Sue Dion was born and raised just outside of Boston, MA. Where she remained until her early twenties, working alongside her siblings, parents and grandparents operating a family wholesale floral business.
While the demands of planting, nurturing and bringing flowers to market left little time or inclination for artistic pursuits, it is these very activities which developed in Dion two traits essential to the successful artist, a strong work ethic and a keen eye for beauty.
Dion maintains a studio beside her home in Uxbridge, MA. Her private studio is an addition to the back of a 24 X 30’ building which houses her picture framing business and a teaching space. Dion’s cherished sun-filled studio is just a few steps from her kitchen and the culmination of years of dreaming, scheming and hard work.
Dion is a painter working in Acrylic, Oil and Watercolor. She has studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Dion’s paintings draw from two great American traditions, abstract expressionism and plein air. But to those traditions, she brings both technical sophistication and a humility that invokes her thematic interests in human trafficking and servitude. Her singular approach to the “lost edges” in abstraction communicate her intense focus on the marginalized and awaken our awareness of what is on the edges and not apparent at first glance. The color scheme in her work is equally sophisticated: any immediate sense of sweetness in her pastels or more saturated colors gives way, on a second viewing, to unexpected depths and darkness. Through her use of color, texture and edge Sue invites her viewers to journey along unexpected pathways, ultimately arriving at their own, unique interpretations of her work.
Dion is a member of ArtsWorcester, a frequent demonstrator for regional arts organizations, a Gamblin Demo Artist, and a member of the teaching faculty at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA. Sue currently conducts classes in watercolor online for her own student following, The Winslow Art Center in Bainbridge, WA and The Sandwich Arts Alliance in Sandwich, MA.
Dion has received much local, regional and international recognition for her paintings. She has participated in many juried and group gallery events and also hung several solo exhibitions at such institutions as Unum, The Franklin Gallery, and the Austin Art Center. Dion’s work has been featured in several publications including Worcester Magazine and Worcester Art Museums “The Sketch”. Her work can be found in numerous public and private collections across the globe including the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, Milford Federal Savings Bank and the City of Austin, MN.
Sue Dion consistently creates, ethereal and engaging work which is a joy to behold. Her appreciation for the gift of painting has never dulled and is evident in the way she shares her gift with all of us.
Hello Sue! When did you first know you would be an artist? When did you first start doing art?
Sue: I have enjoyed sketching and doodling my whole life and I remember as a teenager, painting flowers onto the wall of a panty in my family home. I don’t remember if I had asked for permission first, but my mother, even on her death bed, regretted that she hadn’t been able to take those flowers with her when the home was sold.
Oddly, I didn’t begin painting as a fine artist until I was in my thirties. I had started taking decorative painting classes with one of my sisters during my twenties and one day got it in to my head that to be an “artist” I needed to paint something that I could put in a frame and hang on the wall. Not seeing any other requirements I did just that and have consequently spent the past twenty years learning how to paint! I wouldn’t change it for the world. Actually, one of the things I love most about painting is that you never, ever stop learning. There is always another technique, brush, approach, medium, genre …. My desire to try all of them has never diminished.
What is your studio like, in your home in Uxbridge, MA.? And what are some things that are most important in a studio, to feel good and free to create at full capacity?
Sue: I have been spoiled by having a beautiful studio which is in a building next to my home. My painting studio is a 16 X 20’ addition on the back of a 24 X 30” garage where, until COVID-19 19, I ran a custom frame shop and taught painting classes. The walls of my studio are painted lavender, filled with windows and the cathedral ceiling has three skylights. Our neighbor has a field that wraps partially behind my studio as it works its way up a hillside into the woods. Occasionally one or two of their cows will meander by. It is truly a little piece of heaven and even after 15 years It takes my breath away to have such an inspiring place to work.
Two things come to mind when you ask about what’s important in a studio and those are Lighting and Flooring. I think number one would be light. I have lots of windows but if you only have one wall for them be sure it is facing north. You’ll also want really good lighting for in the evening so that you don’t have to leave in the middle of a painting session because you can’t see the colors anymore. Yes, I’ve had to do this many times. (Sigh) When it comes to flooring you should choose a flooring that you don’t need to worry about and that can be easily replaced…Art is a messy business! My studio has a concrete floor finished with a colored chip resin that isn’t smooth so when I need to, I can just apply another coat over it….and the multitude of paint splatters! Consider using an anti-fatigued mat on the floor in front of your easel as I do.
You say your paintings draw from two American traditions, abstract expressionism and plein air. And in addition, you bring both technical sophistication and a humility that invokes your thematic interests in human trafficking and servitude. Could you tell me more about that?
