New Histories and Old Futures: My Opening at the Cardinal Stritch Art Gallery


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Thank you to everyone who came to the opening on Saturday! It was an enjoyable evening with family and friends, old and new. We had some lively conversations around the coffee table.

For those of you were not able to make it, the show – and the reading room – are on display through November 10. Feel free to stop over, grab a book and make yourself comfortable on the fancy couch.

New Histories and Old Futures: The Timeless Art of Story

New Histories Postcard

Opening Saturday, October 12 5pm-8pm at the Northwestern Mutual Art Gallery at Cardinal Stritch University

This morning I headed to the studio bright and early and loaded bins and bins and bins of framed artwork into my car. Then I muscled in the willow tree backdrop with its hanging bars. I spent the rest of the morning at Cardinal Stritch University unpacking and hanging in preparation for my first ever solo show entitled “New Histories and Old Futures: The Timeless Art of Story”. Upon arriving I was also thrilled to see that the gallery director (Shana McCaw) had collected some furniture to fit with the show. That’s right… we’re making a living room in the gallery. Because. Obviously. Where else are you going to read and drink your coffee?!

Tomorrow brings two more bins of art and the newest layered backdrop, a scene of mining ruins from Upper Michigan. There are no words to describe how excited I am to have an entire gallery to play with. Perhaps: HUMUNGOUS!! COLOSSAL!!! ART EXHIBIT OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!!!! Or at least an interesting sideshow for the art-curious 😉

There will be portions of three major bodies of work on display: “The Circus and the Cyclone” book illustrations, scenes from my surrealist opera “Tibia”, and concept art for my current novel-in-progress under the working title “The Rift”. The circus story falls squarely into historical fiction while the opera jumps between the 19th and 21st centuries. The new book features time traveling space orphans. So I decided to play with time in the show’s title as well. It seems to be an underlying theme in my writings. Probably due to massive overdoses of science fiction since early childhood.

The show opens Saturday, October 12 at Cardinal Stritch’s art gallery, so be sure to stop in and make yourself at home! On the couch or fancy chair, of course.

Up Next: Artist in Residence at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, Dead Man’s Carnival, and Nanowrimo 2013. Stay tuned!

A Tale of two Residencies: The Cedarburg Cultural Center and The Pfister Hotel


Timothy Westbrook's "Alexis Rose" posed in front of my "Willow Tree"

Timothy Westbrook’s “Alexis Rose” posed in front of my “Willow Tree”

January was a whirlwind month! I worked as the artist in residence at the Cedarburg Cultural Center and began my journey as a finalist for the next Pfister Hotel artist in residence. It’s been five weeks and counting of live art-making, hanging shows, teaching workshops, and more. I’ll be finishing this crazy spree of activity this Saturday, February 9th, as I return to the Cultural Center for their all-day live painting event and fundraising gala. All “roaring 20’s” themed this year!

Last Saturday, I spent the entire day at the Pfister Hotel with the current artist in residence, Timothy Westbrook. In what he hopes to start as a new tradition, Westbrook has invited each of the six finalists to spend a full day in the studio, displaying our work and showing off what we do.

For my big day, we started off with setting up my willow tree backdrop in the studio space and hanging some of the “Circus and the Cyclone” art. Then a group of dear friends and family gathered for Westbrook’s tour of the hotel’s famous Victorian art collection. There were several small children along for the tour (including my own) and the spacious and luxurious Grand Ballroom proved too tempting as a running zone. The adult’s enjoyed the informative talks about each of the paintings, while the little ones enjoyed the freedom of running under the enormous twinkling crystal chandeliers.

The afternoon and evening were spent working in the studio and talking with the many guests who stopped in to see what we were doing. I continued work on a wedding portrait, stopping here and there to explain my process and how it was used in the making of “The Circus and the Cyclone”. I was amazed at the steady flow of foot traffic and the interesting conversations that resulted. While I may not be the loudest, most out-going person in the world, I’m far from shy when it comes to talking about art, books, music, circus history, 19th century operatic plot motifs… you get the picture.

