Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spotlight Sunday – Susan Hanley

Interview by Wes Douglas, USk Chicago

For our Spotlight Sunday featured artist, we are talking with Susan Hanley, an artist who joined Urban Sketchers Chicago just about a year ago. It was at the 2015 Chicago Sketch Seminar where I first met her and just now discovered that it was where she first joined our group. Since then, Susan has been prolific with her posting of sketches, not only in the USk Chicago Facebook group, but also on Instagram (@snh2030)

It would seem that Urban Sketching has helped rekindle Susan's passion for sketching and painting and her confidence is soaring. She was one of the artists who participated in the Blicks Lincoln Park Art Show last year. 

Here is what else I learned about Susan and some of the sketches she is sharing with us today.

WD: Hi Susan. Thanks for chatting with me here today. My first question is: Can you tell us how you learned about urban sketching and what convinced you to join Urban Sketchers Chicago?
I learned about Urban Sketching from my son Tom who is a member. He was a student at the American Academy of Art and saw a presentation. I reached out to Andrew [Banks] and joined the group, but never attended any of the events. I actually felt a little intimidated to join in on the events and wasn't sure what to expect. When the announcement of the Seminar came out I decided that was my time to join in. It was a perfect way for me to learn more about the group and urban sketching. It's an extremely encouraging and welcoming group of people and the Seminar quelled any nerves I had about participating in future events. In fact, I haven't missed any since!

WD: Well I hope you are not intimidated now. It's always fun to see what you will sketch next. Why do you sketch? And how does it help you?
I sketch for several reasons; wanting to capture a scene, work out an idea or stress relief.  The main reason, however, is that it completely engages a different side of my brain, a side that doesn’t get a ton of exercise on a day-to-day basis. The collaboration of eye to brain to hand is always fresh and interesting. Put different materials into the mix and there are never any two experiences that are exactly alike. In other words, never boring.

Sketching is always challenging for me and presents little problems that I have to solve. I love the aspect of the unexpected. I have an image in my head of what the finished sketch will look like and it inevitably takes a different trail. One truth I’ve found is that I’m happy with the end result when I let it take on a life of it’s own and follow the detours. When I force a picture to stay on track and to look like what I had imagined is exactly how it winds up looking… forced.

Sketching also helps me fully engage with the environment I’m in. I remember the sounds, the smells, the overheard conversations that are
all absorbed while sitting and sketching.

WD: What is your favorite sketching tool?
This is a very tough question. I start every sketch lately with a mechanical pencil. My recent favorite is an Alvin Draftmatic. That paired with a kneaded eraser gets general proportions and composition.

WD: Yes, I can see how much you feature that pencil in your posts. Those mechanical pencils are especially good when you don't want the lines to flair out on you. Where is your favorite place to sketch?
The good old coffee shop is my favorite spot to sketch. There’s coffee, someplace out of the way to sit and tons of people on their cell phones not noticing me sketching them.  Next favorite is doctor’s waiting rooms. Not that I enjoy waiting for doctors, but the sketching is a perfect distraction and a way of feeling productive while at the hands of someone else’s schedule.

WD: I agree Susan. Sometimes when I see that other people are having a bad day, it puts me in a better mood. So I see you sent me a few wonderful sketches. What was the inspiration for the sketches you selected?
The sketches I selected are special because not only am I happy with the end results, they capture a moment in time and by sketching them the memories are even more vivid than if I’d taken a photo or just committed them to memory.

WD: I was so excited to check out the sketches you sent. Why are these scenes special to you?

“Shakespeare Garden” is special to me because it’s a spot I’ve been sketching since I was in high school growing up in Evanston. Except for some trees growing much taller and blocking part of the scene, it’s mostly unchanged. It was a warm summer day and I can transport back to the sounds of the cicadas and the heat of the sun just by looking at this sketch.

“Comet Café” is a favorite diner in Milwaukee. From the booths you can observe the people seated at the counter unobserved. I love all of the textures and details of the interior and the people tend to linger a while making it easier to finish their gestures.

“Newberry Library” is the result of the Urban Sketch Seminar on the Velasquez Palette. This was my first experience with a limited watercolor palette and it was a picture that really felt like it had a mind of it’s own, but in the end I really appreciate all of the things that 3 pigments and some water achieved.

Wildwood Water Tower” is a scene I drive by often. I love the structure of older water towers. They remind me of modern day ruins. The day was gray and stark, but the sketch isn’t bleak and that reflects how it felt. For me it captures a feeling of spring about to return.

WD: What do you do when you are not sketching? Does your day job incorporate your sketching skills?

My day job doesn’t incorporate any sketching skills. However, I feel like the problem solving that you develop in sketching does help me. I can pull back, see a bigger picture and decide what I want to focus on. All skills you hone in sketching.

WD: We are so glad to have artists like you, Susan, in our group because you have found an active group of friends who have helped you to rekindle your love for sketching and painting. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your time and your sketches with us.

Spotlight Sunday is series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually. Now that our chapter has reached 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches. All sketches are 
©2016 Susan Hanley. 


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