STORYTELLERS (Art with Heart): Suzanne Millius

***Don't forget to check out the creative blog link-up at the end of this post!***

Graphic designer and busy mom by day, Suzanne Millius of Dubuque, Iowa--the owner of Studio3ten on Etsy--still finds it easy to call herself "artist, poet and dream-chaser"--she says she was born to be an artist. You might call hers a story of someone with an "old soul," someone with a special connection to the past that manifests in her artwork as a nostalgia for the simplicity of days gone by, an understanding of the beauty and wonder that is fleeting and lost moment-by-moment, and a desire to capture those moments and memorialize them forever.

Suzanne carpe diem

Suzanne says her love for the past has a lot to do with old photographs--with the way the "deep intensity you can see in someone's eyes" is "captured forever." When she plays with elements of fashion from different eras (the 1920s is her favorite), re-interpreting them in her work with a fresh pop-art feel, it is almost as if she's creating a brand-new snapshot of a classic era. And the intensity continues to shine in the eyes of the women who show up over and over again in Suzanne's work.

"I think [the women] are facets of myself, but more importantly facets of EVERYONE," says Suzanne. "Doesn't mater if you or male or female--this internal struggle of being yourself, living for today, themes centered around music and aspects of life that make us feel alive inside--these are things every human being has in common."

"1926" is a piece especially significant for Suzanne, for it represents this struggle in living for today while yearning for the past--and the consciousness that each and every beautiful moment that glitters before our eyes is just as quickly passing into yesterday:

Suzanne 1926

"This piece represents a part of my childhood. My dad's side had a lot of musicians--my grandmother, (my dad's mom) was an amazing pianist. My aunt (her daughter) also had this amazing talent. I remember being in grade school, and my aunt would come for dinner. After dinner, mostly on Sunday nights, we would sit around the piano and sing songs from [the 1920s]. 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue' and 'Bye Bye Black Bird.' I remember my dad playing the guitar or banjo, my aunt playing piano, my mother singing, and us kids singing along.

"At the time it was all I knew, probably not a 'big deal' in my mind. But as I am typing this now, there is a sadness, because that moment is gone ... As a child, singing [those songs], I thought about that time period, the fashion, the energy--the excitement. I look back on those memories and feel blessed to have them, but I feel hurt inside--because I hate that you don't truly appreciate those things, until you are older.

"Looking back, I know how lucky I was to have all that music and art around me. '1926' is about this moment--this moment right now, that will be gone when tomorrow arrives. Its about that era--the 20s. The fashion, the music--THAT was their present time. Very difficult for me to put in words--easier for me to 'illustrate!'"

suzanne music

From this poetic description of her childhood, it's easy to see how the ideas of being creative and artistic "swirled around" Suzanne's household as she was a child growing up--and she says that naturally, she soaked it up, "became a part of it."

"'Artist' was a beautiful title I was given as a young child - and I completely embraced it. I was lucky to grow up in a family that fostered my creativity. There was always music, there was always art. My parents have always supported me, (and still do) and have always told me to be 'me'."

"I remember when I would dress myself--I would pair pink pants with stripes and a red top with polka-dots--and I remember hearing my mother say, 'Suzanne's an artist, she marches to her own beat.' And you know, I liked that. I liked that I was marching to 'my own beat.'"

Suzanne women

The polka-dots, stripes and swirls continue to make an appearance alongside original poetry in the funky, art-deco inspired illustrations Suzanne creates using a combination of handmade line drawings and digital collage. And this free-spirit continues to "march to her own beat," completely embracing the life of an artist--even with a family and a full-time graphic-design job.

"I work late at night ... midnight is MY time," says Suzanne. "I'd like to pretend that morning is where I am inspired, but at night, when my brain is semi-tired, but also a little chaotic from the work day--I think somehow in that turmoil, I find I am most creative."

And "it's not just about drawing, painting, writing," she says. "It's about 'being' creative, 'thinking creatively'--noticing the subtleties all around you, that others are too busy, or too preoccupied to notice."

