Susan Shami's Art Background:
I began watercolor painting full time in 1991 after I retired from science due to health problems. I took a class by Glory Saunders in Webster, TX based on the book "Drawing on the Left Side of the Brain" (first edition). Later Glory invited me to join her beginners' watercolor class which I gladly did. I had never tackled the watercolor media before and was fascinated by the rich but malleable colors and what I found I could do with them. I also learned all the basics of traditional watercolor.
I then had my first one-woman show in 1992 in Galveston, Texas where we lived at the time. I entered quite a few shows and won a few ribbons. "Galveston August" won "best of show" at one time and "Shell Basket" won best in multi-media. I somehow compared art to science with shows being equivalent to grants which of course they aren't. I continued to take various workshops by Karen George, Eleanor Kessler, Barbara Neches and other excellent artists. Edgar Whitney was one of the mentors upon which their teachings were based. Doug Walton was another mentor. I enjoyed weekly painting sessions with other artist friends I met in classes and learned a great deal from them. A local art supply and framing shop owned and run by George and Madonna Powers was kind enough to lend us space in which to paint.
Before I began looking for galleries in which to display my work, we moved from Galveston, TX to Truckee, CA when my husband, Mike retired to return to his art career. When we moved to Truckee, I showed my work in 2 galleries, the Upstairs Gallery in Truckee and Douglas Taylor Art in Tahoe City. I had a one-woman show at the Incline Village Chamber of Commerce for a month and showed some paintings in the local Truckee bank. An article about me in the local Truckee paper is how Douglas found me and asked me to bring some of my work to his gallery. Douglas also displayed and sold my polymer clay fetish dishes (see Sculpture and jewelry) and encouraged me to work on all three media at once. I did this and found I was very productive. My work with jewelry led me to begin experimenting with beading while living in Truckee.
Photos of our house in Truckee (see Photography) give a good idea of how my art productivity could be so great. Our first winter there we had about 15 feet of snow. We either shoveled or painted - or so it seemed.
We lived in Truckee about 3 years and then moved to Davis, CA where Mike decided to go back to work in science. My health prevented my return to work or art for a while. I moved back East to CT and lived with my family hoping to find better medical care. I was very successful with this endeavor much to the surprise of my doctors both in CT and CA. When I could I worked on my jewelry and sold most of it to the local gallery in Kent, CT. My fetish necklaces were quite popular. I also began making coil jewelry which I later found to be popular.
By 1998 much to my surprise I was healthy enough to go back to work and I was offered a job. I moved to New Jersey and worked for CH Technologies, www.toxics.com . Although I worked full time, I also did some beading and polymer clay sculpture in my little spare time. I did one piece of bead and needlepoint combined. My job was a new type of science for me but it gave me a chance to learn graphic arts (Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop) and web design. Some of my work can be seen at www.inhalation.net.
As seemed inevitable, my health eventually hit some potholes in the road. So it was time to find another job.
In 2000 I moved back to California during the great dotcom rally and began a job at a drug company. It seemed like San Francisco would be very exciting and I was anxious to leave the winters back East. However, the job was stressful because I had never worked for a large corporation before. I injured my back immediately and was put on disability. There was no room in my small apartment to paint or make jewelry. However there was just enough room to bead and just enough time between my doctor appointments. Eventually the disability ended and I was laid off. I lived in San Mateo, within view of San Francisco and never even go to the city.
I moved back to Davis with Mike in 2001. I have been juggling surgeries and illnesses and long hours in the house since I arrived here. Thus I began to paint again and continued to bead. As seems to happen with most beaders, I became addicted to beading. Mike tolerates my work areas all over the house. Painting takes up the dining area. Beading takes up a corner. And polymer clay sculpture is spread all over the house with a small electric oven and pasta maker. Large pieces require a borrowed oven as our oven does not have accurate temperature control. Much of my original work was injured in my many moves or just plain disappeared. Then there are random boxes full of feathers, shells and other interesting objects that might come in handy when I set up my still lives.
I work on different art forms depending upon my strength. I was shocked when I realized I was too weak to paint anything larger than a simple quarter sheet at one point. So I began to make amulet pouches. The more I made, the more unique I could see that they were. At one point I decided I wanted to learn more stitches and set that as my goal. I did find that my beading ideas got way ahead of my ability to create them.
