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Willing student: Lifelong art lover puts own brush to canvas

  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, poses for a portrait while painting peonies. She was inspired by a photograph of the peonies in her garden at home.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, poses for a portrait while painting peonies. She was inspired by a photograph of the peonies in her garden at home.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Trillium" a work in progress by Susan Valentine, hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    "Trillium" a work in progress by Susan Valentine, hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student puts more white paint onto her pallet to mix for her painting of peonies that she is currently working on. Valentine paints flowers, often inspired by flowers in her own garden.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student puts more white paint onto her pallet to mix for her painting of peonies that she is currently working on. Valentine paints flowers, often inspired by flowers in her own garden.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A detail of Susan Valentine's "Drenched" that hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    A detail of Susan Valentine's "Drenched" that hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, is currently painting peonies. She is replicating a photograph of peonies growing in her garden at home.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, is currently painting peonies. She is replicating a photograph of peonies growing in her garden at home.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, poses for a portrait while painting peonies. She was inspired by a photograph of the peonies in her garden at home.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • "Trillium" a work in progress by Susan Valentine, hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student puts more white paint onto her pallet to mix for her painting of peonies that she is currently working on. Valentine paints flowers, often inspired by flowers in her own garden.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • A detail of Susan Valentine's "Drenched" that hangs in her studio space at Greenfield Community College.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Susan Valentine, a 59-year old painting student at Greenfield Community College, is currently painting peonies. She is replicating a photograph of peonies growing in her garden at home.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

Susan Valentine has always appreciated other people’s art, but until recently, she never imagined that she’d be hanging her own oil paintings in local art exhibits. This summer, she did just that — for an exhibit last month at the Hosmer Gallery at Northampton’s Forbes Library. In March, she’ll have another show in Amherst. Valentine, 59, couldn’t imagine such exhibits because until a couple of years ago the only thing she’d painted were the walls in her house.

Today, Valentine is a Greenfield Community College art major whose work has been recognized in a national contest. Her oil painting “Daylily 2” won second place in The Artist’s Magazine’s 2012 Art Competition for Student Still Life/Floral, and was featured in the January 2013 issue.

How did she become an award-winning painter in just a few years? Ask her and she’ll tell you: “It was a time in my life to go for that thing I’d always wondered about.”

Learning to paint has been an organic process growing from Valentine’s lifelong interest in art and looking closely at the world around her. Key to her success with painting are the enthusiastic support of her husband, musician Larry Bourret of Blueganu, and the collaborative environment of the GCC painting studios.

Valentine, who lives in Leverett, grew up on the North Shore and moved from Boston to the Valley in the early 1990s. She always liked to sketch and “mess around” with a camera, she says, and was the type of museum visitor who lagged many rooms behind her companions, mesmerized by the details of the paintings.

An interest in graphic design was sparked in 1994 when she started creating materials to promote yoga classes she taught and, later, her studio, Hadley Yoga Studio. She studied graphic design at GCC from 2007 to 2010 and learned much about composition from her teacher, Rick Schneider.

A website client, artist Robin Keller, bartered paintings for Valentine’s website work. In summer 2010, Valentine asked Keller to teach her how to paint. She learned the mechanics of working in acrylic from Keller, and was, she says, completely engrossed by the experience.

In fall of 2010, hearing a GCC friend enthuse about a painting course, Valentine thought, “I want to take that class.” The night before the course began, she emailed the instructor, asking to be allowed into the class without the prerequisites. The next morning, Professor Penné Krol emailed saying, “Just come.”

Since then, Valentine has studied at GCC with Krol and Budge Hyde, a professor emeritus of art, learning how to translate what she sees into paintings. She says she is thriving in the GCC painting studios where faculty members and other students are always happy to answer questions and help each other.

“Susan’s paintings reflect her curiosity about and enthusiasm for the nuances of light, color, space, and form, and her dedication to conveying her view of the world to others,” Krol said. This summer, Valentine took a class in techniques of the masters taught by Easthampton realist painter, Barbara Johnson.

Commenting on her process, Valentine said, “Composition is what catches me. Before I took up painting, I was a serious gardener. I get into the minutiae of it, reveling in how the sun shines on top of a petal and how that light flows onto another flower. I love how light looks completely different shining through rather than reflecting off of an object.”

Speaking of her award-winning painting, she says, “That daylily looked like joy.”

A lesson in value

Last month, on a GCC trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Valentine studied Caravaggio’s painting, “The Denial of Saint Peter.” She was captivated, she says, by the artist’s use of slight shifts in value.

“When we talk about value, levels from light to dark, they are loosely represented in nine levels between white and black,” she explained. “But in practice, there could be a thousand gradations between each level.”

Valentine says she has become more sophisticated in the use of value in her own work over the past two years.

“What I’m learning lately is how immensely effective it is to use tiny shifts in value to convey the story I’m trying to tell.”

Along with learning from the supportive community at GCC, visits to museums, and any periodicals she can get her hands on, Valentine says she learns from each painting she creates.

“Recently, while working on ‘Peony 2,’ I went to the canvas, looked at the part of the flower in the upper right corner, put some paint on my brush, and my hand went to the lower left corner, she said. “There are times when I have an idea, and the image has a different idea, and I can be loose enough to go with it. I stand in front of a painting and say, ‘What are we going to learn today? You tell me.’ ”

Susan Valentine’s website is www.susanvalentineart.com.

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