Suzanne bluebird

Suzanne says these simple joys and everyday moments are what inspire her the most--"the weather, a smile, my son's laugh, cuddling my dog, a small leaf falling from the tree, the sound of the rain on the roof." And, of course, music.

"Music is ALWAYS a constant for me. Music makes me 'feel'--and when I am creating, I have to feel something, otherwise the piece I create lacks depth emotion. And if it doesn't move me, it won't move anyone else."

What continues to "move" Suzanne more than anything is the way we can hold in our hands the preciousness of each moment, all the while knowing that these moments are fleeting: "As a whole, much of my work is about inspiring yourself, living your best life. Being you, only you. Living in this moment now, because we blink, and tomorrow arrives."

suzanne sunflower

Suzanne laughs that this seemingly complicated and intense dilemma could be simplified if we would only learn from our pets. She observes that dogs always wake up happy--this was the inspiration for her sunflower piece above.

"Dogs have the ability to just live in this very moment. When they wake in the morning, they are not dwelling on yesterday--they are not worrying what tomorrow will bring. They are living in the 'now'. This is something very difficult for humans to do, because the complexities of our lives often take over, and we over-think things. We dwell, we worry--and as we do this, the moments slip by."

suzanne women2

In the same way she looks at something as simple as a dog's life and gleans a rich harvest of meaning, Suzanne likes to couple fashion in her art with the unexpected exploration of the human soul:

"I have always LOVED the idea of expressing myself through what I choose to wear. So I somehow create these 'alter egos' of myself--with high fashion combined with the intensity of words--representing thought. Its kind of like mixing beauty/fashion--which can be very one dimensional--with a sort of deep internal struggle ... Because I think we typically think of beauty/fashion as this superficial 'thing,' but combined with perception--and reflection--it becomes something else."

Suzanne happiness

Of course, color and pattern are also integral--Suzanne also enjoys playing with these elements for effect and "feeling." She says she likes to add "unexpected" color: "If the subject matter seems 'upbeat' happy, or 'light,' adding intense red--or dark tones--can throw you a curve ball. Makes you realize what you see in life is not always the 'truth', that things are not always as they seem."

"I think we all struggle with who we are, what our true purpose is--what our 'true self' is," says Suzanne. "My work is about love, joy, struggles, insecurities--the raw emotions that all human beings have."

Poetry, in its essence, is about compacting abstract, complicated ideas into the simplest of forms. Suzanne's art--is poetry in this way--patterns, words, brightly colored images reflecting a hard-fought victory of finding joy in the moment and satisfaction in simplicity.

You can see more of Suzanne's passionate and encouraging work in her Etsy shop, Studio3ten and on her Facebook page!

suzanne tree


STORYTELLERS: to come "home" again

Thanksgiving week in the USA...lots of "homecomings" in process and on the way!  I myself arrived home yesterday from an adventurous 4 days of backpacking in Spain--my first "return" to Germany as "home."   Well, the truth is that I was loaded down with a backpack, a fairly heavy camera, and also an oversize purse-type bag in addition to my backpack, which I wore messenger-style and regretted the extra weight with every step I took on my blistered left foot. : )  But I'm still impressed with myself that I packed so light--even though my sister was probably five-times as far away from home and travelling five days longer than I and STILL had less stuff than I packed.

But that's beside the point.  I'm not writing just yet about the trip (although I promise there are lots of pictures to share soon!).  Because for me, this trip was really all about the homecoming.

I think I knew this even before I left.  This "vacation" wasn't entirely for the purpose of seeing Spain or seeing my sister.  Strangely, I didn't even think much in advance about what I wanted to do and see while we were there.  I'm serious.  I just barely even looked at the map.  I'm not the best planner, especially when deep in my heart I wanted so badly just to stay home.  I've wished several times this past year for a trip to Spain, the only reason it actually happened is because it turned out that's where my sister was going to be, and there was no question that I'd make the short trip to see her since she'd be so much closer than the usual ocean away!

