retiring from a career in teaching art in the public schools, Sterber continues to give workshops and demonstrations at local art leagues and societies. She recently received a first place in watercolor award in the Independent Art Society Juried Fall Show. On a chilly January evening, Sterber let us in on her combined passion for the outdoors and for art.
You’re based in Farmingdale—do you ever come out East to paint?
Yes, my best friend, also a painter, lives in East Quogue. I’m a big hiker, which I tie into my work, so I’m often at the different preserves and state parks. I’ve also gone out to Cape Cod to paint. My best friend and I went kayaking recently—I’m very interested in painting the wetlands now, too, so kayaking allows you to get a real close-up. I’ve been to the Connetquot River many times, explored the hatcheries, and really all of the preserves.
What about hiking inspires you?
I recently gave a talk about hiking and walking on Long Island. I like to plein air paint. If it’s really cold, I’ll still put on my boots and get into the woods, but with my camera, so I can capture those moments when the light is just right, or there’s an animal, so I can bring it into my work. I like to be there and see it. I like to write, too.
How did your love for painting begin?
I started sketching when I was a little kid. I taught art in the public schools for 35 years.
I particularly love watercolor. This cover image is watercolor on yupo paper—it’s a little hard to work on, as it’s not porous and a little slick—but that gives some interesting effects. Just yesterday I was painting a swan from the preserve. Everything was icy and cool so I did it on yupo [paper] for that look.
What’s one thing from teaching that you encourage in your students?
I always wanted them to be observant, to really look at things in nature and to always experience a joy. Here on Long Island, we have so much—beautiful skies, the ocean—so I always encourage my students to enjoy it, and to come back and try to freely paint or sketch and try to reflect some of that joy. The younger they are, the more whimsical they are in their approach—they have their own way of recording whatever they love. I try to get them to connect with the world around them, to realize what’s out there, not to miss it. I’d ask, “Did you see that sunset last night?”
For me, being an artist is observing everything—on the High Line, on the train or walking along the ocean and responding through art. It’s a way to express awe and joy. There’s so much to see and enjoy from NYC to Montauk…and beyond! It’s so much fun to be outside experiencing everything firsthand and recreating it from your soul.
Susan Sterber will have several works on display at the Plainview/Old Bethpage Library, February 8–22, and will be in a group show, “Four Impressions,” at the Shelter Rock Art Gallery in Manhassett, April 26–May 27. She will be giving a demo for the Surburban Art League (suburbanart.org) in June. To see more, visit her Facebook page—Watercolor Paintings by Susan Sterber.