Life’s results come from unexpected directions. We dance with fate and from the changes in steps come new motivations and sometimes unknown talents.
“About 25 years ago we built a house and I asked my youngest child, who was four at the time, what he wanted his room to look like,” Susan Howell said. “I fully expected him to say pink because that was his favorite color; he had named his dog Pink even though it was a black off-the-track greyhound.”
What the youngster had in mind was more elaborate than opening a can of Sherwin-Williams and making do with a roller. He had apparently been doing his own planning and gave his mother an elaborate description.
“He wanted it to have outer space on the ceiling,” Howell said. “We had been skiing so he described these mountains and he wanted to have snow melting into streams and going into a lake on the floor. And he wanted a beach and he wanted a crab on the beach.”
Howell took notes and wondered what Pandora’s box she had opened. Her husband reminded her of her lack of artistic experience.
“I said, ‘I know that and you know that but he doesn’t know that. By the time he’s 12, it will be time to repaint anyway and he’s going to be horrified and we’ll have to do something else,’” Howell said.
As she dove into the project, Howell said she was amused to learn she possessed skills of which she was unaware. The days opened new gifts.
“His room is still like that. He never wanted to change it,” Howell said.
Her son wasn’t the only one amused. The room’s massive windows allowed passers by the ability to see inside and glimpse the artist on a scaffold hard at work.
“I would go to Gayfer’s and people would say ‘Oh you’re the lady with the house.’ They told me it was their family’s thing to do after church on Sunday was to come by and look at my painting,” Howell said.
Howell decided formal training for her new passion was necessary. She enrolled in classes by Joan Daugherty and began a concentration on oils.
Her new pursuit caught on in the family and her father proffered the idea of taking classes together. The duo signed up for watercolor instruction but Susan drifted back to oils as she became unsatisfied.
“A friend of mine Loran Chavez was teaching classes at South and went over there to learn watercolor under her,” Howell said. “I still paint in other forms like oil and acrylic but for the last few years watercolor is what I like the best. It’s such a challenge. It’s really hard to correct a mistake in watercolor. So it’s mentally stimulating and visually pretty.”
Howell signed up for other instructors, well known locals like Bill Morris and Corky Goldman. She also fashioned her own studio in the house with a group of easels and a drafting table. Fittingly enough considering the genesis of her interest, it’s in the former children’s playroom.
Her dedication has reaped literal rewards. Howell won the Laura Gray Hamilton Stewart Award for best coastal scene in the 2012 Mobile Art Association (MAA) Spring Show. She pulled in a Members Choice and a Merit Award at the 2013 MAA Spring Show. She completed the hat trick with another Merit Award at the 2014 MAA Spring Show.
A new commission, “River Crossing” is set to go into the 2014 MAA Fall Show. That show goes on display at Cathedral Square Gallery in October.
She has also lent her talents to private commissions of murals in other homes. Howell assisted Devlin Wilson with a series of murals for a Mobile Association of Retarded Citizens facility.
Never content to rest on her past achievements, Howell has tried to push her abilities by branching into other schools beyond realism. She has a selection of surrealistic pieces she created for a South Carolina client. The largest of those was a 4 feet-by-5 feet work that implemented language from the tongues found in the client’s genealogical heritage.
Howell also professes an admiration for Jackson Pollock and has tried her hand at his most famous techniques. The results can be found on her website at susanichowellsartadventure.blogspot.com.
“It’s acrylic so it’s more forgiving,” Howell said about the transition to less literal genres, “but having it so off the wall frees you in a way. It was exciting and was like a whole new room in my mind opened up.”
And apparently she doesn’t mind admirers looking into those new rooms, whether they’re Sunday drivers or not.