With passions for both watercolor painting and quilting, contemporary quilt and watercolor artist Susan Braverman is always working on something creative in her studio. The common thread that keeps Susan excited about working in both media is color. She enjoys the challenge of mastering new techniques, and her art reflects that attention to detail.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
My journey as an artist is evolving. I still find it odd to describe myself as an artist since I’m not formally trained and don’t have a fine arts degree. I married a US Army officer and raised three daughters while we moved frequently on military assignments. My job as a registered nurse was portable so continued working at each location. My time for art interests was very limited until 2019 when I was able to retire early from a full-time career.
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What inspires you to create?
I get inspiration from random things I see everyday. Architecture, nature, graphic design and color theory contribute to my creativity.
My inner voice says “make something, anything”. I’m not sure where it comes from. I’m a doodler so designs sometimes start on napkins or scrap paper. I have this passion to create tangible works that you can look at, hold and keep. I have never been able to wrap my head around spending all day making food that will then disappear in a few minutes. I’m a terrible cook maybe for that reason. However, I can spend hours sewing or painting without a second thought.
Why quilting and watercolor?
Having two distinct activities keeps each one fresh. I like to paint between big quilt projects to clear my head and use different media. I started watercolor painting a couple of years ago and love it. It’s very portable and you just need paint, brush, water and paper compared to a whole room full of fabric, cutting table, sewing machine and supplies I have for quilting. This year I began to work digitally in Procreate on my iPad. Digital art does not replace anything but rather introduces another medium to explore.
How do those media best express what you want to communicate through your art?
It’s all about the color. There are many sides of a person and these media let me express that. I create graphic, abstract quilt designs with bold saturated color while my watercolor and digital painting are softer and more focused on literal concepts.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
I don’t think so. My quilts designs are structured and intentional with mostly solid fabrics, saturated colors as well as a modern aesthetic. I’m definitely not an improv quilter by nature.
Do you enter juried shows? Do you approach your work differently for these venues?
I recently began submitting quilts to juried shows. Some of my quilts have been shown at QuiltCon, the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, QuiltFest New England and QuiltFest Greenville, SC. My quilt “Aunt Sophie’s Chair” is currently traveling with The Modern Quilt Guild’s 2022 Best of QuiltCon exhibit. If I’m designing a quilt around a specific challenge, then my approach is a little different. I usually have several designs in process or queued up waiting for the right time or prompt to come along. Sometimes I can retrofit these designs to work with a fabric challenge palette or other guidelines.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I sew something almost every day. And I watch tutorials online for new techniques. I like to make quilts with more advanced piecing techniques like curves and paper piecing. I try different methods to see what works best for me. Sometimes what seems like a great plan while designing ends up being a challenge to piece accurately. I like to join workshops and retreats with my local guild, the San Antonio Modern Quilt Guild. Being around other quilters is a great way to absorb tips and tricks.
Painting is like riding a bike for me. Even if I don’t paint for days or weeks, I can pick it up and get back into the swing of it after a bit of warm up. But I sometimes need to remind myself that it’s ok to tear up the paper and start over. I am working to loosen up my painting style. Time will tell where that goes.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m a planner that often edits, especially in the beginning of a project. Design elements will get adjusted while a project progresses. So my strategy is to tweak versus improvise. I start with an idea and then develop it in Electric Quilt (EQ8). I try different color palettes, take away parts, add parts and let it sit for a few hours, days or weeks. The rest period allows me to see it more clearly the next time. This iterative process continues until I get a sense that it’s ready for a “fabric investment”. My design wall is integral to process.
Are you a “finisher”?
Yes, I am a finisher. I like to have the piecing complete for a single quilt before sewing another big project. I only have one design wall so it’s distracting to have multiple projects stuck on it at the same time. When I’m working on a project that requires specific attention to paper piecing or sewing sequence it’s better for me to stay focused on sewing that one versus jumping between totally different ones. I’ll do little things that don’t require a design wall like placemats, zipper bags or similar projects at the same time but not a larger quilt.
I usually have a quilt top on the longarm, one on the design wall in sewing stage as well as many in EQ8 planning. But I tend to let quilts stall in the binding stage. I am a terrible procrastinator when it comes to hand sewing binding. Binding does not “bring me joy” for sure.
How many UFOs do you think you have?
Probably five or six. A couple of UFO’s got relegated to my scrap bin to try and repurpose the fabric someday. I have a bunch of test blocks in the scrap bin also. There is a quilt top in the closet that seemed like a good idea but I don’t love the color palette so it’s been lingering for months and will probably never get quilted.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I converted a bedroom to a dedicated sewing space. It has a big window with great natural light. Light is such an important tool that affects how we see colors and value. The furnishings are “found objects”. I got a nice sewing machine cabinet at a yard sale. My husband made a design wall from a large, heavy cardboard flat screen TV box covered with batting – it really works! The cutting table is a plastic folding table with plywood on top to make a more stable surface.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
Plastic bins and boxes are my go-to for storage. I like to keep fabric arranged and sorted by color as much as possible.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio?
My design wall is an essential tool for making quilts. I have two sewing machines – one stays home and the other is smaller for travel or as a backup. I’ve tried many rulers but Creative Grids rulers are my favorite and the only ones I use now.
How do they improve your work?
They encourage me to try new techniques.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal?
Yes, I keep a Molskine grid paper notebook nearby. I often sketch an idea or jot down a note for later exploration.
How does that help your work develop?
It’s a repository of ideas that I can revisit to trigger new ideas.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Audio books and music mostly. I like all types of music so you’ll never know what might be playing.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works?
My favorite vacation spot is the beach. I have a quilt named “Surf’s Up” that uses negative space, color and curved piecing to interpret waves and the sunset.
How does a new work come about?
New work comes from ideas and designs that have been tossed around in EQ8 for a while
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
My journey to being okay with throwing out a project when it doesn’t feel right continues. Fabric is expensive so I have to balance that with the need to experiment and try new things.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Yes to both. Some folks are naturally creative – it’s an easy path. I also believe anyone can learn design principles, color theory and how to use tools to create beautiful things.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Make something, anything, even if it’s not that great in the beginning. Watch tutorials online. Buy the best tools you can. It’s better to have a few awesome tools than a bunch of not so great ones.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Wildpoppyarts.com is primarily a gallery of my work. I have some patterns available to purchase there as well as on Etsy.
Interview posted August 2022
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