Sue Ransley paints pictures of everyday folk. Think in terms of the real, not the ideal (i.e., moobs and muffintops) - taking a lighter look at life, Sue aims to capture our warmth and humanity. Focusing on that recognisable behaviour, or moment, that tells a familiar story, as all her work is observational, and focuses on the storytelling. Stripped back to only the essential information - her work is about the essence of the person or moment, not the detail.
The majority of Sue's work is in oil or acrylics, and she is an unashamed colourist. Often working on a coloured ground, and drawing with paint, with an aim to capture the narrative as instinctively as possible. Sue still gets a thrill when working on the modelling, when suddenly her people 'pop' off the canvas in three dimensions. And she loves seeing people’s reactions to her work - especially if they are found to be chuckling!! She counts a painting a success if people see something of themselves, or something familiar in her work.
1. How long have you been creating art?
I was always a Blue Peter kid, painting and pasting, but then life got in the way, I left home, got a job, and then later raised a family – then in 2004 my Thyroid packed up and I was quite poorly for a while, and unemployable. Having completely lost sight of myself, sometime in 2005/6 I joined an Adult Ed Art group as a way to reconnect. I was blessed as the tutor was incredibly talented at helping you find your own voice – and I will be forever grateful to him.
2. I see that you create a lot of paintings with regular people doing regular things. Has that always been your inspiration?
When I started painting at that Adult Ed class, I was painting landscapes, seascapes, still life, pets, architecture – everything basically, other than people. I’d been using watercolour – we all start there, even though it’s actually the hardest medium to master – and later my tutor suggested I try oil, and oh gosh I loved it immediately.
And then, I can’t now remember whether my first people painting was from a newspaper cutting of Maggie Smith, or a photo of my little niece in a van with Postman Pat – but whichever it was, it came out pretty well, and it really excited me – in a way that none of the other subjects had. And I felt that I had found my ‘thing’. And very quickly I developed a habit of painting everyday moments.
3. Do you have any favorite artists that inspire you and why?
From the first moment I saw Joaquin Sorolla’s work I was hooked, and that was before I started painting. He was a Spanish artist and is sometimes quoted at the same time as John Singer Sargent. His use of light is sublime, and whilst he painted many formal society portraits to earn a living, it’s the paintings he did for his own pleasure that I’m drawn to – of ordinary people going about their lives – the workers bringing in the grape harvest, the fishermen and ox pulling in the boats – he painted many small quick studies – but more often his work is monumental in scale and so powerful. I find them all incredibly moving.
4. Is Art your career?
I count myself incredibly lucky that I don’t have to earn a living from my art!!! That must be so hard!! And I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but yes, I guess Art is now my career, alongside being a grandma. *smile*
5. When did it occur to you that your career would be as an artist?
A year or two after starting to paint I entered a painting into a well-respected local art exhibition. I was beyond thrilled to have it accepted, and what’s more, the organiser said I had underpriced it by 70%! The painting proceeded to sell on the first day of the show, and I got two commissions as well. That’s when I first realised that I was now an artist!
6. Can you tell me a bit about your process?
The painting process starts for me when I am people watching. It’s in that moment that I see an old couple holding hands, or friends having a giggle, and I see it as a painting – whether it’s the light, the negative space, or the gestures – something about the moment will have registered with me, and I see how it would translate onto canvas – often with the colours I would use, and the title it should have.
For the painting itself, I often start with a coloured ground, probably a contrast colour, so that the final painting pops against its ground. I draw with paint, usually ultramarine, and the drawing lines of paint form part of the finished work.
7. What challenges as well as joys have you experienced with art as a career?
Regularly I suffer from Imposter Syndrome, thinking I’m kidding myself, and that my work isn’t good enough – and then something wonderful happens, and your confidence is restored (for a while anyway *wink*). Selling a work is an incredible validation. The fact that not only is someone prepared to part with their hard-earned cash, but also that they would want to look at your work every day on their wall – that’s a very empowering feeling that never gets old. And I’ve had some amazing highlights – being a finalist in the Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize in 2018 & 2019, the Creates Emerging Artist Winner in 2019, and then just this year I was a finalist in the Surrey Artist of the Year. Just incredible moments.
8. How has your art evolved and what have you learned through it?
My art is all about everyday folk, whether it's #moobsandmuffintops or #socksandsandals, it’s about the real, not the ideal. I often use humour, but it’s done with affection and my hope is that people see something in my work that feels familiar.
I guess as a reaction to the last couple of years and the limitations of lockdown I have started painting my family far more – especially my grandchildren, as lockdowns meant we missed out on being with them. Also, I have found joy in finding my way into portraiture and the challenge of finding the likeness.
I’ve learned that you should only paint to please yourself. I hear artists debating what to paint that will sell, and I don’t believe that’s something you can plan for – you just paint what pleases you, and someone out there will respond in kind – maybe not straight away but at some point. I’m an unashamed colourist – and that’s not for everyone. An art chum once said that she would rather be 'someone’s Malt Whisky, than everyone’s cup of tea'. And I relate to that!!
9. Tell me a bit about your life as an artist, and how does it impact your relationships, social activities or family?
If I’ve got a deadline looming, I inevitably end up being all consumed by what I’m painting, and the need to work on it – so at those moments I can seem a bit anti-social, as studio time becomes incredibly precious! But I’m blessed with an incredibly supportive and understanding husband – who frankly I could not pursue my art without. Whether it’s curating my work – which he is far better at than me – lugging my work to and from shows – which I can’t do as I’ve got a dodgy ankle – or managing everything else that needs doing at the time, I’m a very lucky bunny.
10. What motivated you to participate in the TAE? How long have you been contributing to TAE?
A chum told me about TAE. I’d never painted anything as small as a postcard before, so I did it as I love a challenge, and the fact that it would be raising money for a good cause at the same time seemed a no brainer. I think I’ve participated 5 times so far?
11. Are you involved with other types of art exhibits and community growth projects?
Each year I’m part of the Arundel Gallery Trail – the oldest art trail in the UK. The trail runs concurrently with Arundel Festival and the town comes alive with music, food and art. It’s a joy to be a part of. I also regularly take part in Surrey Artists Open Studios and make submissions throughout the year to other exhibitions. I’m delighted to have had a piece accepted for the Linden Hall Studio Winter Group Show. And in March 2022 I am in a small group exhibition entitled ‘Family’ at the Lightbox Woking.
Lockdown had a major impact on me and my motivation to paint. My creativity suffered a major meltdown – I had no reason to paint, as there were no deadlines or events to paint for. Until Tom Croft started his ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’ initiative, and that completely reinvigorated me, it was a joy to paint portraits of these ordinary everyday people doing superhuman things to look after the rest of us. It was a privilege and a salvation! And since my first TAE I have also taken part in other small works charity initiatives.
12. How has contributing benefitted you as an artist?
Taking part in TAE has benefitted me in so many ways. Firstly, being part of the TAE family is a fabulous thing in itself – it’s such a supportive group, full of camaraderie. And many of the participating artists buy each other’s work. Also making art and giving it away is good for the soul. Having it raise money for such good causes is a thrill – that validation again!! And to be able to help others by doing something I love and is fun – why wouldn’t you?!
Head to Sue's website for more info: www.sueransley.com