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Art Maker: Susanne Personette, pastel painter

  • Susanne Personette of Belchertown paints "en plein air" on the Connecticut River dike near North Lane in Hadley on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Susanne Personette of Belchertown paints "en plein air" on the Connecticut River dike near North Lane in Hadley on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Susanne Personette of Belchertown uses soft pastels as she paints "en plein air" on the Connecticut River dike near North Lane in Hadley on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Susanne Personette of Belchertown paints "en plein air" on the Connecticut River dike near North Lane in Hadley on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • “Pond Swim,” pastel by Susanne Personette — Image courtesy of Susanne Personette

  • “Appelton Farm road,” pastel by Susanne Personette — Image courtesy of Susanne Personette


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Though she developed an early love of painting and got her undergraduate degree in it, Susanne Personette studied architecture in graduate school and worked for over 30 years in that field. Between that and raising a family, she had limited time to paint, though she says she “never stopped being fascinated with light and color.”

But 10 years ago, Personette, of Belchertown, took a pastel workshop — and her love of painting was reborn. Pastel seemed a perfect medium to her with its “intense color, incredible range of textures, variety of mark-making and tactile application of brilliant pigment to paper.”

Now 65, Personette has taken her love of pastels outdoors, forming the Amherst Plein Air Society (APAS), a group that regularly paints outside. For her, such work is closely connected to the Buddhist meditation she practices, since painting “en plein air” means “being fully present to this unique moment of light and color and shadow, responding deeply to the beauty that I see in our natural world.” 

Hampshire Life: What is your creative process like? Does is start with a “Eureka!” moment?

Susanne Personette: It always begins when my eye gets caught by something in the landscape, and I get a “PING!” from my internal visual radar telling me to pay attention. The process is all about figuring out just what it is that is so intriguing to my eye, and interacting with that with my pastels.

H.L.: How do you know you’re on the right track?

S.P.: In my best painting moments, it’s as if I’m not doing anything and the painting is painting itself — as if I’m just the medium through which it happens. Whatever happens in that state is the “right track” for me — it is where all my best work comes from.

H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?

S.P.: I just wipe out all or part of it, which gives me a new way of seeing the painting and lets me start over. Pastel is very forgiving like that.

H.L.: How do you know when the work is done?

S.P.: When I start to do what a wise painter friend called “embroidering,” or fussy embellishment of work that’s complete. When I notice I’m doing that, I put down the pastels and call it done.

However, while some of my paintings get finished in the field during a paint-out, many need final touches or refinements back in the studio. These paintings get “aged” on my studio walls until I figure out what they need to be finished. 

H.L.: What did you do most recently that relates to your art?

I ordered some samples of frames for a piece that is part of a juried show in Connecticut. I also updated the APAS weekly paint-out location, and I painted early spring colors in the trees along the Connecticut River on the Hadley dike with some of my colleagues.

H.L.: Where do you like to paint? Do you go out to paint by yourself?

S.P.: A few years ago, I realized I wanted to paint outside with friends on a regular basis, so the APAS was born. We now have 50 members and hold paint-outs twice a week, April through October, all over the Amherst area. We also have a monthly critique group, an annual show, a painting retreat and other events. We’re open to all levels of experience and media.

— Steve Pfarrer

Susanne Personette will exhibit her work in November at Hope & Feathers Gallery, 319 Main Street in Amherst, with three other APAS pastel artists. Her website is www.susannepersonette.net. She can be contacted at susannepersonette@gmail.com about the APAS and pastel lessons.