Falling Leaves

What is more beautiful than leaves turning color in the fall?  And what more poignant message than how fleeting our time on earth to see them?  The Japanese maple tree in my garden had lost almost all of its leaves when I decided to begin this painting, so every leaf became a treasure and every minute of painting time, precious. I worked on sized rice paper with fine brushes, which allowed me to render every detail of this delicate subject very precisely and lay down wash upon wash to create nuances of light-infused color.  Every day I went out into the garden looking for just the right leaf to “pose” for me. One day I was lucky enough to find the winged seed pod that rarely hangs on beyond summer, but there it was, and so I put a pair of them in the painting, a promise of renewed life.

Falling Leaves

Falling Leaves

Remembering September 11

favorite white peony closeup.72dpi.jpg

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the town of Yatsuka in Shimane Prefecture, Japan offered a gift of over 500 Japanese tree peonies to the Rockefeller Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, NY, as well as to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, as a healing memorial. Being peony enthusiasts, my husband and I have visited the Preserve every year since then to admire the exquisite blooms that are usually at their peak in mid May. One peony in particular, the white one depicted here, captured my heart, and we decided we would like to find one for our garden.  That was the beginning of a long search.  Every year I would take photos and send them around to different peony growers, to no avail. One year I met with the Rockefeller Preserve volunteer garden staff, who were kind enough to show me the planting plan and even arrange a Japanese translator.  Unfortunately, the specific name of the peony was not on the plan, only “White Peony.”  I continued my search for a few more years. By 2012 I had probably contacted every peony grower in North America.  No one could identify it or had anything like it to sell.

I finally decided that even if I didn’t know the name of this peony, I would make a painting of it and note cards based on that. Then it occurred to me that there was one more route to try. I contacted my good friend Naoko, who lives in Tokyo and is an avid gardener, and I asked her to help with the detective work.  She called the Shimane Prefecture for me, but reported back on September 10 that they couldn’t provide the name, as their gift to the Preserve had included so many varieties of white peonies. That’s when Naoko’s husband, Moto, got busy on Facebook. Amazingly, he found the name and wrote me the next day.  It was called Shimane Hakugan, meaning “White Goose.”  I was thrilled to have that information. Now I could properly identify it on the back of my note card. That was September 11.  So the long quest for the name of this beautiful flower finally bore results on the very anniversary of the tragic date that occasioned the gift of the magnificent peony memorial from the people of Shimane Prefecture.  The synchronicity warmed my heart!  


How the Calendar Came to Be

Susan and calendar designer Jerry Gross at the New York Botanical Garden 

Susan and calendar designer Jerry Gross at the New York Botanical Garden 

In the spring of 2012 because of a mutual interest in flower arranging, I had the good fortune to meet Jerry Gross, a master floral designer and graphic artist who took an interest in my artwork. Jerry wanted to find a way to collaborate by doing something with my paintings—we didn’t know exactly what, but we had fun exploring. We met every few weeks to throw around ideas. We would also often take a stroll outside to enjoy what was blooming in the garden, and sometimes, to my great delight, Jerry would make an exquisite arrangement with the branches and flowers I brought in from the garden. I so enjoyed sharing my love of the botanical world with Jerry—from what was growing outdoors to arranging it to painting it that I anticipated these visits with great pleasure.

One day Jerry arrived carrying some 11” x 17” pages that he had printed out. He had come upon the idea of creating a calendar based on my artwork, and he showed me his initial design for the month of June using my painting Two Irises and a Bud. I was very excited by what I saw. And my husband and friends were blown away. This was the idea we had been waiting for! We looked through my paintings to find more that would lend themselves to the calendar design, and we then selected the ones that would be “blooming” each month of the year and so best represent the seasons. Jerry would work on the designs at home and then come back and spread them out on my living room floor, where we would deliberate over layout and color choices for each page. As we refined the design, we asked for feedback and benefitted especially from the advice of my friend Stephanie, a magazine editor with a discerning eye. We worked like this for a few months until finally we had all twelve months ready.

Now we needed to find a printer who would faithfully reproduce every color in the calendar the way it was meant to be, bind it elegantly, and do this at an affordable price. Local printers turned out to be very expensive, so we were resigning ourselves to the likelihood that we would not be able to sell the calendars after all, just give them away as gifts. Then I showed the calendar to my friend Alan, who gave me the name of his printer in Iowa, and new possibilities opened up for us.

By November of 2012 we had the calendar in hand. Almost everyone who saw the calendar wanted one. We gave many away as holiday gifts. We knew it was late in the year for sales, but to our surprise, we also sold quite a lot of them—so many that we had to do a reprint. The level of interest in the calendar in our local communities was such that we decided it was worth doing a 2014 edition of the calendar using the same images, this time for a wider market. 

At Stephanie’s encouragement, I sent the New York Botanical Garden a copy of the 2014 edition. And to our delight the NYBG Shop in the Garden decided to place a sizeable order. Jerry and I delivered the calendars on a fine morning in June, spent the day enjoying the gardens, and then came back to the Shop in the Garden, where we were thrilled to see the beautiful calendar display they had set up.

P.S. Since then we have contacted other botanical gardens and historical homes around the country and are pleased to report that we have succeeded in placing the 2014 calendar in many of them. Meanwhile, we are now busy at work on the 2015 calendar!