I’m thrilled to interview Susan Summit Cyr, illustrator, author, teacher, and fine artist as my Creator Spotlight!
I am so inspired by her art and philosophy and I can’t wait to tell you all about her.
Susan, like many successful artists today, has been drawing since she was a child. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making art. ” From grade school on, she was known as the ‘artist’ amongst her classmates. Being so designated was tremendously encouraging and motivated her to practice her drawing skills continuously. That experience influences her passion for teaching today.
While attending Pomona College in Claremont, California, Susan fell in love with studying Biology. After a few years of taking classes in both fine art and biology, it became impossible to choose between them for a degree.
During a biology lab, the professor looked at her lab sketchbook and told her how excellent it was. He advised her to consider a career in biological illustration.
However, the fine art department disparaged art for commercial purposes and there was no formal degree for illustration. Happily, being a liberal arts college, Pomona offered the option to create your own major. So, with official permission, she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Biological Art.
She discovered a fantastic graduate program in Biomedical Illustration at Cal State University at Long Beach and worked for an intense two years for her Masters Degree.
Susan embarked on a very successful career in biological illustration. After getting married and moving to Washington State, she was able to be home with her growing family and create illustrations for many textbooks, children’s books, institutional and commercial projects.
Combining a love and passion for natural history with the specific skills needed for fine art and illustration was the perfect fit for her.
Teaching As A Passion
Susan and her husband built a beautiful art studio onto the back of their house, with big windows, skylights, storage space and views to their back garden. It became a perfect classroom for teaching and sharing her love of creating art. Susan discovered she is a gifted teacher! When the couple recently moved to Southern California, they recreated the studio – this time with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean.
Teaching as many as eight classes a week for kindergartners to 80 year olds, she provides instruction in a huge array of mediums. Printmaking, ceramics, pastels, acrylic, watercolor, collage, felting and drawing are just some of the offerings she helps her students explore.
“There is a medium for every person,” Susan enthusiastically says. ” As students explore and experiment they find a passion and a success!”
It’s all about providing a comfortable place and time to create with the right materials, good instruction, and the skilled love and constant affirmation from the teacher.
A good teacher is rare. Susan’s enthusiasm, encouragement and help elevate her students and lead them to inevitable boosts in self-esteem and fulfillment. It’s not about talent! She firmly believes that “every single person can learn to create beautiful art.”
Her rare teaching skill keeps students coming back for more and keeps her roster full. “I feel deeply that the power of creative art making can transform a person. Among other things, creating brings the artist peace, accomplishment, and a new outlook on life – a new way of seeing.”
The world pandemic with Covid hasn’t slowed down her teaching. She now teaches weekly lessons and workshops to students all around the world…even when she is living in their second home in Costa Rica.
She creates right along with her students. They can see her experiment, make a few mistakes, and be encouraged in the process. “It keeps me honest and motivated in trying to constantly up my skills!”
Susan and I connected on the philosophy of failure. When I was learning from some of the world’s best illustrators they all said the same thing: All artists throw away about 75% of their creations. In fact, once a year they have a big burn pile day where they get rid of the dogs that they don’t want the world to see.
I was encouraged and shocked that my favorite artists did not create masterpieces every time they created!
It’s about experimenting, pushing yourself to new areas, risking failure, and not bruising your ego in the process.
Susan shared “Take risks and try something new. The ones who are brave enough to take chances and are willing to fail are the ones who will learn the fastest.”
Inspirations and Influences
Susan is a nature lover, scuba diver and outdoor enthusiast. The underwater world coupled with the incredible variety of life in nature are her biggest inspirations. Living in Costa Rica is a technicolor experience, from the jungles and flora to the sea life below the surface, there is no lack of beauty to inspire her.
You can see her wonderment and love for ecosystems and endangered animals evident in her latest works. Such color! Such joy! It’s a visual love letter. Check out these samples of some of her most recent work:
Susan has deep-dived into the world of painting on silk. It is her favorite medium. Painting on silk is similar to watercolor painting on paper, but with much more fluidity. Size is not a limitation: she can paint as large as 12 feet long! Using a resist and silk dyes she is moving the medium to new heights.
“It’s so liberating! It is the perfect blend of boundaries and freedom.”
Not limited to framed art, Susan applies painted silk to sculptures, canvas, and on found objects. Her current project is hand-painted silks mounted to surfboards and paddleboards!
If that isn’t amazing enough, Susan’s new book being published this late spring will fill a void in the history of a little known area of the U.S.A. Her book is a history that tells the unique story of tiny Bumping Lake in the mountain wilderness of Washington State. Illustrated by her daughter with woodblock prints at the chapter headings, I can’t wait to get my own copy!
When asked what she is most proud of in her career and life, she quickly said that raising great children into wonderful adults is by far her most profound accomplishment. Juggling motherhood, an illustration career, a happy marriage, and teaching is a monumental task. “I tried to do a LOT of things well.”
That is amazing. Susan is such an inspiration, not only with her gorgeous art (which is so beautiful that it brings me to tears) but with her dedication and joy in teaching.
She makes the world a better place and shows her viewers the beauty they may otherwise pass by.
I can’t wait to see what else she creates.
You can find and follow Susan here:
her website: www.SeaHorseStudio.net