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February, 2015

Featured Artist

Sue Lawton

After more than ten years of continuous practice post-college, I feel I have found my voice as both an artist and a writer. My focus is always a balance between “showing” and “telling”. My practice begins with simple curiosity about a place, its people, its history, and its mood.

During my residency at Gallery 224 Studios, I hope to get to know Port Washington and its connection to the Great Lakes. Having grown up in Grafton, I already have a familiarity and fondness for the town. I believe every community has its own unique stories and identity and I look forward to finding one or two during my time in Port Washington.

Sue will be in the studio from January - May.


A Conversation with Sue Lawton

by Don Niederfrank

Sue and I met over hot cocoa at the Daily Baking Company, located above the Gallery 224 Studios in the Boerner Building. I had learned of Sue and her work a couple of years ago from her brother-in-law Andy Smith, whom I've known for all of his life (I baptized him...) and much of my own. Our conversation covered a number of subjects, the relevant portions follow.

Tell me about getting started as an artist.
I graduated in 2002 from Cardinal Stritch University with a BFA degree in drawing and painting.

Did you do art as a child?
Yes, lots. Mostly colored pencil and markers. I was easy to shop for. All I wanted was art supplies.

Do you have children?
We do. Two, six and eight, and lots of nieces and nephews.

Do your children do art?
My daughter the six-year-old does. She's definitely a drawer. My son is more left-brained. He’s more creative with building and designing things.

What medium do you use?
Mostly pen and ink and water colors.

You're working on a mural now, right?
Yes, for the Exploreum at the Port Washington Historical Society. I'll do the drawings in pen and ink, and then they will be blown up and transferred to vinyl that goes on the wall. I like doing historical work. My first book, The Circus and the Cyclone (2011), is a work of historical fiction about the day New Richmond, WI was hit by a tornado in 1899.  My second book, The Fire Keepers (2014) is an historical fantasy children’s tale I created for The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield.

How did you get the gig to do the murals for the Exploreum?
Jane knew I did the children's books and put me in contact with the Historical Society.

Which do you like more, writing or art?
I lean toward the visual, but I enjoy writing. I wrote radio plays when I was younger that we taped. I listened to them a while ago. There was a lot of giggling. Writing doesn't come as easily as art. I'm also attempting a novel. Last fall I did a writing retreat in Upper Michigan for 10 days. It really let me get in the zone to write.

How do your books develop? Does the story come before the pictures?
I get an idea for a story, and then the images come, and then I go back and forth.

What's the hardest thing for you about being an artist?
All the misconceptions, the assumptions people make. It's what I like about artists-in-residence programs. People can see what we do.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
I think an historian or a librarian. I love to read, and I love history. Not big events, but smaller things that have to do with people's lives.

(At this point, I thought Sue might like to know the history of the Boerner Mercantile Building, so I asked Dan Ewig to join us. He gave us a brief but thorough accounting of the building's history.)

What other media have you worked with?
You know, I didn't learn print making in college, and I'm having fun learning about that and paper making at Redline.

Why would you want to make your own paper?
You can get interesting textures. It's fun to learn something new. Sometimes there are happy accidents or a lesson learned.

What do people not know about doing art?
It's a lot of work. It takes many years of doing art that is not good to do work that's good. The first draft never looks just like the finished work. The first sketches are very basic, then I carry over things that are right. Draft by draft. Usually 5 or 6 pencil drafts and then maybe two more in ink. Even then it may not be the final work.

People assume that art is all innate talent, but you have to put in time. You have to have failed projects. It's work that I enjoy, but it's still work.


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