Artist Profile: Susan Tobey White

Susan Tobey White has been a potter, weaver, quilter, painter, and art educator. She is best known for her acrylic paintings of faceless dancers. She teaches workshops in water colors and acrylic painting. She has also led color theory classes for quilters. As an artist educator for Golden Artist Colors, she has acquired knowledge of their products which has greatly enhanced her teaching. And we are SO glad to have her back once again at Fiber College!

Sue will teach a two-day intensive class, Surface Design: A Multitude of Ways to Alter the Surface on Wednesday September 6 and Thursday, September 7 from 9 AM to 4 PM both days. Susan tells us this workshop could just as easily be called The Power of Color! and that it would enhance any artist’s understanding of color and design. Let’s meet Susan and then you can sign up for her class here.

Surface design at its best!

Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist? 

I went through years of being obsessed with creating 3-dimensional figures often of elderly women and puppets. These were created from papier mâché, polymer clay, and sculpted fabric. I have boxes of buttons, fabric, jewelry, papers, clothing, and items of texture that I would use to embellish the sculptures.  Now that I am one of these older characters I have lost my enthusiasm for creating them! I now use these items as printing tools, attach them to canvases, and use as inspiration.  Re-designing and Re-creating go hand and hand in my world.

I have no interest in taking another person’s idea and recreating it…I am constantly reassessing my own work, often returning to older pieces and altering them or not.

Sue loves to help each student make the class their own.

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

I was born into the world of fiber arts and creativity.  My grandmother was a weaver, seamstress, and quilter. She taught me those skills along with knitting, crocheting, and gardening.  She was very traditional in her approach whereas what I created on the loom incorporated more texture and “fun.” My mother was a bronze powder stencil artist and tole painter, and created hand painted, pierced, and cut lampshades. She was also a miniaturist and in later years discovered rug hooking. She would dye her own wool. We often created designs together.

Susan Tobey White

As a young person my hands were never idle.  I spent many hours in our attic of our home that was built in 1810. The treasures there fueled my creativity and love of fabric as well…boxes of old clothing providing wonderful imaginative dressing up (dresses with bustles as well as some from the 20s)…I still remember the colors and textures.   One summer I discovered 2 bins of strips of wool. That was the year I learned to braid rugs.

In my 30s when my husband and I did the “back to the land” thing, I had a stencil business where I created quilt kits and sold them at the Common Ground Fair. We also raised sheep. I spun and dyed the wool often using plants I grew or ones that could be found in the fields. I would use the wool either in my weavings or for my knitting projects.  At that time I was an avid gardener.  Later I became obsessed with creating 3-dimensional figures using fabrics and Cernit, a polymer clay.

A wide variety of surface design and riotous color

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

A mentor? Hey, I’m a Leo…need I say more? There are artists whom I admire…lots of them. A mentor? Not really.  There is a quote I read (which I have probably rephrased and do not know who said it) which was crucial to my success: “Creativity without self-discipline is just another flight of fancy.” This was such an important concept for me at the time. Being creative I want and enjoy doing it all… plus being trained as an art educator, I understand so many processes that I was jumping from one thing to another. I started limiting my creativity to painting and creating doll sculptures.   Eventually to only painting. This self-discipline was essential to my feeling of success.

What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

Simple: My family.   Creativity was encouraged in my family. Growing up, my days were filled with drawing, creating, doing crafts, and learning skills from my mother, dad, and grandmother.  My dad was a furniture maker. I would spend many hours in his workshop building “things.”  Also, as an elementary art teacher for 15 years, I believe my students had impact on the colors and simplicity of design I enjoy.

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from?  What inspired you?

Where does inspiration come from? As a teaching artist, I am asked this question most often.  For some of my work it is the overlaying of colors until I see what needs to be developed.  Sometimes it is a combination of colors in nature, or an interesting shape of a shadow. Inspiration can be a piece of fabric attached to a canvas. Most recently I found an old photo my grandmother took and hand painted of me. I felt the need to create a painting of it. That photo has inspired a whole new series of 4×3 ft. paintings that I am finding so exciting.

You can certainly understand how Susan’s class could also be called The Power of Color!

What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?

Although I am known as a painter, I am coming to this event with the background of a fiber artist. As an educator I begin my workshops asking my students what THEY want to learn from me and I adapt my sharing of information to their needs. This workshop will be about the students learning about color and design through a hands-on experience…which will be beneficial to enhance their own expertise.  I hate to waste my time and try very hard to make sure my students have a good experience.  The end product of what we create in this workshop which could also be called The Power of Color, will be dictated by the interests of the students. For example, a weaver may decide to tear or cut strips from what they created the day before with the intention of incorporating weaving in her/his design.  I encourage students to bring tools of their craft to the class (knitting needles, scissors, needle, thread, rug hooking tools, and more).  Because this workshop is based on individual needs, the end results should be diverse and exciting!

If you are a new artist or an accomplished maker who wants to enrich your understanding of color and design, there’s still time to sign up for Susan’s class Surface Design: A Multitude of Ways to Alter the Surface (aka The Power of Color!) right now, right here.

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