As you can see from the photo, Timothy Westbrook also has a love for Victorian sensibilities. His work over the past ten months at the Pfister has largely consisted of creating Victorian inspired gowns out of a unique combination of materials and methods. In his studio, you can see the loom he uses to weave cloth out of natural silks, cassette tape, shredded plastic shopping bags and more! Westbrook’s creations are drop-dead gorgeous, but the most compelling part is getting up close and realizing what they’re made of. “Alexis Rose”, the gown in the photo, was inspired by two paintings in the Pfister’s collection, “The Rose” by Adolphe Piot and “The Rose Garden” by Daniel Ridgeway Knight. You can view many of the pieces in the collection in this art book.

The whole day felt a bit like a fairytale, the hotel itself being nothing short of a palace.  I was sad to pack up at the end of the night, being careful not to drop any glass slippers in the elevator on my way out. Hopefully I’ll get to return and make more art there a couple months from now. If you would like to help make that happen, you can vote for me on the Pfister Hotel’s facebook page. You can also vote by tweeting “@poll SUEL”, or by texting “SUEL” to 22333.

And, if you are in the Milwaukee area, I highly recommend visiting the finalist exhibit at Intercontinental’s Gallerie M. There you can see the work of all six finalists. It’s a stunning show and we all put a lot of effort into making it the best it could be! Be sure to stop in and vote for your favorite.

Finalists Exhibit at Gallerie M

Finalists Exhibit at Gallerie M

Sue Lawton’s Quasi-Victorian, Semi-Reptilian, Fiber Optic Menagerie and House of Curiosities

A tornado has struck my studio. At least that’s what it looks like. Sorting through all my stuff at home in preparation for a move has meant boxes of random flotsam and odd souvenirs from my past lives landing willy nilly in Studio Land. Disrupting the normal levels of chaos to EXTREME levels of eclectic white noise. Which is what it sounds like in my brain right now.

Unfortunately, as I am planning to open my studio for this Friday’s Gallery Night (and Bay View Gallery Night, June 1st) the “Great Sort-Through of 2012” must continue. Epic sorting and boxing and tucking into corners must commence!!!

Among the fall out are numerous experimental paintings from my college years and small studies from previous projects and bits and pieces of older bodies of work. I worked too hard on them to throw them out, but have no where to go with them. Which is where YOU come in. That’s right, YOU, dear reader. I hereby invite you to come to The Hide House on Friday night and paw through my old art and make me an offer. I also have older prints!!! Offer me what you think it’s worth, or trade me something cool (I love vintage frames, weird fiber optic flower thingys, quasi-victorian costume pieces, and for some reason have always wanted a skull or some sort of a taxidermy animal… oh wait, I’m trying to sort through my stuff and make more room. As you can see this is an ongoing problem for me.)

I’ll have a whole table or area designated for art rummage and have them marked as such. I’m thinking orange dot stickers?

And, of course, many original works from “The Circus and the Cyclone” will be up on the walls along with prints and copies of the book. The circus must continue! I guarantee you will find ample amounts of visual stimuli. And probably be mildly confused by the time you leave.

In short:

Old things, new things, new prices and strange encounters. All happening at The Hide House,  suite 9F. Friday, April 20th  6-10pm. Please take something home with you.

The Circus and the Cyclone Book Release, Art Show & Musical Exhibition!

The Circus and the Cyclone’s formal book release event will be this February 17th at 6:30 PM at the Cedarburg Cultural Center in Cedarburg, WI. I’ll be doing a reading and will showcase some of the original art that went into this book. The Vitrolum Republic will be on hand for additional fanfare; I am assured there will be something prepared for my launch.

Also, tune in to 88.9 WUWM on Friday, February 17th at 10 AM for a rebroadcast of my interview with Bonnie North on Lake Effect!

Confessions of an Avid Reader

Now that my own book is finished and copies are heading off to their various destinations, I finally have time to read again! (It’s been a while.) My “must read” list has been growing steadily over the past year and I’ve only managed to make it through a handful of titles. Many of them are circus themed books that people have been recommending, which I am always grateful for! I recently finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and was entirely spellbound from start to finish. I’m now midway through Game of Thrones and plan on reading Natania Baron’s Pilgrim of the Sky after that.

So, enough of the chit-chat. I have a confession to make. I have never read a single Harry Potter or Twilight book. Shocking, I know. For someone who loves fantasy, horror, and dark romantic drama as much as I do, it seems kind of strange that I haven’t gotten around to either of these series and I had to actually stop and think about why that is.

