In the Studio: Susanna Harris

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I am a printmaking artist from Columbus Ohio. I received by BA in studio art from Otterbein University in 2018. Afterwards I went on to become Otterbein University’s printmaking resident artist, as well as an intern for Phoenix Rising Printmaking Cooperative from 2018 to 2019. This fall I will begin my MFA candidacy at Kent State University.

Once I decided that I wanted to pursue my art career I switched my major from journalism to studio art and I’ve been working my tail off ever since. I’ve spent countless hours in the studio both day and night. I’ve found that it can be very rewarding some days when things are working out, but also equally as frustrating when things aren’t going the way I want them to. Whatever kind of day it is though I love being in the studio, and am always enthusiastic, and excited about creating art.

2. Many of your pieces seem to incorporate both natural and man-made elements. Would you speak to this experimental process and the role it plays in creating a final piece?

I am a very paint-oriented printmaker. I prefer to make prints that are one of a kind, regularly. Experimentation and research are the most important processes in how I currently create my prints. I can’t create what I envision until I have a thorough understanding of what I am working with.

I use organic matter, hand dyed chine-collé papers or fibers, handmade paper, and curated waste to create prints, collages, assemblages, and books. For example when I have time in the studio, and am working with a new plate I’ll try printing on different papers to get the right fit. There’s a reason for this; one paper dissolves when it gets wet, and one won’t peel off of my printmaking plate, but one will hold the ink just right and will be exactly what I was seeking.

3. Since a lot of your work is based in the human relationship to the natural environment, how has the political climate over the past few years affected your work?

I would say the that the current political climate has fueled my passion and want to create more environmental based work. I am heavily influenced by my thoughts and feelings toward how people, as well as myself, contribute to environmental destruction. Seeing attempts at decreasing regulations, and an overall denial attitude, push me to portray that in my art and fight it by voting, and by living an eco friendly lifestyle.

As an environmentalist it is important that I use my work as an outlet for my research, interests, and frustrations. I want to create art that shows the human hand will always leave some sort of impact on nature. If not as individuals then from the impact humankind will leave on the Earth overall. I hope that my work will inspire change and promote knowledge of our environmental impact.

4. I understand you are currently (or just finishing as) an artist in residence at Otterbein University would you talk about the importance this experience has played on your creative process and the development of your work.

Otterbein University was the first residency that I ever had and it was a very important stepping stone for me to understand how I create work outside of a structured environment. I didn’t have professors giving me prompts or projects. It was just completely up to me from concept to the finished piece. I have a greater sense of who I am as an artist, what I want to make, and why I want to create it.

5. Can you speak to your own relationship to risk and sacrifice?

I would say that for myself it has definitely been a risk to pursue a career in art. There is an uncertainty that goes along with it. I often wonder if I will get to a point where my art career is sustainable. For me that means if I really want that I need to put in a lot of time, and effort. I have had to sacrifice a lot of time to my studio practice. I willingly made that sacrifice while knowing that a lot of my family and friends wanted some of that time.

6. What is the role of the artist in society?

I would say an artist’s role is to question things. Everyone sees things differently and that is no exception for artists. We need everyone to create a functioning, vibrant community. I truly believe art is not how you make things but how you see things. I believe artists should make art is to express their concept of how they see the world.

7. How has social media affected your studio practice?

Coming from a journalism, and media communication background I see social media as an important way for me to make my work accessible. It has even helped me sell some of my pieces. I definitely feel like it helps get me warmed up when I arrive to the studio. I will take hands-free videos of pulling prints, or inking plates to post on my Instagram story. It also helps me hold myself accountable. I get very excited about new ideas, and can move on from a project too quickly. With social media I can easily be reminded of what I was working on, and start right where I left off.

8. Where do you feel art is going?

I feel art is becoming an important everyday object. People want to be surrounded by art they love in their own walls, tables, and mantels. It isn’t just living in museums any more and I only see that trend continuing.

9. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

“Just keep moving.” (or something like that) said by my one of my mentors Marilyn McPheron. As an artist I experience a lot of “no.” I learned that after hearing no, and experiencing the metaphorical door being closed in my face I can either turn around and leave or climb out of a metaphorical window. I just made it a habit to keep climbing out of those metaphorical windows and finding another way.

10. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

I recently set up my exhibition for the conclusion of my residency and was able to debut a project I am working on that explores my chine-collé work moving toward a larger scale. The current pieces are 32″ x 32″, but I would like to start making even larger pieces. I am only able to make pieces so large on a press bed so I plan to make larger pieces by creating multiple panels.

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