Once a month, we feature local small business owners and artists who are using their creativity to make the homes and businesses of Roanoke beautiful.
This month, our spotlight is on local artist Susie Whiteside. Susie’s abstract landscape paintings feature rich textures and bold colors.
Connected Passions: Susie’s Story
Susie Whiteside is an interior designer and an artist. A Roanoke native, Susie’s passion for design led her to pursue her interior design degree from nearby Virginia Tech. It was while studying interior design that she discovered another passion of hers—art. In addition to her in-major classes, she took several art electives.
Susie’s passions for interior design and art go hand in hand, as both involve an eye for texture, scale, color, and more.
After she graduated, Susie traveled around before moving back to Roanoke in the early 1990s and has lived there ever since. Her interior design company and art studio, Whiteside Designs, can be found in the marketplace of Black Dog Salvage, where her husband, Mike Whiteside, is one of the owners.
Throughout her interior design career, Susie has dabbled in art on the side. However, as the style of her artwork has shifted and as her following has grown, she now finds herself splitting her time almost equally between art and design.
“I’m almost reaching the half and half point now,” Susie said. “I didn’t quite see that coming, but I’m up for it. I love both, so I feel very lucky to have both outlets.”
Shifting Style: Susie’s Technique & Inspiration
It’s been in the last five to seven years that Susie’s artwork style has shifted. “When I was younger, I did more realistic paintings, but the older I get, the looser I get with my art,” she said.
She now focuses exclusively on larger abstract landscape paintings with acrylic paints. Rather than brushes, Susie uses different sized palette knives to accomplish her signature rich textures and to blend the colors.
“I layer tons of texture in my work, and I find that the knives allow me to do that; they’re a great layering tool,” Susie said. “Sometimes I’ll even use an old credit card when I need something a little wider.”
Susie gets her inspiration for her paintings from the scenery of the Roanoke area. “There’s lots to love here—we have four seasons and beautiful mountain scenery,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place for an artist to live. There’s so much around that inspires me daily.”
From start to finish, Susie loves the process of creating her artwork.
“I use tons of paint and lots of layering; it’s hard to even photograph how much texture and depth my paintings have,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll work on a piece for days, let it set, then come back in a few days and layer more. But sometimes it’s quick. The whole process is fun and freeing and a mess. Paint goes flying everywhere. But the end result is always tons of texture.”
No matter how long the process, Susie says she always know when a painting is complete. “A feeling comes over you, and you know and you’re ready to move on to another one because you want that feeling again,” she said. “It’s addictive.”
Susie sees the connection between her specific style of artwork and her interior design work. “I think my fondness for texture comes from interior design, the layering in a room from pieces with different textures.”
Susie first attempted her more abstract style when one of her interior design clients was looking for that kind of painting but couldn’t find anything in quite the right color scheme. Susie offered to create the piece for this client. Both Susie and the client loved the result, and Susie has been working in and perfecting this style ever since, now painting commissions for many of her interior design clients.
“This more abstract style struck a chord with my clients, and it’s what feels right for me,” Susie said.
A Growing Following
Not only did Susie’s interior design clients love her abstract, texture-rich paintings, but so did visitors to Black Dog Salvage. Susie has been displaying her artwork in the showroom there, along with many other Roanoke area artists, for years.
Now what started as commissions for her design clients has grown to sales of her pieces displayed in the store, as well as requests for commissions from Black Dog visitors. “People will often see something at the store and ask for a different size or color scheme,” Susie said. “As I’ve sold more, it encourages me to do more.”
She said her sales are about half and half between what she displays in store and these commissions. This growing popularity for her signature portrayals of Roanoke landscapes has allowed her to shift from dabbling in art to spending much more of her time as an artist.
For its similarities to design, Susie says something about artwork is uniquely rewarding.
“Creating art is gratifying because it’s all you; there’s no one giving you parameters,” she said. “To be able to do something where you can lose track of time, and you don’t think of anything else—to be that absorbed in something is lucky. I wish that for everyone.”
This freedom allows her to achieve her favorite part of her work as an artist—seeing the reactions of people who buys her pieces.
“Seeing how happy it makes them is amazing because you put your heart and soul into it, and when you see their reaction to it, nothing quite matches that,” Susie said. “You’ve done something without guidelines, it’s something you’ve done that’s all you, and it brings joy to their life. That’s pretty darn rewarding.”
In addition to stopping in at Black Dog Salvage to see Susie’s work, you can find it on display at Better Sofas as well as Simply Framing by Kristi.
Like her artwork and design work, Susie finds that most of her life’s passions are connected. When she is not designing or painting, you can find her riding her horse or hiking with the black dogs of Black Dog Salvage. When in nature doing these activities, she often stops to snap photos that she then uses as inspiration for her next painting.
A horse enthusiast, Susie is also passionate about supporting horse rescue organizations. She donates a portion of the sales of her paintings to several horse rescue charities.