She stood in the bare room, hand gently to her cheek staring at the bare walls with a furrow in her brow. Had she heard her friend right? How in the world could she fill this room with art? She had taken a painting class in college, but that was many years ago. The thought of creating an art gallery in the rear of this antique shop was scary, but also sparked a tiny bit of excitement deep within her.
That was 12 years ago. Susan Semenick did fill that barren back room with many colorful works of art and moved on to become an exhibitor in national watercolor competitions as a self-taught artist. It all started with overcoming her own fears of failing.
Susan began her career as a biology teacher near Indianapolis, Indiana. During that lone painting class in college, her professor attempted to persuade her to switch majors and study painting in the fine arts program. She declined, instead focusing on teaching youth about the wonders of the natural world.
“I think that getting an art degree would have ruined it for me,” she said, preferring instead to teach herself after her retirement from teaching to express nature and the personalities of her favorite subjects through gentle strokes of paint and water. Her focus on watercolor came only after exploring the arts of quilting and stained glass, which she realizes now were only ways to distract herself from her desire to paint. The friend at the antique shop provided the motivation she needed to overcome her fear of failing as an artist.
“When you get older, you quit dabbling in all sorts of things, and you start to narrow down exactly what type of work you want to do. You don’t want to waste your time on things that are extraneous,” she said. “I think I did the quilting and stained glass work because I was afraid to actually get into painting. My husband couldn’t even get me to go into an art gallery because I was afraid to fail.”
Ironically, Susan overcame her fear of failure with an exploration into one of the most fearless forms of art. Watercolor painting is considered fearless by some because you can’t truly control what happens when the stroke of the brush touches the rough texture of the paper. Mistakes cannot be hidden or corrected, and compositions can easily become clumsy and muddy with the wrong move or impatience.
Susan chooses to use a limited color palette and draws inspiration from the people she encounters as well as nature. Her subtle washes of color, gentle gradients, and purposeful splatters allow her to create works that not only reveal her love for painting but also her talent for capturing portraits of adults and children.
“Portraits and figures are my favorite,” said Susan. “I will see a face in a public place sometimes, like a wedding, and I will instantly know I want to paint it. It’s so easy to paint a subject I am inspired by.”
While others have encouraged her to pursue acrylic or oil painting, she staunchly refuses. For her, it is the interaction of paper, water, and paint that draw her daily to her studio to work on her latest project–especially the way that the paper absorbs and responds to the paint. Her first lesson when teaching beginners is to experiment with the paper and different levels of absorption, which can vary depending on the temperature and humidity in the room.
When Susan is starting a new composition she spends many hours planning and sketching, meticulously revising until she has achieved the right design. Once she’s ready to paint the process typically takes only thirty to sixty minutes depending on its complexity.
Her paintings are loved for their unique compositions and colorful lands capes, which have been recognized in statewide competitions in Michigan and Indiana. With various awards and special recognitions, Susan is currently preparing to enter national competitions including the National Watercolor Society, Transparent Watercolor Society, and the American Watercolor Society.
Susan has persevered and overcome her fears to soon become a nationally recognized watercolor master. Visit her at Artalicious in September to see her vibrant paintings for yourself and speak with her about her inspirations, techniques, and love for watercolor.