Susan has been making what she considers Outsider Art Quilts since 1980. Where her work used to involve huge amounts of hand sewing and lots of tiny glass beads, she now prefers to let the detail created by her airpen writing and drawing to be what intrigues the viewer. In 2003 she began using an airpen and machine quilting to create the unique detail seen on her pieces today. Sewing has become secondary to the painted composition in her more recent works.
She feels that "It's the storytelling: the pictures and the writing that are important. Not how the piece is sewn, not the texture".
Susan's art tells stories about her life and the world around us from her perspective in Northeast Ohio. We were delighted when Susan agreed to take part in our interview series and hope you enjoy her work as much as we do! Be sure to click on each picture to view the details - only than will you truly be able to see and appreciate how much time and effort is required to complete each piece.
SUSAN SHIE: That’s easy: Wooster, Ohio, my current home and the county seat of the county I was born and raised in. I love Kent, OH, and Berkeley and Santa Cruz, CA, and living in NYC was great, when an artist’s grant was paying for it! I hope I would be happy living anywhere though.
RWSS: Have you ever held a traditional 9-5 job?
SUSAN: Yeah, a few times. I think my low vision made those jobs much harder to handle than my independent art making is. I think I really would love to have a day job, so I could make art without having to make money from making art. But regular job jobs are too demanding of my limited sight. Working for myself, I stay within my visual abilities’ borders. I’ve waitressed, cleaned houses, and worked at a nursing home. As a professional I’ve taught college art classes, when I was a grad student, and I teach adult art workshops all the time now, but in those cases, I get to set the limits of my visual abilities, unlike when working for the man.
RWSS: If you had to choose another career what would it be?
SUSAN: If my sight was good, I’d have become a Registered Nurse, like my mother. Instead I try to put healing vibes into my art, and I’m famous for giving backrubs and healing advice with simple remedies. I’ve also always wanted to be a realtor, because I love seeing houses AND bargaining for home sales. But not driving, I stay in my studio and paint and write and draw. Lucky me! Just don’t have a steady paycheck – but then, they can’t fire me! My husband, Jimmy Acord, has the same flexi-time, non-fireable deal as me, as he’s an artist in leatherwork, famous for his fly fishing cases, which are unique in the world and very elegantly creative. Google James Acord’s Leather, but don’t ask him to fill out a questionnaire. he doesn’t do that!
RWSS: Favorite quote?
SUSAN: “Be yourself, as long as you don’t hurt anyone or anything.” Maybe my mom told me that. Maybe I can paraphrase that into “Do your thing, but be cool.” (Flip Wilson as Reverend LeRoy of the Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.) I could quote you some of my father’s Dadisms, which would freak you out, if you were raised by a Ward Cleaver type father. My dad told it like it is, and as an adult, I think his sayings are gems of wisdom, beyond belief!
RWSS: Best advice you’ve ever received?
SUSAN: “Always be kind and help others,” from my mom. “Don’t let the horse kick you,” from my dad.
RWSS: Worst advice you’ve ever received?
SUSAN: “Don’t trust anybody and don’t take chances, and don’t stick your neck out.” Never mind who said that. Looks to me like almost everyone says that anyway.
RWSS: Best part of your day?
SUSAN: Making art, any time during the day when I can! But I also truly love the time before bed, when Jimmy and I come up to the living room, about 11 PM and turn on the TV and watch some news or some Daily Show and Colbert Report, maybe some Letterman and some Craig Ferguson. Maybe some CNN. Maybe a movie from Netflix, watching it one half each night over two nights, before the wine and TV shows part. TV stays off til then. Yea!
THE MAD PORT CAPER
RWSS: What is the most rewarding part of being involved with Turtle Art Camp?
SUSAN: When a student who’s been unable to connect to her or his artist self finds that voice, turns on that spigot, and the creativity starts to flow out, when they get it, that judgement was what was clogging their ability to express themselves as artists. This is not a talent, it’s being able to trust our innocent self, whom we’ve been told to not trust. When students find their groove in artmaking, it makes me so happy! So does having a group of artists working and interacting in our home, 24/7, in an intense art and living biosphere!
