When the land changes, Suzanne Massion’s paintings will remind you of the way it once was. She drives the back roads through the tall grass prairies and farmland of her native Illinois, stopping to paint en plein air when the moment strikes. She feels like she’s in a race to save a disappearing treasure as buildings burn or open space is paved over.
Read on to learn more about Suzanne’s story and process.
Walk us through creating a piece. How do you source your reference material?
Since landscapes are subjects dear to my heart, I am more often up to my shoulders in tall grass prairies, deep in the shade of an Illinois oak-hickory savannah, sloshing through fens and marshes, or wandering the edges of rivers, streams, and lakes. Much of my work starts en plein air and then is finished in my studio. I take lots of digital images to remind me what I saw “out there”. I print these images and file them for use later under categories such as “Water”, “Sky & Clouds”, “Lanes & Roads”, “Winter”, “Woods”, etc.
How do you begin a painting?
Technically, I begin an oil painting working thin to thick, dark to light. I use both odorless mineral spirits and a medium called Liquin to thin the oil and speed the drying time. For me, getting the values just right is critical, more important than color, initially. The color is a reward, like eating a really good dessert.
My normal routine has me working on several pieces at once. One piece might show the beginning values only, another will have some color work done, and others will be on an easel or ledge in my studio awaiting my signature and the final drying time. So, a view of my paintings in the studio will show a body of work in various stages of completion, spanning from six months to a year.
How has your style changed over the years?
Over the twenty years I’ve been painting full time, my style has changed more in terms of refinement than anything else. As an impressionist, I’m constantly looking to see the effect of light on local color. Is the light cold or warm? Are the shadows cold or warm? I’m always seeking to soften edges, make the background recede (or come forward), draw the eye of a viewer down a country lane or through a prairie toward a distant tree line. The more I paint, the more in control of the process I’ve become. I now get the results I want more often.
Do you have any memorable stories with clients?
A favorite client memory of mine happened a few years ago when a native Illinoisan, who had moved to Texas, returned for a visit and purchased, in one day, about 10 of my paintings because they reminded him and his wife of the Illinois landscape. This sale certainly got my adrenalin surging. They packed all the canvases in their car and took back off for Texas.
Do you have an hidden talents?
Hidden talents have to include cooking which hinges on Southern specialities; gumbos, jambalayas, anything that can be served on steamed rice. I make a mean spaghetti meat sauce and my husband will almost do murder for my meat loaf with garlic mashed potatoes. If, for some reason, I could not paint any more, my fingers would seek out my quilting frame, bees wax, thimble, and quilting needles, and a former love would be resurrected.
What do you listen to while you’re painting?
I listen to talk radio, Zydeco, Cajun, and native Hawaiian music, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart when I paint. Very eclectic!
Peak behind the easel to see how Suzanne completes an oil painting, from start to finish.