I have not had the patience to do any needlework recently. I did most of it when I was on medical leaves of absence from earlier jobs. (Unfortunately I don't have photos of all my work as I gave some of it away and a few pieces just disappeared.) Needlework is quite tedious but I enjoy it because I design it as I work and make no plans. Had I know about beading and watercolor painting earlier, I may never have done needlepoints.
SCIENTIST BECOMES AN ARTIST - My early years
As a child I painted (tempura, oils, acrylics) and did various forms of art and crafts ever since I can remember. My mother took me to painting lessons at the Y in Tarrytown, NY when I was in grammar school. I didn't like these lessons because there were too many rules. Right to my last workshops, teachers noted that I never followed their instructions. I was criticized for using pure color among other things. But I always thought that since I had paid for these lessons I could use what I wanted and omit the rest. I seem to remember avoiding watercolor because I heard it was difficult. I found it quite the opposite and have stayed with it since those first lessons. Ironically I find many people seem to look down their noses at watercolor considering oils to be superior for some reason.
At the same time that I made collages and did paintings in my bedroom, I had my mother's microscope set up in a corner and played scientist. I had a notebook and drew pictures of things I saw in the microscope - pond water, pieces of leaves and such.
I took figure drawing classes for about 4 years in college and loved it. I also do portraits but prefer to work from life which is difficult without a professional model. However, I had to drop the classes when I moved across Boston to Harvard. Quite frankly the time I spent getting my doctorate left no time for art - other than a few afghans while I was in the hospital. I spent my extra time with sports - squash, rock climbing, skiing (downhill and cross country), hiking, sailing and finally belly dancing. I also did sports as a kid - competitive swimming, tennis, skiing but I felt a much greater need for this outlet in graduate school. And of course there was about a year total that I spent in the hospital with a serious infection and brain surgery for a ruptured brain aneurysm.
WHAT ART IS TO ME NOW ?
In one word, art is survival. The web site has a section called "Health and Healing". I included this information because it is integral to the story of my journey from science to art. I have no doubt that these health problems and crises had and still have a great effect on the art work I do and my drive to continue with it. The page is still in draft form listing some of the diagnoses I have as well as some of the techniques other than allopathic medicine that helped me in becoming healthier and more functional.
It is only recently that I am beginning to understand why it is so important for me to continue to be a serious artist although I am legally disabled. I simply refuse to let a list of diseases take over my life completely although some people who speak to me think that it sounds like all I think about is my health. I know I have to make a lot of concessions to these diseases. I have to study them. I am responsible for my own healthcare. I may spend hours learning about new treatments and discussing problems with friends in on-line support groups.
For example, I have extreme photosensitivity and sensitivity to heat with my type of lupus. This summer I decided to just forget about the sunscreen and not go out unless necessary during the daylight. My reward is that I get to spend many more hours beading and painting. And I haven't had a lupus flare up. I don't mind being a bit of a hermit because I know I still have a lot of good friends from my science days. I also don't mind no longer being able to climb or ski. We have a treadmill so I can keep in shape. This new lifestyle allows me to indulge in my art almost full time.
When working on a painting I am totally immersed in the process. I couldn't even tell you what I am thinking. I am not big on planning other than a drawing. I know when I am done. Only then do I begin to judge this as a "good" or "bad" piece. Designing jewelry and completing it is a lot like painting. Beading is a slightly different feeling. It is more relaxing perhaps again because I don't make complicated plans before I begin. I do become immersed in the process but I am more relaxed. I think this is because beading is slower and I can plan and think along the way. I am usually fairly certain of the final result before I'm done. This takes some of the internal pressure off that I don't really feel while painting although I am aware that it is there.
Sculpture is another process altogether. The feelings fall between those that occur while painting and those associated with beading. In addition there are more technical concerns with this form because of the different clays and my inclination to always try new ideas I have.
My hope is that the result of my painting or beading or jewelry will touch someone else in a way that makes them want to share in the art. Most of the goal of my art is what I get from doing it. I know that when I buy a piece or art I can't always tell you why I want to have it. I can however tell you that I don't buy something to match my furniture of to fit somewhere in my cluttered house. If it is right for me, it will always fit in. I feel that since art involves all the senses, it is difficult to write about. Of course I am well aware that poetry and writing are also art. In fact I have spent many hours on both endeavors when unable to paint.
Science background of Susan Shami
07/06/2009 02:05 PM -0700