I love to use watercolors to capture the movement and spirit of botanical life. Every painting becomes, in a way, a record of my love affair with a little piece of the natural world at a specific moment in time. I feel a profound connection with my subjects as I work with them, recording each contour on paper, and it is my goal to bring others to that same intimate relationship with nature.
I began painting relatively late in life, but I have been looking at the beauty of the natural world for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would spend hours wandering around outdoors, fascinated by the diversity and particularity of plant life and determined to study all the details. It would be many years and two careers later before I had the time to indulge my passion for nature by studying two approaches to botanical art: Chinese brush painting and Western botanical painting. Brush painting came first. I had always been drawn to the Oriental aesthetic in visual design. During my tenure in publishing, I was privileged to make many visits to Japan and Taiwan, where I gained an intimate appreciation of East Asian art. Brush painting appealed to me for its spontaneity and the bold, asymmetrical beauty of its compositions. However, unlike many brush painters, I was interested not just in the larger gesture but also in the details. I wanted to be faithful to the subject matter, and found myself happiest working directly with live plants. Thus, I began the study of botanical art in the Western tradition, learning how to be completely accurate in depicting a subject. I would spend weeks, even months, on a single painting, capturing every detail in a meticulously painted, realistic rendering.
The techniques I learned in my years of botanical study added immeasurably to my toolbox, but what I wanted to express with my paintings did not always fit comfortably within the scientifically oriented culture of Western botanical art. So I sought a new path, drawing on the botanical traditions of both East and West, and experimenting with the ground in between.
Inspiration for my painting always comes from direct observation of nature—the calligraphic motion of a stem, the pattern of veins on a leaf, the subtle blending of colors on a petal. I spend a fair amount of time observing, taking photos and thinking about what aspects of a plant might be interesting to convey in a painting. I also consider different options for composition, doing multiple sketches until I find a dynamic arrangement that makes the energy of the plant come alive.
Once I understand the subject, I think about what approach to use in painting. If my goal is to fully capture all the details with precisison, I will generally work, as most botanical artists do, on hot-pressed watercolor paper. However, I often like to work on sized rice paper, which also allows multiple layers of watercolor and allows the paint to flow in a different way. Sometimes a subject seems to call for Oriental brushwork, and I get really interested in how I can use the brush to convey the particular energy and texture of that plant. Raw rice paper, which requires very fast brushwork, is often the last stage for me. To be able to get the loaded brush to land in the right place requires real mastery of the subject (as well as courage, since there can be no correction!). Often I experiment on different papers, playing with varying degrees of control while also looking for flow. I have sometimes been fortunate enough to spend several months exploring a single subject this way.
The creative moment for me often begins with a walk in the garden, when my attention is captured by the beauty of a particular twig, the curve of a leaf or the shape of a petal. Most often my paintings are based on these live inspirations from nature. I am happiest when I can spend a few weeks on a particular subject, seeing it from all angles, doing multiple studies and paintings, and experiencing what is for me a form of extended meditation.
ABOUT SUSAN LANZANO
Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Susan attended Syracuse University where she majored in political science and Romance languages. During her junior year, she had the good fortune to spend a semester in Florence, where her appreciation of art history flourished. After returning to New York she earned an M.A. in Spanish Literature at CCNY and, following that, an M.A. in TESOL at Teachers College, Columbia University. Susan enjoyed a long career in the field of English as a Second Language, first as a teacher, then a teacher trainer, and finally, as an ESL editor at Oxford University Press in New York. She worked there for sixteen years, eventually heading up their editorial department. During this time, she got married and had a son. A demanding job and motherhood left time for little else, but weekends would usually find her working in the garden and enjoying the beauty of the flowers that she brought indoors to arrange.
In 1999, Susan left Oxford in order to study art. Inspired by a Japanese botanical calendar in her office, she decided that her artistic direction should in some way be connected with plants. She studied Oriental brush painting with Leslie Tseng-tseng Yu and botanical art with Corrine Lapin-Cohen. Her other teachers have included Frederick Franck, Diana Kan, Irene Korsky, Carmen Lund, Bao Chen Liu and Frank Liao as well as colleagues at the Oriental Brush Artist Guild, an organization of which she is currently the president. She began exhibiting in 2001.
Susan and her husband live in Cortlandt Manor, New York, where she welcomes visits to her studio.
Hammond Museum, North Salem, NY, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
The Gallery at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve 2016
Briarcliff Manor Library, Briarcliff Manor, NY 2009, 2010, 2015
Club Fit Briarcliff, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018
Croton Free Library, Croton on Hudson, NY 2007, 2015
Chappaqua Library, Chappaqua, NY, 2011
Sheldrake Environmental Center, Larchmont, NY, 2010
Artists of Northern Westchester, Croton on Hudson, NY, 2007, 2009, 2010
Kiesendahl & Calhoun: The Lodge at Woodloch, Woodloch, PA, 2008 – 2009
National Audubon Society, Greenwich, CT, 2007
National Arts Club, New York, NY, 2005
Bedford Art Show, Bedford, NY, 2002, 2003 (award winner), 2004 (cover artist), 2005
The Native Plant Center, Valhalla, NY, 2002, 2003
Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, 2003
Highstead Arboretum, Redding, CT, 2002
Lasdon Arboretum, Somers, NY, 2001