Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Susan Sterber on Teaching & Nature

Susan Sterber's art on the cover of the January 8, 2021 Dan's Papers issue.
Susan Sterber's art on the cover of the January 8, 2021 Dan's Papers issue.

January 8, 2021 Dan’s Papers cover artist Susan Sterber talks about her long career as an art teacher, her artistic process and more.

What was the inspiration for this piece?

It was a beautiful, snowy day and I took a walk in the park. Families were having so much fun sledding on the hill enjoying a complete break from their everyday worries. I wanted to capture the beauty of the snow, the sunlit hill, the warmth and joy of the sledders, and the excitement of the kids running up and flying down the hill.

Talk about your art style.

My work is realistic with room for imagination. I strive for more loose impressions of a scene. Watercolor allows for the more spontaneous flow of the colors and shapes. The mood of the painting is very important to me, and I look to create some drama through exciting composition and lighting.

What is your artistic process like?

I engage in both plein air and studio painting. If the weather allows, I love to go out and paint. Outside at my easel I do a quick, small compositional pencil sketch of the scene I’m going to paint. I then pencil it in on the watercolor block. The light changes fast so it’s important to lay down a local color first and cover the paper—then focus in on the more specific shapes and darks.

In the studio, not only do I do quick sketches but I may do a tonal sketch to establish values. I will also do a small color sketch with watercolor to see if I like the colors I plan to use. I draw the painting lightly on my watercolor paper. Sometimes I wet the paper on both sides and lay it on a wood board, sketch side up, and then press a rolled towel over the damp paper so that it adheres to the board. The process is “wet and reclaim.” Using my sketches and photos, I lay in the basic color and then develop darker values and details.

Susan Sterber.
Susan Sterber

What would you do if you weren’t an artist?

I was an art teacher in the public schools for 36 years, and that was an amazing, fun career. I am retired now and get to work on my own paintings.

If I wasn’t an artist I would be hiking and walking in the parks, preserves, beaches and arboretums all over Long Island. I learned a lot about nature from my parents, and I passed that onto my own daughter. A few years ago I did a program in a local library on the parks, preserves and arboretums of Long Island. Sharing my love of being out experiencing the beauty and peace of nature was a lot of fun. Many people attended the program and were very excited about walking our beautiful island and shared places and experiences. I also gave some tips on more accessible walks for people with walking issues. There were a lot of questions and everyone was very interested in starting this new hobby. I really enjoyed using photos and maps to share the woods, the wetlands and the gardens of Long Island. I would love to do more of these programs. Now more than ever with the COVID virus, we find ourselves outside. I think we all could use the solace that nature provides.

What inspires you the most?

I think it’s pretty clear that what inspires me most is the beautiful natural world around us. I love walking in the woods and observing the colors and textures and the wildlife around me. While a lot of my work is landscape and seascape painting, I also like painting portraits, flowers and still life inspired from life. My portfolio includes buildings and cityscapes and so many other subjects. Besides local painting, I have painted from my travels to Massachusetts, Florida, upstate New York, Montreal and Europe.

See more of Susan Sterber’s work on Facebook at Watercolor Paintings by Susan Sterber. Her work can also be seen at the Main Street Gallery, 213 Main Street, Huntington from January 8–30.

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