creation story: Susan Singer, Draftsman 

How she became an artist: In 1994, when Singer got divorced, she began working with polymer clay to fill her free time. She made jewelry and household items such as picture frames and candlesticks. "A friend introduced me to it and I loved it," she recalls. "It made me realize how happy I am doing art. It fills me in a way nothing else does."

The constant strain caused by years of modeling clay began to take a toll, however, and she developed extreme joint pain in her hands. Around this same time, she enrolled in VCU's Master of Interdisciplinary Studies program to study art. (Singer was working as a resource teacher at Collegiate School, which requires all its teachers to earn master's degrees within seven years.)

During a drawing class with instructor Sally Bowring, Singer realized she could really, truly draw. "It looked like what it was supposed to, and I thought, man, maybe I could do this!" she says of her first effort. Next, she entered a drawing of herself in a juried show at Shockoe Bottom Arts Center and won second prize. "…It was exciting. I realized I had honed my craftsmanship through doing the clay. I realized it takes really being careful, craftsmanship and deliberation to get [drawing] right."

In June, she left Collegiate to pursue art full time. "For me it is a total high to [draw]. I get completely excited by it."

Why she draws bodies: Much of Singer's work is figurative, and the nude pregnant form is one of her favorite subjects. "I feel like one of the issues I'm exploring is women's body images," she explains. "…One reason I show pregnant women is I think they are really beautiful. I also like scars. I just think there is such beauty in everything, I try to let that beauty show through even if that person is not model perfect.

"…The pregnant form is an excellent subject to study light, dark and shadows. It is a very contemplative, meditative thing for me to do."

Singer, who has three children, says she was profoundly influenced by her own pregnancies. "For my first pregnancy I was not comfortable with my body — I thought my stomach was this enormous thing," she recalls. "But over time I met pregnant women who were really proud, who had home births ... and the next time I was pregnant, I wanted to be like that. I ended up having home births. … I feel like it was all part of the growth of my personality to become me. An integral part of that was giving birth and nursing babies. … the whole thing was so powerful."

How she makes her drawings: When doing a finely detailed pencil drawing Singer generally works from a 3-by-5-inch photograph that she takes herself. She plots a grid on the photograph then precisely transfers the image to her drawing. When she works in pastels, the process is more organic, with less attention to precise detail and more emphasis on spontaneity.

She gestures to demonstrate her different approaches. "I either approach a piece like this," she says, shaking her hands wildly, "or like this," as she slowly moves her arms smoothly out from her body. "In a lot of my work I have explored that land between quiet and loud, between total self-expression and quiet control. … One of the most important things art can do is bring the inside out … I feel like that's what I want to express in my artwork."

— Jessica Ronky Haddad


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