A PhD in Science but something was missing…

Q & A With Susan Mills

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a rural village in County Waterford, called Knockanore.

2. When did you first become interested in art?

I was always interested in art. As a very young child I was fascinated by the works of the Great Masters which I had access to in the family bible, and once in a while when the house was quiet I would treat myself to a date with the paintings in the book. I was spellbound by the colours, their intensity and richness and the emotions those paintings could evoke, sometimes fear, sometimes sheer admiration. To this day, I know those paintings influence my work, particularly in the rich colour schemes I intuitively use.

3. How did you pursue your desire to be a painter?

I had always planned to attend art college. However, at the 12th hour, I chose science. I went on to on earn a Ph.D. in science and worked in it for many years. I painted when I could but those moments were rare. Something was gnawing at me – there was something else I should be doing and I was in the wrong profession. The gnawing became unbearable and one day I handed in my notice. It wasn’t my immediate intention to become a painter but something happened that changed all that. My beloved Tibetan terrier, Lady, died and in my grief I painted her and it was only then that I understood the power of painting what you love. I have always felt a connection with animals, with their vulnerability perhaps. Lady deepened that connection; she taught me the joy of loving and caring for another creature through her unconditional love for me. She taught me the true beauty and serenity of animals which I strive to capture in each of my portraits.

4. What is the artistic lifestyle like? Take us through a typical day.

I paint animals 3 days a week and on those days I wake with a smile. A typical painting day is a simple yet spiritual process for me. I always begin my animal paintings with their eyes, nose and mouth because then I immediately feel a connection with the subject on the canvas. If doing a commissioned portrait I ask my clients for information about the animal’s personality and I keep that in mind when painting. I become deeply engrossed in the work and the hours fly by. I usually start at 9.30 am and paint until 7 pm. I could work on one section all day just capturing the expression in the eyes or the texture of the fur. I have learned that each animal requires a different technique thus each tends to be a new learning curve. It usually takes a few attempts to determine which paint brushes work best for each new project. The process requires a burst of faith each time, in the early stages it always feels I’m entering unknown territory but then the subject starts to emerge on the canvas and at that stage the fun really begins.

5. Do you paint every day, or only when the inspiration hits you?

I paint 3 days of the week – I am someone who needs routine and I find this works best for me.

6. Choose one of your paintings and explain your inspiration behind it.

‘Waiting on Peanut’ is the name of the painting. Peanut is a rescue dog. She was found in a bag, along with her siblings, dumped beside a river. She was the smallest of the litter, hence the name. She lives with me now and owing to her ‘rough’ start in life she has developed the biggest sense of entitlement I have encountered in any creature. Her three demands in life are ‘food, fun and love’ and often I feel I am waiting on her every need.

8. Which artists have most inspired you and why?

I adore the works of Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Their works are technically brilliant, full of intensity and drama and when I look at them they transport me to another plane just as they did when I was a child.

9. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a meerkat. I spotted the little guy at a wildlife park during the summer. He had the cheekiest little grin.

10. Do you have any upcoming exhibition?

I am currently working on a collection for a future exhibition.

11. Where or who would you love the opportunity to paint?

I would love to paint the native animals of Africa – it is my ambition to travel there one day with my easel and brushes.

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