Reasons I’ve never read Harry Potter

In truth, part of me always wanted to. Unfortunately, these books first started appearing right at the time I started college when I found myself constantly overloaded with assigned reading. Also, as a newly self-proclaimed adult, the books looked a little too kiddish for me. Between the cute, whimsical cover illustrations and character names like “Dumbledore” it didn’t exactly seem like something I wanted to be investing my grown-up time on, so I took a pass. I watched as friends and family members a few years younger than me devoured the Potter universe and got hopelessly hooked. I felt the urge to join in, but kept telling myself,  “I’ll get around to reading this someday. When I don’t have so much going on.”  I decided to skip out on the movies as well, thinking it would be better to read the books first.

Years later, all of my Potter-crazed friends were raving about how great the most recent movie was. It was the third movie. So my husband and I rented the first two, then went to The Prisoner of Azkaban in theaters. We got invited along to each of the following movies as they came out.

Now knowing the story, I feel like reading the books might be a little after the fact. Plus, with all the hype, I feel burned out on the Potter world. Even when I do decide to finally read them, (and I probably will) I fear I won’t really get to enjoy them as literature, having already experienced Harry Potter as a piece of pop-cuture mass-hysteria.

Truth be told, I now regret not reading them earlier, before the movies each came out. Thankfully I started reading Tolkien in middle school when it was still nerdcore. Huzzah!

Reasons I’ve never read Twilight

First let me start off by saying, I’ve never been all that into vampires. There are a few vampire movies I like, but beyond that, vampire genre obsession is not something I “get.” After talking to other women my age who have read the Twilight series or even just gone to the movies, they all say the same thing: “You just have to put yourself in the mindset of a 14-year-old girl. If you can do that, it’s great.”

This is where I have a problem. I try to remember my own 14-year-old girlhood and I don’t recall having read a single piece of literature aimed at that age group. When I was 14, I was reading piles of Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen King books. I also read Tolkien and Michael Crichton. Then there was my non-fiction pleasure reading, mostly on the subjects of geology, paleontology, and art history. The summer of my 14th year, I went on a 2-week  fossil dig in Nebraska where I camped with other girl nerds and geeked out when I uncovered the leg bone of a three-toed horse. Evolution! Cool!

In short, I can’t get into the mindset of a 14-year-old girl because I don’t think I ever truly was one – at least not the kind that 14-year-old girl stuff is marketed toward.

So, between my lukewarm feelings for vampire fiction and my inability to channel the desires of a (more typical) middle school girl, I probably won’t ever bother with Twilight. I don’t negatively judge those who enjoy it (they probably are more normal than me), it’s just not my thing.

The Goonies factor

As a child of the 80’s, most of my friends and siblings ended up seeing The Goonies at some point and quoted it regularly. Due to various random circumstances, I never ended up seeing this movie. As I entered my 20’s, my friends (and my husband) were amazed when I didn’t know what the “truffle shuffle” was or what the “heeey you guuuuuuuuuuys!” line was from. At last, at the age of 26, my husband talked me in to watching it, insisting that “It’s such a great movie! You’re going to love it!”

When we got to the “truffle shuffle” scene, I didn’t laugh. I just sat there dumbfounded. It was a fat joke. A really stupid fat joke. After all those years of hearing about it like it was this amazing inside joke I wasn’t in on, to see the scene played out was beyond anti-climatic. In fact the whole film was… not at all what I thought it would be.

After relating this experience to one of my friends, he admitted that he still has not seen The Goonies and at this point in life enjoys it as a part of his identity. He likes being “That Guy Who’s Never Seen Goonies.”

Who knows. Perhaps one day I will proudly embrace my identity as “That Woman Who’s Never Read Twilight.” Or “She Who Has Not Read Harry Potter.” But for the time being, they wait at the very end of a very long list of “must read” books. Call them my “might read” books.

Waiting for my books and thinking about the FUTURE

The story is told, the whole thing is off to the printers, and I have a mountain of framing to tackle! The books and prints will be sent out to my Kickstarter backers and also will be available online. But so far, only eighteen of the the original illustrations have found their way into my vintage frame constructions. Only eighteen. Out of seventy-one! Though, truth be told, I probably won’t frame every single one.

I’m pretty preoccupied with the details of getting the stuff up on Etsy, getting ready for the book release party (woohoo!), and getting ready for a January Gallery Night show at Grava Gallery here in Milwaukee. But in the back of my mind, I keep coming back to the shock of finally finishing the book. I’ve been drawing these characters for so long now that they sort of became friends and I’m really going to miss them.

