Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Feature: Suzanne Lago Arthur

"Conner on Summer Break" oil by Suzanne Lago Arthur

Today's Friday Feature is Suzanne Lago Arthur.  Her work is gorgeous and inspiring.  I met her through facebook.  I love that I have been introduced to so many artists through social media.  

Suzanne is a contemporary realist painter who earned a BFA with honors at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and an MA in Museum Studies from George Washington University. Her subject matter includes still life, landscape, and conceptual figurative work as well as portrait commissions. She has exhibited to critical acclaim in both the United States and internationally in such venues as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, The Museum of the Americas, Washington DC, EuroAmerica Galleries, SoHo, NYC, and The United States Special Interests Section, Havana, Cuba. Suzanne is a member of the Portrait Society of America, Oil Painters of America and is in the copyist program at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

To see more of her works visit her website/blog.

How did you get your start?  What’s your artist journey so far?

As as child I drew and painted often. When I was in middle school I found out about local artist Tina Blondell and began taking private classes with her. Ultimately I went on to get a BFA from the Corcoran College of Art + Design located in Washington DC and studied with some wonderful, modern inclined artists including William Christenberry, William Newman, Janis Goodman and Franklin White.
"La Natalie" oil by Suzanne Lago Arthur

Where were you born?

Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. But I should mention that my parents are Cuban and lived in Puerto Rico briefly when they were first married. 

If you could live anywhere where would you live?

My husband and I both grew up in the Washington DC area and this is still very much home to us. However, lately I have had an itch to live abroad for a year or so in a European city.  Madrid, Paris--either one would do nicely. 

What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?

Portraits! Because of the human connection and also because it is one of the most challenging subjects. Anyone who has a done a portrait before knows that getting the features of a person off by even a fraction will result in a totally different likeness. I find that aspect fascinating especially considering there are not many variations in our genetic code as far as DNA is concerned. I have had my client's get emotional upon seeing my finished portraits of their children. To me there is no bigger reward.

Could you talk about your painting techniques?  

I paint in oil (although I will also work on occasion in watercolor) and often paint on a toned middle grey canvas or panel. It helps me judge accurate color & value relationships. Then I block in my subject matter in burnt umber if I am working from life or if I am working from a photograph I will grid out my under drawing in pastel pencil. Personally I never project and trace out my drawing because I feel like I would be cheating myself on the challenge of drawing it out. Drawing is a lot of muscle memory and learning how to see accurately. If you don't use it, you lose it. And this is the part where it gets interesting. At the Corcoran I was taught a more modern approach to painting of working up the entire canvas at the same time, taking it from more generalized applications of paint to the more detailed stages. However, after having taken some classes and workshops with modern day master realists such as Robert Liberace, Daniel Sprick and Dan Thompson, I began to notice that they would often work up one specific area to almost a full finish and then move on to the next area. This is especially applicable if you are trying to work alla prima meaning wet on wet and in one session. My recent work has been done in a similar style of painting. But I also use and love the look of scumbling wet paint over dry. Kurt Schwarz, an Instructor I once had referred to scumbling as "the other side of the coin" to wet in wet painting--meaning it is an essential component to dynamic painting. I completely agree.
"Will" by Suzanne Lago Arthur
Do you have go-to paints/colors, what are your favorites?

I really love the Williamsburg brand of hand made oil paints (Williamsburg--are you listening? If so, holler back at your girl!) for their texture and colors. For instance, their Egyptian Purple (Dioxazine) has a beautiful pearly luminosity to it. And I had an "aha" moment recently when I switched to using their Zinc Buff white because it is a nice warm white which works really well in flesh tone highlights--almost straight from the tube! For warm flesh tones I like Cad Red, Yellow Ocher and Burnt Sienna as a base mix. For cooler, extra fair flesh tones I like Naples Yellow, Alizarin Crimson (or Rose Madder ) and Burnt Umber. You can also alter any of the above by adding varying amounts of White, Dioxazine Purple, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue or Chromium Oxide Green. 

Do you have a favorite artist?  Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Man, I have so many! The list would start with Velazquez, Rembrandt, Sargent, Andrew Wyeth and Antonio Lopez Garcia but recently my eye has been drawn to what I would call a more "edgy" style of contemporary realism such as Alex Kanevsky, Jeremy Mann and Eve Mansdorf. It is their paint application that really rings with me. I see my own brush work headed in a similar direction. 
"Sunset Unfurled" oil by Suzanne Lago Arthur
What have been some of your crowning achievements?

