Mixed Media artist Sue de Vanny has a passion for animals, especially those that are endangered. She expresses this with whatever medium she feels best represents her message, from painting to quilting to collage to thread painting. These techniques give Sue’s work rich depth and texture that invite a closer look.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have been drawing since I can remember, always a pastime. Once I started working, whenever I had a few spare dollars, I spent it on art tools, always ready to try something new.
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What motivates you artistically?
I enjoy collecting images on Pinterest, Colours and Music. Studying the Old Masters art works as well.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Yes, there are some. I love using fabrics with text on them and you’ll see some in most of my collage work. I also love using animals as my focal point. Saying that, I’m working on more Mixed Media portraits of late.
Do you have a favorite way to work? Painting? Textiles? Mixed media? How do you decide which medium will best express your intent?
It depends what deadlines are coming up. I love all my mediums. I find challenges in all of them and get excited with the next step however minor it is.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think my work in textiles look more painterly and I usually have at least two “bottle tops” that are from printed Tim Holtz fabric hiding amongst the images. With the paintings I layer more, using the paints thinly and layering them.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I generally plan and I definitely have an end image in my head. Like all good plans though, they change, or by accident other things happen and I end up with something that is nothing like what I intended! I think that’s the fun part.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The inspiration for one of my pieces, “Born to be Wild”, three wild dog puppies. Using one of my photos as a reference, I wanted to draw attention to one of the many endangered species. There are three wild dog pups walking together and a larger wild dog behind, though not as detailed. I fabric collage them before hours and hours of thread sketching the finer details and blending all with Aurifil threads on one of Tim Holtz’s text grunge-type cotton fabrics.
When I’m happy with the result, I’ll layer the wadding (wool/poly blend) and backing fabric ready to free motion quilt. In this piece I also cut holes into parts of the background to represent the change in environment which has made species like the Wild Dogs more challenged to survive. I free motion stitched these holes to create a web effect.
I also subtly quilted the name of the quilt in the area to the left of the dogs. The treatment on the edge is again different, as it’s been cut with a torn paper edge look. Then I free motion zig zagged and couched Rubberized Black Yarn to add to the effect. I sewed silk cocoon casings into the background and on the edges randomly.
Can you share a bit about your art education? Have you had formal training, or are you self-taught?
Mainly I am self-taught as it wasn’t an option for me to go to university and get a Fine Arts degree. There was no money for this in my time. Though I certainly did classes in almost everything as a hobby after work or on weekends. Then later on when my kids were more independent, I did get Honours in my City and Guilds Certificate Two in Design, which I did online over 18 months.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am lucky enough to have two studios. We have our main house located near our business. My husband decided we had a big enough backyard, so he built me a great studio! Then in 2020 we built our dream beach house on an existing property we had and incorporated my second studio. That way I can spend equal time at either one without interrupting my schedule to get work completed. I am a very spoilt girl.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I could not operate without my Bernina Q20. This is my therapy for everything; just looking at it brings me happiness. Next would have to be design wall and easel, because I need to see what I’m planning or doing, up and visible. This helps me to see where I’m heading and or what I can improve. Good paint brushes and Golden Paints work beautifully and inspire me even more so.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I’ve not been a journal person. I did this during my City and Guilds program, and I love looking back on these. But now I seem to do most of my planning and sketches on my iPad and in the program Procreate.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Oh, I love listening to music while I work! isn’t Spotify great? My daughter got me onto Podcasts too. I love the true crime stuff. I can get lost thread sketching and listening to these murder mysteries at the same time and just forget that anything else exists! Audio books are next, I think.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
I’ve learned when things don’t go right and that seems to be a constant, it is time to leave. Do something else, something less mindful or go clean something. Coming back the next day usually does the trick. Or at 3:00 a.m., you wake up with the answer of how to fix the problem.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I’d like to interview any of the Old Masters to be there when they painted and what their thoughts were. I guess I find Gustav Klimt and Kandinsky the most inspiring. The shapes, spirals, curls and the colours they use intrigue me enormously.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is in us all, but some of us don’t understand or use creativity, so we have to be shown how and to not fear it.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
I need to do other things first and as quickly as possible. I still work remotely for our business, so getting up early and getting things out of the way frees up my head.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website has most of my artworks past and present. I try to update it regularly and plan more of this in the future. I hope people get the feel of my work and not hesitate to contact me about a Zoom lecture/presentation or even where they can see some of my pieces in real life. And I am always open to inquiries about some pieces for sale. Please contact me for this as not all works are for sale but may be in the future.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I no longer teach as it’s too difficult to leave home to do so. However, I do have online workshops via Facebook Groups and those are accessible through Lesley May’s Patchwork and Quilting and here’s the link to the page https://lesley-mays.myshopify.com/collections/online-courses. The two courses are Polycovid Cushion and Vintage Camera. Totally different to each other and both lots of fun to do. I also do Zoom presentations on my textile journey or tailor made for other topics.
Learn more about Sue and her work on her website.
Interview posted November 2022
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