When December is passed and the dust starts to settle, it will be time to toy with new ideas and feel out a fresh direction for my work. I’m a bit burned out, but am vaguely leading my ideas in a fantasy/sci-fi direction. I’ve always been a huge fan of those genres and would LOVE to go that route. I did NaNoWriMo in 2010 and most of my 50k words of rambling were of a space opera type story. But it was much more of a novel and didn’t have any visual elements. Which of course will have to be explored. Because I like my stories to have pictures. They are worth a thousand words, I hear.

So I suppose that will be where my next adventure takes me. To the places Ingrid Von Aviary dreamed of reaching and beyond! A new set of characters and possibly some time travel and definitely a rag-tag team of space orphans who find themselves marooned somewhere on earth. This is going to take further development. And lots of friends doing silly things in front of a camera. I think I might know some good space orphans.

Back to the drawing table… in a good way

After an intense month of Kickstarter fundraising, I’m now diving back into the story, conjuring up the final scenes and incorporating the new cameo appearances. I’m really glad I decided to go with that option for one of the pledge levels. This allows people outside my family and close circle of friends to be featured in the book and gives me totally new material to draw from! This new, more inclusive model of art making is really interesting and makes me really very happy with my decision a few years back to start drawing people. I started off this project with rather subpar figure drawing skills and now, after almost three years of figure drawing boot camp (aka The Circus and the Cyclone) I find myself confident enough to offer to draw strangers as circus freaks and even lead a live drawing class. Whew! It took a lot of horribly bad drawings along the way, but I guess there’s a lesson in that.

Over the next two months I’m going to be working to the bone getting the final illustrations, text, and page layouts complete with the hopes of getting the whole thing printed and bound and sent out to the good folks who backed the project before the holidays. Yikes. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Perfectly. Although I will be sad when it’s time to move onto something new… there will be a big circus-shaped hole in my heart when this is finished and it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll switch to sci-fi writing and illustrate Ingrid von Aviary’s moon adventures!

Otherwise I might just drown in post-circus depression, while listening to this sad violin…

Still kicking

Actually we’ve only begun to kick. Start. At five days into our kickstarter campaign, we are already 30 percent funded! It’s been giving me so many warm and fuzzy feelings seeing not only pledges, but encouragement and support flood in. We have such a great support network, both here and abroad. Thank you!  And, of course, if you know of anyone else who might be interested in seeing “The Circus and the Cyclone” become a real, physical, honest-to-goodness book, with pages and everything, then make sure to send them here

We’ve also added a new gallery for the circus illustrations onto this very website Exciting, no?! I spent yesterday evening preparing stripy tent backgrounds to add that extra circus ambience.

Also in the works is a possible live circus (of sorts) descending on Milwaukee. This book started with my friends in costumes, so perhaps it is appropriate to conclude the same way. We’re still working out the details, but I’m always up for costumed antics. Always.



Friday Kickstarter Kick-off and Gallery Night

It’s happening again… Gallery Night in Milwaukee is this Friday and the Hide House will be buzzing with all kinds of activity. Up on the second floor we’ll have a bunch of artists, a bunch of food and drink, and live music by The Vitrolum Republic! I’m also using this as the kick-off event for my Kickstarter campaign to publish the book, so it will be extra exciting.

It’s been interesting doing these open studio events this year. It’s something new for my studio partner and I (Jason Krukowski) and welcoming the public into a private creative space still seems a little weird, but also fun. I try to clean up our pack rat museum and make it look presentable, while still keeping it functional and comfortable to create in. In many ways though, it’s futile to “clean” our room, which is full of years worth of thrift store finds, dumpster dives, and rummage sale beauties. Not to mention the slightly embarrassing yet endearing student artworks I can’t just toss or hide away. Also, there’s Jason’s toy collection, my jewelry boxes and doll furniture, and more clocks than anyone actually needs that are all showing different times… kind of like Doc Brown’s art laboratory. I’m working on some adjustments to the Gaius Baltar shrine (aka Baltar Altar) so please excuse its current state.

In creating a set for my kickstarter video, we just pulled interesting and fancy looking items from the room and arranged them in the hall: instant circus ambience!

Stay tuned for more details as the Kickstarter campaign begins! And if you’re in the Milwaukee area on Friday night, make sure to stop in at the Hide House in Bay View for a spectacular evening of art, music, and revelry.