After completing a BFA degree at Appalachian State University, Susan Fullwood put her art in a holding pattern while she toured as a pro beach volleyball player. Trading in flip-flops for a firefighter’s suit, she drove fire trucks in Charleston, S.C. and also met her husband, Blayne at the same fire department. The lifestyle took its toll, and she began relying too much on alcohol until she found faith in God and stopped drinking. She used her experiences to help other firefighters fighting the same battle. Sobriety brought lifestyle changes and a beautiful blessing named Jesse. It was also the catalyst for a new chapter in her art journey.
On a dark stormy tornado-filled January night, Susan and her family moved to DeSoto County for her husband’s job. Not quite the welcome this North Carolina native expected, but now she finds the quiet small town feel of Hernando just right to live and raise a child. It’s also the perfect place to begin again with her art.
Did you always want to be an artist? I did, yeah. I didn’t really know how to go about it though. I grew up taking private lessons, but when I got to college I wasn’t going to do anything like that. I was playing sports. Then I started getting depressed because I wasn’t creating anything so I took a couple of art classes, and it set me on fire again. My concentration was metalsmithing, ceramics, and painting.
Describe your creative process. I use oils, and build my own wooden boxes out of poplar wood. I do an underpainting, sand it back, and then just layer it from there.
I really like the technical part of it. I want you to be able to see and enjoy the process so I’ll leave some things showing from the previous layers.
As far as composition goes not only is the subject matter a point of interest, but I really like the negative space around it. I see shapes that are made by the empty spaces, and I find that it can make for good tension.
How would you describe your painting style? I don’t know how to categorize my painting style. There are some parts that are a little impressionistic with “imaginary colors”. Sometimes I just take the basic shape, but what I’m really focused on is the tension. Like with my painting of the two birds- there’s just that little moment. I try to create a little moment in each one.
I feel very spontaneous. Some of the best stuff I learned in college came from the 5 minute quick studies- like capturing a gesture. That has helped me now with the craziness of painting and watching a 3 year old. I don’t have a long time to focus.
What influences your painting style? I love birds!! There’s a bird somewhere in the painting. It’s more about the flight and colors or I think about what the background will be like. I look at what colors would look best with that bird and what is the complimentary color to that bird and then that becomes my underpainting. I want the background to highlight the colors of the bird.
For me, I’m not painting the bird on the wire. I’m seeing the colors that will make that bird pop off the wire.
Wolf Kahn is an artist I admire for his use of imaginary colors. I call them that because they’re not your traditional colors- like his tree might be blue. I also like Matisse and Mary Cassatt for their use of patterns
If you could spend a day in any artist’s studio, who would it be and why? Do you really want to know everything? But it would be nice to see if that artist has that “ugly state” pictures can get into. That would be neat for me to see. I think Andrew Wyeth and some Americana artists like the Hudson River School artists would be interesting, probably because their techniques are so different from mine. I would also like to see how they would travel across the country and the way they saw the landscapes.
What does your art mean to you? I have two mottos: 1) Bored people are boring and 2) Create something every day.
I really try to do something every day. I always think: I got to do that! I feel blessed.
I almost feel like I blossomed here in this short time even with COVID. I’m just happy to have an art show. I’m super excited about it. This is my first show since college.
What do you like most about being an artist? I get to make stuff. I think it’s fun. I just like it. I like the concept of form following function- making something pretty that is also functional. It doesn’t have to be just everyday ordinary.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Wow, I think that having a community of healthy critiques would be really important to a lot of artists. I just think that healthy forms of sitting around and having artists bring their work in and have talks about it would be beneficial to a lot of artists.
Kind of like a book club for artists? Yes! Let another artist talk about what they see in your art. How do I keep growing as an artist if I’m in my own little bubble and not getting any feedback?
Finish this sentence: Art is important because _______________. Things should just have a beauty to it. I’ll explain with this story. There was one project from my metalsmithing class, and it was to make a brooch, but you couldn’t use a standard glue-on pin. You had to make the mechanism work within the piece of art- from the hinge to the pin. It was such a mind opening project. I can’t verbalize it, but that’s how I see it. I really like the idea that you have to create the mechanism. The mechanism is the art itself.
Like the birds she loves to paint, Susan is filled with energy and a zest for life that can’t help but spill over and touch those around her. She is that pop of color and spark to help carry us into the fresh new beginnings of Spring and the New Year.
Meet local artist: Susan Fullwood
March 13, 2021, 1–4 p.m.
DeSoto Arts Council Gallery
2465 Highway 51 South, Hernando
Article written by Teresa Harris Cochran
Photos by James Sentenn