Spain was wonderful--of course it was.  What an amazing opportunity to reconnect with my sister on such a beautiful adventure.  The time away was good, even though the "restfulness" of that time is questionable, since carrying my bags was probably harder work than carrying my daughters!  They are indeed the cuter and sweeter "burdens" to bear--not burdens at all, in fact, but the joys of my life.

E and P

But the best part of the trip?  Coming home.  Seeing this place with new eyes.  Seeing my people with new eyes.  I had already decided that this holiday season, I was going to make this apartment my "masterpiece"--focus a little less on painting and more on making "art" of my home.  Suddenly, I am drawn to my knees with thankfulness for my little safe haven--and it doesn't feel forced; it's not thanks uttered through gritted teeth (even though the more difficult thanksgiving was probably the dark soil where the seed of change first began to germinate).

Nothing here has changed--I am the one who is beginning to change.  And instead of just talking and theorizing about finding the beauty in the mess that this family makes, for the first time I actually SEE it and my heart spontaneously overflows.

My kitchen is cozy.  My living room glows with light and love.  My bedroom is soft and peaceful and safe.  My girls have dimples that I forgot about, new words that I never heard them say before in voices more musical than I remembered.  And my husband is taller and stronger and more patient and wise than I ever could have dreamed--PLUS he washed loads and loads of laundry, which he promptly hung to dry (veeery important if you don't want clothes smelling worse when they're clean than when they're dirty) and neatly put away in closets now overflowing with my favorite, fresh-linen scent.  

I didn't "find" myself in Spain.  I only remembered how much of myself I have lost in the embrace of these people I love--in the embrace of these walls of home that rise up to protect and even to close in around us sometimes, inspiring continual cycles of resistance and acceptance, selfishness and sacrifice, escape and return.

Yes, I have lost myself and I love it--because it is in the losing of your heart that that love multiplies and you find a life more expansive than your one little self can bear.


STORYTELLERS (Art with Heart): Jessie Barber

jessie fox

This story is for anyone drawn to the mythical and magical. It's a story for everyone, really, because who among us hasn't wished that fairy tales really do exist? Our everyday lives are often so routine and full of challenges that tempt us to run away. Maybe this is why we love to dream of imaginary worlds of wonder, filled with delicate but powerful creatures who use their gifts to tame dragons and make troubles disappear in a wink.

Jessie Barber dragon

Jessie Barber paints for "anyone who has an interest in the faery world, who dreams of riding dragons and who wants to expand their imagination." This self-taught fantasy artist lives in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in the perfect place for one who is most inspired by nature and animals.

Jessie's worktable is situated against a window that looks out on the woodlands and fields surrounding the horse farm where she lives with her boyfriend and parents. She loves to get right to work after an early morning walk with the dogs, "just soaking up the beauty that nature has to offer." And a kitten named Sadie bounces around the studio as Jessie works, her "energy and life" providing endless inspiration. When she's stuck in a rut, a ride on her horse or a mountain-cabin retreat is just what Jessie needs to gain new perspective.

me and sadie

As she channels all the energetic majesty and peaceful wonder of nature into her work, Jessie works her own magical touch into the watercolors, creating paintings that are as delicate and ethereal as the pixies and fairy characters themselves. Meet them all in her Etsy shop: Faery Dust Art.

"Watercolors are a perfect medium for creating faery worlds and the creatures that inhabit them," says Jessie. "They have such a lovely, delicate effect and rich colors. They really help give my characters and paintings that whimsical, bright and magical look."