RWSS: Has the airpen given you a previously unimagined freedom with your storytelling and diary quilts?
SUSAN: Absolutely, because before I had my airpen, I was writing with markers on my cloth and then embroidering by hand over all my words and lines, to create a very sharp, rich black line. Now I can write a LOT more stories with tinier words, in the same given space. Now I don’t sew over the lines, because I’m using paint pigments, instead of inks. I also quit doing so much hand sewing and beading, because the airpen allows me to create complex surfaces with my writing, that I used to make with stitches and beads. Now I make much larger pieces in the time I was taking to make small, hand stitched ones. I am flying along, telling my stories, and telling world news, and making social commentary, within a time frame that allows my shown work to still be relevant. I make time capsules now, and can slant the news to MY world vision and I don’t have an editor. I’m really happy. I leave my airpen set up and can go to my studio and write on my piece in progress at any time, so when something interests me, I can respond to it right away. This is heaven! Of course, I can use a Bic pen and write/draw in my sketchbook, to get the same happiness, so you don’t need an airpen to do that. But I NEEEEEEEDDDDDDD one!
RWSS: Could you recommend the type/brand of cotton fabric that you paint on? Which fabric handles the airpen detailing the best?
SUSAN: Kona-like PDF (Prepared for dyeing) This handles very well for airpen work.
RWSS: Favorite fabric paint to use on your pieces?
SUSAN: Jacquard Textile Colors. This line is clear and bright, highly saturated, and smooths onto the fabric well. As with all fabric paints, wear a respirator and ventilate well, when heat setting with a dry, hot iron. Heat set well, to make the paint permanent. I hope someone invents organic, earth-and-people friendly, permanent fabric paints soon!
RWSS: President Obama has been a unique source of inspiration for a number of your recent pieces. Can you foresee another President providing the same?
SUSAN: Yes, if he or she is another open minded, liberal reformer, whose interest is to serve the people and bring us all together and bring the world together. And who’s a good listener. This is certainly possible. For now, I’m happy to include President Obama and his activities in my work for a long time to come. And even if a president doesn’t have my respect, I still will include them in my work, as I did with Bush. (OK, I didn’t draw him, but I wrote a LOT about him and his administration and their activities and my reactions to them.) I hope I will have the joy of always being able to respect the leaders we elect, and I hope all elections will be fair. Looking at the Iran election this June, I realize we were all asleep at the wheel in 2000 and 2004, and we should never have allowed Bush to steal both of those elections. Power to the People of Iran, who are teaching us all a big lesson in civil activism!
RWSS: Who would you most like to meet and how would you spend the day?
SUSAN: I would spend the day with Prez Obama, and while he and I talked, or when I watched him interacting with others in his busy day, I’d be recording the events in my sketchbook. Or maybe this would finally move me to buying a video camera … one of those cute little Flip things. I’d be happy to just be allowed to be in the room all day, taking it all in. Only of course, sometimes I’d have to tell him what I thought of what he was doing – which would be such a feast of admiration! And then I’d want to show him my sketches and try to get him to help me color in the ones he liked the best. I’m sure he could use some relaxing coloring time. And maybe I’d coax him into drawing, too! Wow, he could REALLY use that! The man’s gotta be just plain tweaked, after going through all the balogna he goes through all day. And he does that for you and me! I’d buy him a big cheeseburger and we’d go sit by the river and listen to some good Arlo Guthrie music, or I bet he’d like Woody Guthrie for sure. I’d play Mermaid Avenue, the music Wilco made after they found Woody’s lost songs. Woody was all about helping the people, like Obama is. He could have a second burger, he’s so good.
QUEEN OF PARING KNIVES IN THE KITCHEN TARO
RWSS: Do you do anything special for your birthday?
SUSAN: I try to document the day in pictures (maybe that Flip for my BD this year?) And I make a drawing each year, that I scan and send to all the women who have the same BD – Sept 28. And then I end up sending it to all my “Libra sisters,” too. I love to be with my husband Jimmy and our kids GEM (Gretchen, Eva, and Mike). This year I’ll be flying home from teaching in Estes Park, CO, on my BD, so maybe we’ll leave the Cleveland airport and drive up to Lakewood to see GEM, and hang out! I love my family!