Most recently I was a finalist in the Art Renewal Center's 2011/2012 International Salon  and won third place honors in the regional portrait competition, "Expressions" at Artspace Herndon which was juried by Palden Hamilton. I have exhibited in several museums including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Museum of the Americas, both in Washington DC. In 2000 I had a special opportunity to visit Havana, Cuba to see my painting hanging in an exhibition of Cuban American painters as part of the Art in Embassies program with the US State Department. My brother (who accompanied me on the trip) and I were the personal guests of Ambassador Vicki Huddleston and stayed at her residence. During our trip we saw both the houses where our parents grew up and our family mausoleum in Cementerio Colón which is an above ground Unesco protected cemetery.  Emotionally that trip was like a pilgrimage for me, illuminating where I came from. Because of that show I appeared in articles in the New York Times and the Miami Herald. I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity.

What are five things you would like to happen in your life in the next five years? Dream big here:)

Easy! I already got those figured out. 1. Become a finalist in the PSoA's International Competition, 2. Be a finalist in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's Outwin Boochever competition. 3. Paint the portrait of a member of Congress, 4. Collaborate with my writer husband to illustrate one of the many children's book manuscripts he's written, 5). Gain gallery representation for my own work with a major gallery (or two or three).

"Independence Day" oil by Suzanne Lago Arthur
What is your advice for other artists who are just getting started in their career?

Stay humble and do not lose your drive to improve. Becoming an accomplished artist is a life long pursuit and requires getting acquainted with your weaknesses so that you can make them your strengths over time. And here is the rub--the more you know, the more you realize you still have a lot to learn. Seek improvement in any way you can by reading, following blogs, taking classes, workshops and of course painting! 

Also, you can build a career under the most demanding schedules so don't let anyone or anything deter you. I have built my career one hour at a time while my son slept as a toddler or these days while he is in half day kindergarten. In fact, I believe in that "one hour at a time" philosophy so much I may request to put it on my tombstone.

What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?

Recently I received the following advice about entering competitions. Try and try again! My good friend Elizabeth Floyd clued me in that often these organizations expect you to enter again and again until they feel you have proven yourself worthy of the commendation through years of solid work. It totally opened my eyes to some competitions I had sworn off because I didn't get in the first time! Also, my friend and mentor Jonathan Linton pointed out to me that certain organizations lean towards a certain aesthetic. For instance, The Oil Painters of America seem to lean towards a more brushy, painterly approach in their selections. If you are a photorealist with little or no apparent brushwork, you may not even register on their radar and it doesn't even mean your work isn't any good! Study the work of those that do win these competitions to help you figure out why you are not placing and perhaps give you a goal to work towards next year.

Suzanne's work as a National Gallery Copyist

Chocolate or vanilla?

French Vanilla! Yum-O! My Dad growing up made the best French Vanilla Ice Cream I have ever tasted. To this day it reminds me of my childhood.

Your dream vacation spot?

St. John USVI. My parent's honeymooned there in Caneel Bay and have taken us on family vacations there many times. When I need to go to my "happy place" in my mind, it is usually on a beach in St. John.

Book or movie?

Books. I read constantly--especially with my Kindle app on my IPad.

Favorite author?

I read a lot of dry art books for business so when I am reading for pleasure it is purely fiction. I like a lot of paranormal fiction authors such as Jeaniene Frost and Karen Marie Moning. What can I say? Vampires, faeries and shifters make me happy.

Favorite movie?

I don't think I have one! Probably whatever I have seen recently. I just saw the new Star Trek movie and highly recommend it.

Romance or comedy?

Romance, every time.

Favorite dessert?

Cheesecake. Mmmm.

Night owl or morning person?

Definitely not a morning person.  My son when he first began really talking knew to ask me in the morning, "Mama, more coffee?".  We still laugh at that.  Is there another option between night owl and morning person? How about afternoon person? I really don't "wake up" completely until close to lunch and am definitely asleep on the couch by 10 PM. Wow--did I just admit that out loud? I am quite the party animal apparently!

Thank you so much Suzanne!  



  1. Thank you Carrie for such a fun & thought provoking interview. Seeing this posted has totally made my day!

  2. Suzanne is an AMAZING artist and so happy that you are sharing her work with us. Her portraits are so wonderful.. I will be visiting her blog shortly!!! Thank you Carrie for another incredible interview.

  3. Great interview Carrie and Suzanne! Suzanne your work is gorgeous and I agree with you about the challenge of portraiture. :) And I didn't know you were a paranormal kind of girl!! We should be friends because I LOVE Jeaniene and Karen too!!

    1. I am so happy to hear we share that in common, Crystal! lol. We should compare notes! Thanks for the compliment on my work. I love yours too. :)

    2. Wonderful interview! You are amazing Suzanne!

  4. Great interview.. beautiful work.

  5. Always fascinating, Carrie! I always wonder how artists are able to paint such a smooth surface, with little or no evidence of brushstrokes. In fact I have a piece or two that look like prints rather than originals.

  6. Suzanne, this was a great interview. So glad to have met you.

  7. Wow - Suzanne's work is almost photographic! Amazing!!! :0)

  8. @ hmuxo, K, Sue Marrazzo, CrimsonLeaves, Lucie & Sandra Busby. Thank you so much for all the support!