Local Artist Check-in: Suzanne Chitwood

Posted on March 19, 2014 by

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Today marks the beginning of the 20th annual Virginia Festival of the Book, a multi-day series of free and ticketed events for all ages that finds its home right here in Cville. In this week’s Artist Check-In, we caught up with local artist and children’s book illustrator Suzanne Tanner Chitwood to dive into the world of a local who has one of the most important jobs of anyone involved in the book production process: the visual storyteller.

Chitwood works mostly with paints, charcoals, and collage, and you may have recently seen her classic images of cattle and dogs in stores such as Roxie Daisy and other local favorites. Her illustrations for children’s books such as “Wake up, Big Barn!” and “Boom Chicka Rock,” are truly unique both in their interpretations of the stories as well as in the process of found paper collaging.

Look forward to seeing some of her upcoming works displayed at the UVA McIntire School of Commerce as well as her future children’s book.

And don’t forget to explore the great events happening this week during the Virginia Festival of the Book!

chitwoodSuzanne Chitwood

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, when did you come here?

I grew up in a small, rural town in the foothills of NC and I’ve lived in New Orleans, California, and Florida. I have been in Cville now for about 25 years.

When and why did you start making art? What mediums have you worked with, or particularly enjoy?

I’ve made art since I was very young. It’s always been what I love to do. I’ve mostly painted, but now I mostly draw in charcoal. I started drawing when I studied with Chica Tenny, and have been drawing ever since. My illustrations for children’s books are torn paper collage, which is like drawing and painting with pieces of torn paper.

Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

I got very interested in art history and making art when I was in high school. As an adult there are many artists I have looked at and admired and learned from. As a woman, I have been particularly interested in women artists who have carved their way to making art their career. Georgia O’Keefe was inspiring to me, not so much for her work, but rather because of her independence and determination to pursue making art at a time when few women were.

As for illustrators, Eric Carle is a big favorite, along with Denis Fleming, Jon Muth, Lisbeth Zwerger, David Wiesner, Lois Ehlert, and Loren Long. And that’s just my short list. I’m always looking at different artists’ works, known and not well known. It’s exciting to see what people are doing to communicate through their work.

What aspects of life excite you, stir your affections, fuel your passions, inspire your art?

The outdoors, big domestic animals, looking at art, and visiting other countries. Pretty much travel of any kind in order to experience how other people live and think.

What message(s) do you convey through your art? What do you want people to take from seeing your art?

I am drawn into and guided through each piece as I draw, erase, smear, work, and rework. I’m interested in the power and vulnerability of the animal as subject, particularly domestic animals. Each finished drawing, even one finished and sold to a client, is a work-in-progress, a part of a bigger dialogue. My work is a dialogue between the subject and viewer, the subject and me, and I hope, myself and the viewer.

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What does a day in the life of an artist look like from your perspective?

I try to be in my studio some part of most days. It is important for me to show up to do the work; to be available and around whatever I’m working on. Right now that is a children’s book. But my drawings are in the same space so I revert to the drawings when they call.

Drawing for the book illustrations is very different from drawing a life-sized animal and looking face to face with it. There is some kind of unspoken connection and recognition with the large drawings. I like the directness. The illustrations are a great relief since I’m working in a smaller scale and I’m using different materials.

And they are in color! Not just the black and white theme of the charcoal drawings.

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What makes Cville special for artists of all forms?

There is a nice community of artists here. It’s supportive. There are great spaces to show work and plenty of space to get away and hideout to get work done; even if you have an active 11-year-old to love and watch after.

Favorite place in Cville to… be creative?

My studio

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Favorite place in Cville to… see art?

Second Street Gallery, Les Yeux Du Monde, McGuffey.

Great art pops up in all kinds of spaces in Cville; galleries and otherwise.

Favorite place in Cville to… grab a bite?

There are so many delicious places to eat in Cville! Some favorites are Orzo, C&O, Bodo’s, Ace Biscuit!

Any other Cville favorites?

Cville is a great place. Good restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, shopping if you’re so inclined, and great places to get out doors to hike, camp, bike, swim, ski, downhill and cross country, and even to get on a river in a canoe or go tubing!

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What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and your art?

I am working on another children’s book and I am not sure what the future holds for it yet. I will also be having an exhibit of several pieces at the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA that will be up for the next few months. Besides that, I’m always drawing so there may be another show in the offing.

As an illustrator, are you looking forward to any special events happening during the upcoming Festival of the Book in Charlottesville?

I will try to spend the day Saturday attending the events for children’s book writers and illustrators. There is always something interesting and helpful to attend and it’s an opportunity to be with book people!

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