Jessie Barber Reading Pixie

Jessie grew up on a diet of fairy tales and communed with the natural and invisible worlds from a young age. "I used to leave little gifts among the roots of trees for the faeries and build them little houses," she says. And she always had her pencil and crayons handy, drawing with her sister and creating characters and stories. The skills came easily--she was always among the best of her friends and classmates--and making art was something she simply loved to do.

jessie tree

"When I was a child I had a certainty in me that I was an artist and would always be an artist and a successful one at that," says Jessie. "I never went to college or art school, but I did have a wonderful art teacher in my last two years of high school who taught me the core and foundation techniques of creating fine art. He was someone who really believed in me as an artist and gave me great support."

But Jessie says that even with the technical skills and encouragement she received from her teacher, throughout her teenage years she lost the certainty she'd felt as a child. She remembers feeling especially "directionless" just before she turned 20--she knew that she still wanted to make art, but what kind?

jessie barber necklace

"Finally, a couple of years ago I entered into a small craft fair with some of my artwork, where I had many compliments and interest in the one fairy painting I had done. After receiving a suggestion from my sister that I should paint more fairies, I decided to listen to little voices of the faeries and dragons that lived inside my imagination." Jessie also makes jewelry from miniature prints of her watercolors--whimsical lockets and other accessories with an antique bronze look, perfect pieces to capture the imagination as relics from a magical realm.

Jessie Barber ring

In essence, Jessie's is a story about re-discovering the faith and imagination of childhood: "When people view my work I want it to bring them a sense of joy, wonder and magic--feelings I think we feel quite frequently when we are children but begin to lose as we become adults." And the best part of creating, for Jessie, is when her work is part of this amazing and joyful process of re-discovery--when she can help "to awaken the imagination and bring a smile to someone’s face."

Jessie Barber Story Time

Jessie's artwork has also played a role in the storytelling of others. An avid reader of fantasy novels herself, Jessie jumped at the chance to collaborate with an aspiring fantasy writer who hired Jessie to create custom paintings of the characters she had written into life. "We had a really fun time communicating and work on the project together," says Jessie. "When I finished the paintings she wrote a lovely little piece on her blog about how perfectly I had painted her characters and that they looked exactly as she had pictured them in her head. She said my artwork was inspiring her to continue writing and to finish her story and get it published. It was so empowering to hear about how well I was able to interpret her vision."

Jessie Barber Pumpkins

Some of the best feedback she's ever received was the story of how her art helped a young girl down her own creative path: "Recently I had a woman purchase a print for her daughter for her 12th birthday. Afterward she sent me a message saying that when she showed my Etsy shop to her daughter it inspired her to start drawing again."

With the care that Jessie puts into lovingly creating her characters, giving an identity and story to even the smallest inhabitants of the imagination, it's no surprise that Jessie thrives on the way her work has connected with people on such a personal level: "I believe that everyone has the ability to create art. To know that my artwork has inspired even just one person to keep drawing and creating is so rewarding and satisfying."

Make that two people, Jessie. Thank you for inspiring me too!  See more of Jessie's art in her shop on Etsy.


STORYTELLERS: If These Walls Could Talk

Daddy and Wyn Church

Have you ever had the feeling that a certain place held so many memories, the walls were nearly trembling with secrets kept and stories untold? Places stand tall and still, watching silently as we fill up the pages and chapters in the stories of our lives.

The world is a construction--very real and tangible, but only a stage for the souls that traverse it. But these constructions are saturated with memory. The older the place, it seems the louder is the echo of these souls from lives that have passed this way before us.  I'm not really talking about ghosts, but about the feeling that a place can remember--like our bodies, walls and earth and trees and air can hold the skin-memories of pleasures and pains past.

red and white door

I think about the cracks and scars in paint, brick and mortar. 
I imagine the the fist that pounded a door in anger; 


the face leaned against the cool of plaster to calm a fluttering heart; 

wall texture and corner of window

the nose pressed against the window, longing for a blessed return; 


the feet that wandered unfamiliar streets, longing for home; 

handrail and wall texture

the palm that lightly brushed the railing in admiration and disbelief, savoring a dream come true. 

corner of peeling paint

Like lines on our foreheads, between and at the corner of our eyes, 
the wear on these walls is evidence of lives lived in wonder and worry, laughter and tears.   

