Artist Spotlight

Why Creating Every Day Makes Suzanne Earley Feel Like Herself

Suzanne lives in a small town in Iowa and spends her days as a multi-tasking wizard (aka school secretary). At night, she binge watches TV shows, makes art, knits, embroiders, reads, and writes. Her twin boys are off at college and her husband is a farmer. Her cat probably needs his own Instagram, but she’s afraid he’d have a bigger following than her.

How do you live a creative life?

I am surrounded by my creative “stuff” — my studio is in what was originally the master bedroom. We sleep elsewhere, but we still use the big bathroom, so I walk past my stuff every day. I know that I’m lucky that it has its own room and can be out all the time — I can work on something, walk away and come back to it later, without having to clean it up.

*have* to make things. Literally HAVE TO MAKE things. I was a cross-stitcher in high school/college/early married years. After that, it was quilting that grew into a pretty successful business. Now that I work full time out of the house, I have to be able to come home and make things in order to feel like myself. I can’t just sit and watch TV…although I do sit and watch a lot…but my hands have to be busy! I get a lot of knitting and embroidery done in front of the TV, because my hands can work while my brain is engaged in the show.

Which is not to say I’m in front of the TV that much! I do spend a lot of time in my studio making things. I also consider the time I spend perusing Instagram to be part of my creative process. Getting the ideas to begin with is a big part of being creative, but sometimes you do have to stop looking for ideas and just go make something.

I know that I’m very lucky to have the resources: money, time, and space to do what I do. My kids are at college and my husband farms, works part-time, and coaches basketball, so I have a LOT of time to fill. Better to be making things than anything else, I guess.


Do you put your life into your art journal? Or is it focused on technique?

I completed 3 art journals in 2018 and they were absolutely all about my life. But also about learning techniques! I’m still pretty new at art journaling and figuring out what my goals and purpose are with artmaking. A lot of what I do is simply because I need to do SOMETHING.


What is your biggest barrier to creating?

Being a beginner. I am an accomplished quilter, knitter, and embroiderer, but when it comes to paper and paint, I am very much a beginner and my taste far outpaces my skill. I give up before I get started sometimes.


How do you get over that hurdle?

I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to be a beginner. That I was a beginner quilter once upon a time and I ended up winning awards and teaching other people to quilt the way I do. But it took TIME and PATIENCE.


What has been your biggest lesson when it comes to creating art?

Like so many people, I used to think that if you couldn’t draw something out of thin air, you weren’t an artist. It took me a long time to understand several things: one, most people who can draw, don’t actually just draw things out of thin air, they rely on models and reference images and they make lots of drafts…two, drawing ability has nothing to do with actually being an artist. Some artists draw, some do….everything else!

Ironically, I taught what were essentially drawing lessons to quilters (ME! Teaching how to draw!) and I spent a lot of time coaching people past some of the mental blocks I still find myself coping with about being an artist. I can talk the talk, I can’t always walk the walk, apparently…

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In How to Start Art Journaling, we’ll walk you through the art of art journaling, including how to start doing (🙌) and make your very first art journal page (even if you’ve never even opened an art journal before).

What is your favourite art journal page you’ve ever made? Why is it your favourite?

It’s hard to pick just one! I think the one I’ll pick for today is in my Season of Story journal. My birthday is in late June, which was part way through the season and it was also several months in to my weight loss journey. I made a page with a selfie that I had taken — at that point I was seeing the weight loss in my face. I was clearly feeling better than I had in years and looking more like my internal self-image of myself. The page celebrates my birthday (46!) and includes some collage, some embroidery, and the lyrics of the song “This is Me” — “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be.” I feel like the page was a happy celebration of ME and where I’ve been and where I’m going.


Have you ever actively disliked a page you’ve made? What did you do with it?

Absolutely!! I am a big fan of gesso. Several layers if necessary. I may have even stuck some paper over top, too.


Have you ever been through artist block? What did you do to overcome it?

I was a professional machine quilter and burned out on quilting. (Well, burned out on quilters, which translated into losing my quilting mojo). I have continued to think of myself as a quilter and have, over time, found myself inching back towards being excited about making quilts and finding new ways to express my creativity, especially as I try to combine embroidery and mixed media. Mostly, over the years, I didn’t fret about the burnout. I taught myself to knit and made many scarves and pairs of socks. I worked on quilts occasionally and when they didn’t spark me to continue after the quilt was done, I didn’t think about it or dwell on it, I just picked up my knitting. Maybe that part of my creative life is behind me, although I still have so much fabric, that I need to do SOMETHING with it!


What’s the best art advice you’ve ever received?

From Mou Saha, her parting words in her CreativeBug Mixed Media class in 2018: “…close your medium jars tightly and clean your tools. The rest will come to you with time, with some trials, and a lot of happy accidents.”


What does community do for your creating?

I love being inspired by the community of artists both of Get Messy specifically and Instagram generally. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from those two places. I don’t get caught up in statistics, but I love the feedback from the community, too. I get inspired by other people and I hope that by sharing what I’m doing, even when I’m sharing my unsuccessful experiences, I can inspire someone else.


Who would you like to celebrate in the Get Messy community?

I want to celebrate Divyam Chaya Bernstein (Divsy) — because she is so talented and such a great cheerleader, I’m in awe of everything she creates, especially her color palette and Michelle Johnson because she’s just an amazing human being, we share a number of geeky interests, her laugh is infectious, and I love her commitment to making and cultivating community.

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Suzanne Earley

Suzanne lives in a small town in Iowa and spends her days as a multi-tasking wizard (aka school secretary). At night, she binge watches TV shows, makes art, knits, embroiders, reads, and writes. Her twin boys are off at college and her husband is a farmer. Her cat probably needs his own Instagram, but she’s afraid he’d have a bigger following than her.

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