Remember when I told you that Susan Lenz is doing an artist residency in my home state of Arkansas? CraftGossip’s sewing editor, Anne Weaver, and I drove to Hot Springs to meet her last Saturday.
Susan was sitting in the foyer of the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum, stitching and chatting with any visitor who expressed interest in her work. Charming and animated, she had drawn a crowd, so it took Anne and me a little while to break through to say hello.
We got to spend an hour, at most, with her. But I learned more in that time than in a half-dozen online workshops. And all with no formal interview—just a lively chat with lots of laughter. Some of Susan’s wisdom:
How do you become a full-time artist? Put in 40 hours a week. Track your time. Even if you have another job, a family, a video-game addiction. If you put in 40 hours a week, you are a full-time artist. And if you have two full-time jobs, it doesn’t hurt to have a husband who enjoys taking up the domestic slack.
How do you get started as a fine artist? Find an awesome, experienced mentor. Pay attention to his or her advice. (Susan luckily has a studio neighbor who is generous with good counsel about the practicalities of creating and marketing art.) Then do the work. Start creating. You’ll soon have a body of work.
How do you become recognized as an artist? You don’t necessarily need fancy credentials. You just have to be persistent in seeking opportunities to teach, display your work, and learn. Practice writing proposals for residencies, fellowships, grants, and exhibitions. Every success is not only an educational experience but also a notch on your resume.
How do you juggle all this artistic activity? Take advantage of twofers whenever you can. For example, some pieces that Susan is creating to capture her Hot Springs experience can also be used as class samples for a future workshop.
How do you finance beautiful presentation for your work such as framing? Create work in standard sizes so it doesn’t require custom framing. Or choose one unconventional size and stick to it. Then you can pay for one outstanding custom frame and switch out the art for photographing or display. It’s also handy to be a framer in your other full-time job, as Susan is. That’s how she knew the perfect standard size to make her Decision Portraits and the most economical way to frame the series. If you’re not a framer, think about befriending one.
What if I’m nearing 40 and I’m just now getting the art bug? You still have time. Susan took up fine art in 2000, when her children and her business already were well established. In just 11 years, she has accumulated an astonishing collection of work. If you’re as committed and enthusiastic as she is, you can do it, too.
There was so much more I learned about Susan’s work, philosophy, life, family. I can share only an impression in this small space. She was so warm and funny, I would have greatly enjoyed sharing dinner and a few glasses of wine with her, but we had to dash back to Little Rock.
Before we left, Anne snapped the photos included with this post. (Thank you, Anne! You are awesome!) Each of the pieces shown here is described in detail on Susan’s Art in Stitches blog. Go on over there and take a look. Or even better, go meet her. She’ll be stitching in public in the foyer of the Fordyce Bathhouse on Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Arkansas, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 27. And she’ll be presenting her work at the First Friday Art Walk, also in Hot Springs, on September 2.
Thank you, Susan, for making us so welcome.
By Denise Felton