Sue: Most of my paintings are based on nature and the land or sea so I often enjoy painting outside (en plein air) yet I lean toward a more abstracted style of art. My goal in creating a painting is not so much to describe what I have seen but rather what I have felt for having seen it. Abstract expressionism is a form of art that is more intuitive, with a stronger focus on the “why” rather than the technical “how” found in other disciplines. It has taken me years to understand where my work fit, stylistically. I had a strong feeling that it belonged in the camp of “abstract expressionism” and was finally convinced of this when I read that this style of art is often created without a plan or concrete idea of what the work would look like when it was finished. This is TOTALLY the way I work!
As a person, I am heartbroken by the prevalence of human trafficking in the US and in the world. As an artist I hope to use my work to bring attention to it. I am most likely sensitive to this because I lived for years in an abusive situation where I felt powerless to find a way out. Coincidently, it was the gift of painting that brought me the strength to do so. It was the one thing in my life that I was able to claim wholly as my own, the one thing that they could not take away from me, nor take credit for. Though my efforts were belittled for years, as my ability and recognition grew so did my strength. It was painting that brought me out of abuse and I hope to use painting to bring attention to others who are being abused. I try to communicate this in my paintings through the use of lost edges, those instances where the edge of one thing is lost in the shape of another. I use these “lost edges” to make a connection to the victims of human trafficking; to express that there are people, so many people, right there – just on the edge of your vision, your experience, your world- that need your help. Men, women and children that don’t have the strength or the resources to help themselves. I hope that people will recognize this component of my work and learn to know the signs of human trafficking . I hope that they will begin to see and recognize the people who are living on the edges.
Your art is very unique. What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Sue: I freely admit that I face MANY challenges when creating a painting. The most challenging part is probably quieting my inner critic. It’s generally understood that no one lives in a vacuum but creating art can be very isolating. There is no one standing beside you, it’s just you, the paint and the canvas. Frankly, it can be a little daunting. So, I try to remember that the skill to do comes of doing. I work at overcoming my fears by continuing to paint and trust that my skill will increase.
On the technical side of challenges is the fact that I like to use a lot of texture in my paintings. Unfortunately, I do most of my current work using acrylic paint. Unfortunately, acrylic paint lies flat when it dries. This means that I spend a lot of time trying to find ways to get the texture I am looking for in my finished pieces. There are techniques that I would like to use, specific things that I would like to add to my work but I have not yet found the products or techniques that will allow me to do so.
Do you see your pieces from start to finish? Can you walk us through your artistic process, physically and psychologically? Also, do you listen to music when you create, if yes what music you listen mostly?
Sue: I do not see my pieces as completed before I begin. While I typically have a general idea of the basic structure and colors I plan to work with, I don’t start with a specific plan or even a sketch. I have come to believe that “doggedly pursuing” what one thinks a painting “has to be” is a recipe for disaster. As a watercolor artist I learned to be flexible and let the painting develop on its own (somewhat of a necessity with the medium!). This flexibility stayed with me when I began working with acrylics and most likely contributed a great deal to my looser, abstracted style.
I don’t always listen to music when I am painting but when I do choose to do so I listen only to instrumental music. When I listen to music with words in it, I find myself singing along in my head and this seems to distract me and inhibit my creativity.
In your opinion, what makes a great painting?
Sue: In general, I think that a painting is great when it makes you feel something. As an artist though, I think a painting is great when it inspires me to paint.
What are some of the stories behind your work?
Sue: My paintings are an expression of my awe at the beauty and power nature. The time I spend at my easel is primarily my attempt to share that sense of wonder. It is ALWAYS a humbling experience and I consistently fall short. So far, however, that hasn’t kept me from trying. 😊
Who/what inspires you artistically? What artists do you admire?
Sue: I am inspired by those artists who exercise restraint. Those who create a sense of mood in a succinct manner by using a limited palette, subdued hues and simple shapes. Some of my current favorite contemporary artists are Barbara Flowers, Nancy Franke and Christine Baker.
Share some interesting facts about your art with us.
Sue: At the onset of COVID I hosted the very first #30dayquarantine challenge which inspired a lot of people to get out their brushes and paint. I followed that challenge up with a #52paintingschallenge which included weekly prompts for subject matter ideas. The 52 paintings challenge will end soon and I am working on a studio live stream where I hope to post some of my painting sessions.
What is your favorite artwork you’ve done so far, if you can choose? 😊
Sue: I think about this from time to time, and it seems that my favorite piece of art is almost always my most recently completed painting. There are a few that stand out and have stood the test of time for me. Paintings such as “Skating on Thin Ice”, “Melting Iris” and “The Awakening” to name a few.
What are you currently working on?
Sue: I’m currently working on a series of abstract expressionist paintings using panels and canvases that are very long and narrow. I love the way the paintings in this series can be mixed and matched to fit almost any wall. I began painting this series using shades of blue and am in the process of transitioning to a muted, more tonal palette.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Sue: The income streams that I have spent the last twenty years building have been severed by the pandemic. Learning to teach successfully in a virtual environment has been quite a journey but I appreciate the opportunity it has given me to learn new skills. My current efforts focus on creating instructional videos and seeking additional gallery representation.
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