strange little door close

The mess is beautiful to me--the patina of time. And I pray that sweet time will allow me also to appreciate the "patina" of my own body, as even at 30 I slowly begin to notice the aging, and to look upon the future as a gathering richness of memories old and yet to be made. For our stories mingle together and lives past live on in our own lives--in our hearts and all around us.

delicious wall texture

* * *

Next week I have a fresh artist interview to write about, but today I wanted to share some of the photos I finally finished working on with all the delicious texture that I promised to share from our visit to Wismar, East Germany at the beginning of October. The peeling paint and crumbling brick captured me . . . I see lots of these as "backgrounds" for some stories told in mixed-media collage. Can you see the place where there should be a "face" in the photo above? Don't yet know how or what, but I'm thinking about a new collection of artwork!


Art Makeover Fun with Photoshop

It was more fun with Photoshop this week as I re-worked or "made-over" some paintings so I can offer different color options of the same piece. I love drawing and painting (I feel lost if I haven't gotten messy and made something with my hands in a while) but working digitally--tweaking colors, making collages, processing photos--is so fun and satisfying because of how quickly you can try out new things, easily change something you don't like and see a "finished" product. And it's simple and clean--a nice, quick creative "fix" when the kiddos are resisting naptime . . . and bedtime . . . when everyone in general is not sleeping much at all and there's little quiet time for dragging out the elaborate creative projects!

WFeathers Rust a4 w border

My mother-in-law is a warm-color person, while I am usually a cool-color person and favor tones of blue in my work. But she's always saying to me that blue is so "cold," so I decided to see what happened when I tried to warm things up a bit. When I ended up with these rich fall colors of apple, plum, cinnamon and gold, I have to admit that I almost love my "harvest" version of "Words Like Feathers" better than the original!  And I thought this would be the perfect entry for Illustration Friday this week, where the theme is "stripes."  I had so much fun with the stripes in this painting that now I find myself leaning toward using stripes in every new painting!

bird in hand a4 RED

And you can see that I was still into the "linear" theme when I made this piece shortly after.  The original bird-in-hands is blue, but I adjusted the hue and added an almost transparent layer of gold to come up with this beautiful red.

red bird comfort

Then I decided to turn it into a Christmas card and wanted a background richer than white. So I de-saturated a watercolor background, gave it a gold-brown tone and added a linen texture. I'm really happy with the way it turned out! I think I might send these cards myself for Christmas this year. You can see them in my Etsy shop here.

Now I'm off to sketch with an actual pencil.  Last night I got so wrapped up in designing a new piece that when I looked in the mirror I saw that I had graphite smudges all over my face!  Does this ever happen to you?  I love when it happens, actually--it's almost as if your creative passion has become tangible and you can see it smeared all over your face! :)

Wishing you (and all my friends linking up at Studio JRU and Paint Party) lots of messy creativity this weekend,


Storytellers: Ordinary, Mythical Life

"Our Lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant, we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded."
                                           --Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down the Bones

fall leaves
For Texture Tuesday: Processed with 2 layers of "Autumn Burst" and 1 layer of "And Then Some"

The crisp fall air is alive with myth and magic.  The changing colors of the trees makes life a tangible wonderland as shimmering gold fills up the windows and leaves crackle underfoot.  Each leaf takes on a life of its own and is appreciated apart from the tree--but as a microcosm of the tree--each with color unique and veins like branches, beautifully aged with tears and scars.

How do you make even your ordinary moments "mythical?" Perhaps the answer lies in telling the story.  Life is what we make it--the way we preserve precious moments and capture the magical, mythical quality of even things as simple as leaves.  

But before we can tell the story, we must look at life and really see it--record our fleeting glimpses of Heaven in our hearts and on scraps of paper with mindfulness and complete surrender to the moment.  Because just as a tree is composed of leaves and a body is composed of cells, a life is composed of minutes--each one integral to the whole.