My name is Susan Walsh Harper and I’m currently living on the beautiful north coast of California in McKinleyville. Art and music have been part and parcel of my life for as long as I can remember. Hailing from San Francisco, California, where museums and art galleries abound, gave me plenty of artistic nourishment while growing up in the City by the Bay.
It was there that I met and married my husband of 50 years and together we raised four children. During that time, I kept learning new art skills, finally settling on watercolor painting in 2008 and not looking back. In 2003, Jim and I retired to Humboldt County where many opportunities to indulge my new passion were to be had.
Primarily self-taught, my efforts have earned me 1st Place in Creative Calalyst’s Summer Art Fest, 2013, the Silver Award in California Watercolor Association’s National Exhibition, 2014, the Richard Barrett Memorial Award in CWA’s National Exhibition, 2015 and was awarded signature membership in the California Watercolor Association in 2016. I’m also a member of the National Watercolor Society and of the art cooperative, Old Town Art Gallery, Eureka.
Teaching others is of great satisfaction also, and I teach at a local Academy for the Arts and in my own studio. I do believe that God is the giver of gifts and that there is no statute of limitations on those talents. In other words, if life kept you too busy to create art when you were younger, the gift isn’t going anywhere and there is no age limit to when you can start creating again.
My painting style is pretty straight forward. Stretching my paper, which is almost exclusively Arches 140# cold press, is the first order of business. When it comes to getting the sketch on the paper, I prefer to do all my drawing on tracing paper and transfer it to the watercolor paper with homemade graphite paper after it’s stretched or on my light pad before it is stretched.
M Graham and Sennelier tubes are my watercolors of choice because they are rich, stay moist and reconstitute very quickly. I do have the odd color from Daniel Smith, Schmincke and Winsor & Newton. As for brushes, I’m a true brush junkie. However, right now I’m loving Raphael’s Extra Fine Pointed round, series 8408.
Glazing, glazing and more glazing. That’s about it, building the color up in successive washes, dropping in pure colors, mixing some, working from light to dark and then some final dry brush work. This method is the reason I need a strong paper like Arches. I’ve tried others but by the time I’ve finished punishing them, they have long since turned to mush.
Subject matter ranges from floral and still life to portraits. I do very little in the category of landscapes and paint from photos for the most part. When doing portraits, I do prefer to take my own photos and interact with the subject whenever possible, because painting a likeness isn’t as intimate as painting a spirit. Other reference photos are from free sources and some I pay to use.
In the relatively short period of time I’ve been painting, I seem to have established myself as a painter of children and have been asked often why I paint so many small children doing what children do. I think because they are innocently and unabashedly truly themselves and no one else. Their joy is profound and contagious, their spirits are still somehow tethered to God, they never apologize for asking questions or not knowing, they notice everything, even the inconspicuous and insignificant, they love sunshine, puddles and mud, butterflies, pill bugs, puppies and kittens.
They have a reservoir of courage and nobility that can astound you when they have cause to call upon it. And the wisdom that occasionally falls from their rosebud lips can make you feel like you know nothing of the world or life or love. In short, they are everything we should be, but have forgotten how to be. I’m trying to remember, and painting them feeds my soul.