Fifteen years ago Suzanne Morris and her husband, Robbie, loaded up their car with Suzanne’s paintings and began knocking on gallery doors.
If not for that push from her husband, Suzanne says, “I would still be hiding out in my studio thinking my paintings were not good enough.”
The two of them, who are based primarily in Nags Head but also in Richmond, frequently travel the country participating in Paint Outs and exhibits with the top plein air painters in the nation. This month Suzanne will be teaching a plein air workshop in oils and acrylics at her Nags Head studio. Students will learn about color theory, drawing boats, perspective and composition.
“Teaching keeps me sharp,” says Suzanne, who has painted and studied her way to countless awards and sales for her Impressionistic-style work. On teaching she says “You have to express in words what you’re doing with a paint brush logically because if they don’t understand what they are doing, they can’t repeat it. It’s that left brain/right brain thing.”
Mostly a self-taught artist, Suzanne works in a spacious ocean-side studio. She has a cache of art books and spends much time reading and analyzing her work to make sure it has all the components of a good painting. She has to weigh this analyzation against maintaining a sense of the fresh and immediate for which Impressionism and her work is known. But it isn’t easy. It calls for balancing intellect and intuition with the passion of what she is seeing.
“Impressionists are telling the time that a painting was painted,” Suzanne says. “So you’re copying the color of the light.” She has learned that light moves along the spectrum as the day evolves from red purple at day break to almost a white at noon and then back to violet again. She skillfully balances these gorgeous colors with neutrals to make her palette sing. Shades of mauve form the under shadows of clouds hanging over a mountain marina scene. Bits of rust become leaves in a tree anchoring a vineyard. Bright taillights from a pale white car reflect hot orange on city blacktop. Pink plays the role of shade on the sails of boats floating on a teal and turquoise sea.
While Suzanne is called in Paint Outs to paint scenes from across the nation, water speaks to her. She seeks it out, and it appears over and again in her work. “I’m a water baby,” she says. “The water and the beach and the boats are always in my heart because I love painting the reflections and the light on the water.”
Fluidity has long played a role in her life. She got into painting when she fell in love with ala prima wet-on-wet painting, in which the artist works quickly to capture essence all in one sitting. Being able to draw is important, she says, and she has labored over honing that skill. But she cautions that the artist has to be careful not to work a painting to death just to get the drawing right. “When you get obsessed that the drawing is right, you lose the freshness.”
Suzanne praises a number of artists with helping her develop and therefore be able to hold her own in a predominantly male-dominated world. Her home is filled with her mentors’ art, which she analyzes, but she maintains a strong sense of herself when she paints. She has studied with top names in plein air painting including Kevin Macpherson, Scott Christiansen, Roger Dale Brown, Bill Davidson and Larry Moore.
Her early paintings, she says, were marked by long shadows, bright sun and blue bird skies: “There was no rain in my early days” She since has since learned how much color hides in shadows and how neutral color will unleash passion in pure color. “You have to learn to orchestrate your cast and subordinate things.” The older paintings also had no hesitation, she says.
She’s working to balance all the knowledge she has collected with keeping that sense of the moment, of the time of day. “Everyone thinks that growth should be this smooth transition, and it’s not,” she says. “It’s totally up two down one.”
In the words of one of her mentors, she says, “You can’t hear something until you are ready to hear it.”