RWSS: Best dessert?
SUSAN: Don’t eat ‘em anymore, or snacks, but the best thing in the world is a sundae made with Blue Bunny Peanut Butter Panic ice cream, a handful of cashews and peanuts, and some chocolate malt dope on top of the ice cream, and you microwave that for a few seconds and stir it all up, and eat it slowly. Don’t melt it too much, for God’s sake. Just like one of those Dairy Queen blizzards, only they invented that way after we Shie’s started stirring up ice cream. Yummy memories!
RWSS: I’d be lost without………
SUSAN: Jimmy. And my airpen … and my airbrush. Or without Jimmy and some paper and pens. Or just without Jimmy, coz I could always tell stories and sing, to create, if I couldn’t draw and paint and write. But I need Jimmy to keep me company and to ground me. I guess I’ll take GEM before the art supplies, too.
RWSS: What would you do with a few extra hours each day?
SUSAN: Make more art. Visit the nursing home where my folks ended up, talking with other lonely old people, who are really interesting! Visiting a school to tutor drawing. (this is all predicated on me having the ability to drive a car, too. Well, not the making more art part.) Oh, and I could do more reading up on What’s Happenin’ Now in the world, if I had more time!
START OF SAVANNAH: THE TWO OF CUPS
RWSS: What’s on the horizon for ………..
SUSAN: Beat's me. Stick around. Might as well enjoy being surprised. I just figure you need to stay healthy, keep balanced, and do our best, move toward what we want to happen, and accept what does happen. And keep trying our best.
RWSS: What would you like to be remembered for?
SUSAN: Making the world a better place. Doesn’t have to be in a big way. I hope I’m making tiny differences each day, and I hope they add up. I hope saving water and helping a stranger pull down her suitcase in the plane and telling people that they are, too, artists – those kind of things – help the world. I hope telling the clerk that she undercharged me and telling the telemarketer to have a good day and turning off the light when I leave the room all help. I figure if we all work at helping in tiny ways all the time, we’re really healing the Earth in big ways. I hope I’m remembered for some healing. Oh, and I hope they remember that I taught things to people. Art and loosening up for better self expression. I hope that my granddaughter Eva remembers the things I’m teaching her, like how to sew and how to be happy and kind. She’s pretty good on those last two things already. She and I draw and color together a lot now, though it’s a heartbreak to me, that I quit being her nanny, after 1.5 years. I miss her a lot, like I miss her mommy, my daughter Gretchen. They only live an hour away, but I loved seeing them more than I do now. It’s that weird thing about not being able to drive, which I KNOW is karma I wanted, and I know has made my life what it is. I’m not whining, or I don’t mean to. You didn’t ask me what you would change, if you could change one thing about your own personal life. I would drive and drive well! But I WALK really well!!!!! And I am grateful for that!
YEAR OF THE DOG
RWSS: Any words of wisdom?
SUSAN: Let little things make you happy. Don’t wait for some big goal to do it. Be happy every day, for all kinds of tiny reasons, and appreciate what you have, and share it with others.
If you can trust the idea that we are all God’s favorite child, because we’re all One, then you never need to fear that others have it better than you or can take things away from you. If you can believe that every setback is a learning experience, and that you’re always safe, you’ll be able to cope much better. Keep strong and stay connected to Love. Love is what matters, under it all. Health is a real blessing and money is only a tool. But still, don’t let people jive you. Keep your eyes and your heart both open, and do what’s best for Good.
Sorry to be so yakky, but you did ask! Thanks for asking.
Have a good one! Susan, aka Lucky
Susan and her husband Jimmy are both full time artists and have created a wonderful place to learn at Turtle Moon Studios in Wooster, Ohio. If you are interested in learning to work with an airbrush and airpen, check out the Turtle Art Camps program offered by Susan through her home studio. She is also available for workshops and lectures. To learn more about Susan and her work please visit www.TurtleMoon.com.