By Karen Billing
Local artist Sue Britt was recently accepted into Balboa Park’s Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego’s largest collection of studio artists. Starting in July, Britt will share her unique pieces of art in the medium of paper tapestry, using strips of paper to create impressive nature scenes.
Britt has been an artist all of her life, thanks to her artist mother who had her doing art projects from a very young age. Her creative spirit went wild with projects in sewing, painting, drawing, needlepoint and photography.
“I had lots of encouragement and I think that’s one of the most important things for artists, to be encouraged to be creative, take risks, give it a whirl, throw it up and see what comes out of it,” Britt said.
Britt went on to get her degree in architecture and practiced for six years before moving on to Peace Corps work, community development work, and then staying home with her children.
“(Being a mom) is one of the most creative endeavors I’ve ever done,” said Britt.
Like her own childhood, she encouraged her kids to experience art at an early age and eventually brought it into their school classrooms. At one elementary school, she developed a writing and illustrating program for fourth grade students where the children made their own books that were put on display in the library. At Solana Pacific School, she led an art and science discovery program called “Whosit, Whatsit, Why.”
“To me, that is a piece of life experience and the creative spirit…encouraging kids to get out there and experiment,” said Britt.
Britt didn’t stop at just getting children to be creative—she also started a group for her adult friends called The Artist’s Way. Britt based her group on the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron that outlines a 12-week creative program with daily exercises and art projects.
“It’s all about discovering what you love, what you like to do and want to do,” Britt said. “It asks you how you see the world, to be creative and excited about it and want to put your ideas out into the world.”
The 12-week program has now lasted six years and, through the Artist’s Way, many of her friends have discovered not just creative outlets but success in art fields such as writing and photography.
Britt has been playing with the art of paper tapestry and paper boxes for the last five years.
“It was just something fun I did on the side. I love paper and got to use it in an interesting way,” Britt said. “Although I’m not practicing architecture anymore, all those skills about design, balance and seeing, carries over to what I do now, My work has a 3-D feel to it, there’s a lot of structure.”
Strips of beautiful and colorful handmade paper are cut, wrapped and weaved to create a picture. She creates shadow and edge by adding a backing of two-ply illustration board to the strips of paper so it doesn’t just lay flat but has depth.
“There’s a lot of room to be explored (in paper tapestry) and I expect to be exploring this for a long time,” Britt said.
Her goal is to create art that tells stories and she is most drawn to nature stories, such as the changing color of the bark of Madrona trees on San Juan Islands.
The first year she was in San Diego was right after a big fire and she was inspired by watching burned areas come back to life. One of her pieces shows bright green grass sprouting from the charred earth, a brilliant and colorful root system shown underneath the black.
“It’s a story of rejuvenation, I love that and how it ties into our lives,” said Britt, who is also an avid hiker. “I find that very inspiring.”
She carved out a studio for herself in the garage, with Ikea shelves fully stocked with art books boxing her into a cozy, creative corner. Stacks of pretty paper surround her workstation as well as pieces of her mother’s copper enamelist works that she is incorporating into her paper boxes.
A new piece she is working on sprouted from her learning about yucca plants and how they live for seven years before dying. Her piece takes a cue from tree rings, with purple rings representing the yucca’s seven-year life.
“When I learned about that I wanted it to be a part of my art so I could tell people that story so they know that when they go out into nature,” Britt said. “You connect more when you know the cycle of the world around you.”
She has only recently begun showing her work and will be a part of the Coronado Art Walk in September.
Her entrance into Spanish Village came from a chance encounter with one of the artists while she was on a visit there. In talking about her art, the artist encouraged Britt to try to get into the village, a process that involves applying to a twice-yearly jury. There are 40 studios in the village and more than 100 artists there.
Britt successfully juried in and will work a couple days a week in a studio with three other artists, starting in July. As a member of the village, artists can also have a tent in the courtyard whenever they want.
The experience of how she got there is exactly why she is excited to be in the Village.
“I’m excited about talking and sharing with other artists,” Britt said.
Spanish Village studios are open every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.spanishvillageart.com. For more on Sue Britt, visit www.PaperTapestry.net