Until I was twelve, our family lived in Oklahoma in a little town just north of Tulsa. Mom saved evidence that I started drawing pretty complicated scenes as early as age three. I still have one from that time entitled "Duck Kissing An Alligator in the Rain," which suggests I celebrated diversity even then. She tells a story about me drawing a man who was visiting our house when I was quite small and my drawing perfectly reproduced his mustache.
I became known as the class artist from first grade, and as other artists know, that meant I was expected to make all the signs and decorate all the bulletin boards throughout my school career. I won a poster contest in third grade (1963. If you're doing the math, I was born in 1955) where I'd drawn a huge insect strapped to a rocket, stating "Send Litterbugs to the Moon!" I still have strong anti-litter sentiments. Dad had always wanted to paint, so when I was in fifth grade we enrolled together in a painting class held above the fire station. I remember feeling so proud and special to be with him. Although I identified as an artist I got the clear, unrelenting message from all well-meaning sources that art could only be a hobby, not something one could do for a living.
Our family went to West Africa as missionaries when I was 12. On the way to missionary training in North Carolina for the four months prior to leaving the states, we stopped in Gatlinburg, TN. It was there that my life changed. I met two men painting portraits. Grown men. Making their livings doing art. I interviewed them intently to be sure of this new fact. Yes, they had houses. Cars. Families. Supported by art! I made a vow there in Gatlinburg as fervent and sacred as any Scarlett O'Hara made with her fist in the air above the turnip patch: I WOULD be an artist for my living! I would do portraits!
I figured out that I needed subjects in order to practice my portrait making skill. Still ones. So I spent my allowance on bags of candy and had a number of willing subjects among the other missionary children who would sit still for ten minutes for a piece of candy. Another ten minutes, another piece of candy. I was exceedingly popular, even as a tyrant artist.When we got to Africa, I drew constantly. I once paid a camel driver 50 pesewas (the rough equivalent of 50 cents) to stand next to his seated camel in my back yard so that I could draw them.
By the time I was 14 I could get a reliable likeness. When I was 18 and in the army (not a good idea, by the way), I made arrangements to do portrait sketches in the officers club and the enlisted men's club in the evenings. I quickly realized I made more doing that than by working for the army. I got out and continued to work on army bases doing portraits as a civilian in Monterey and San Francisco, CA. For several years I worked in malls at Christmas and resort towns in summer. Pastel portraits, first on velour because, hey! I didn't know any better. Then on pastel paper (usually Canson), then on sanded surfaces. I can't adequately explain the circumstances which had me switching direction and going to chiropractic school in 1983 after ten years of making my living as an artist. I plead insanity.
In 1986 my young daughter and I moved to San Antonio after school in Kansas City in search of warmer winters. I had a private chiropractic practice for 22 years. During that time, I did portraits occasionally when someone discovered that I could. In 1990 I won another poster contest, this time for the official Fiesta poster of San Antonio. Big hoopla short-lived, but it woke my artist self up a bit. It took until 2002 for me to come fully awake and swing my focus back to art in a big way. I joined GROUPS! I participated in artist exhibitions! I met OTHER ARTISTS! Life hasn't been the same since. I now work as often in oil as I do pastel. I do paintings of other things besides faces now. (Oh, but how I love a good face!)
In February, 2008, I closed my chiropractic clinic and opened Susan
Carlin Art Studio And Gallery in La Villita, San Antonio's Historical
Arts Village right off the Riverwalk. I showed my work and the work
of three other artists and I painted. In September of 2010 I became
owner of a larger gallery in La Villita- Nueva
Street Gallery - where I now, with my partner, show our own work
and the work of several other artists. I paint there in north light
from a bank of tall windows. I get to talk with happy people from all
over the world who wander into the gallery during their visits to our
I watch for clues, I follow the trail, from moment of bliss to moment of bliss. I reach back and hug the girl who stood in Gatlinburg and vowed that when she grew up she'd be an ARTIST. I imagined it would be wonderful..... IT IS!