Suzanne M. Fairchild
Where I am
Canby, MN out of town on a farm where we custom feed cattle and sustainably raise hogs, chickens, ducks, geese, and sheep. We also have an orchard, vineyard, pumpkin patch, and we do custom cabinetry. THEN when all that is done, I’m an artist.
Tell us a little about you, what is your background and where do you come from?
I grew up on a dairy farm, was so excited when we moved to town, then the next day I missed farming! =) I went to vo-tech college to get my associates degree, had no idea what I was going to do. Got married, had a baby, went back to being a part time farmer by milking cows for someone else. My marriage dissolved, went back to school for Livestock production, moved out to the country (out here on the border of MN/SD) furthered my education in Brookings, SD, but didn’t finish. Met a farmer, got married had 5 more kids and adopted his two. Whew!
BUT, the one thing that hasn’t changed is through that, I always painted. Sometimes that was what paid the bills and put food on me and my daughters plates and kept gas in the truck. It will forever be a stress reliever!
When did you first start drawing and painting?
Since before I can remember! I grew up in a family of 6 kids. We had a dairy farm and we never had a whole lot of money, so that is one thing we did for fun, (we also had some pretty cool cow poop wars…I can’t wait for our family reunion this summer!). We didn’t have coloring books and rarely got a box of crayons (we’d use ours til they were little nubs!) So when we got new pencils we treated them just like gold. Then we’d take all our parents junk mail and draw it. We’d even carefully take envelopes apart just so we could draw something on the insides.
Even today I look at my kids who will bypass a color book and go for the copy paper and I kind of get excited to see that they too have a great imagination. My husband says he would like it more if they stuck to the paper and not the walls, with all the drawings in here, we look like we live in a train car.
You paint a variety of animals, including horses. What is your favorite subject?
If I had to pick an animal, I’d have to say cattle. I think it’s cattle because I work with them on a continuous basis. I see them everyday and since we feed out cull cattle and yearlings, we get in everything. I love to figure out their complex hair patterns when they have their winter coat when I‘m trying to paint, SOME have a nice calmness in their eye (not all since we are feeding out cull cows…they can have serious attitude problems!). I love trying to figure out and portray their personality on a painting, etc.
More importantly, I love to paint the lifestyle and landscape. Farming and ranching is a great career and if I can portray that feeling in a painting, that’s awesome.
Your work is also applied to a variety of surfaces including skins, skulls, and turtle shells. What inspired to you replace traditional canvas with such unique items?
Money, or the lack of it. =) I had painted on 2 canvases in high school, and found out that I wasn’t crazy about it. Then I never looked at them again or found out about the many options that canvas gave, such as gallery wrap etc.
I have always liked “different” stuff, so when I started to paint after high school, I needed a cheap “canvas”. I first started to paint on goose and ostrich eggs, then went to old fence boards, then to hides. When I moved out here, I still wasn’t hipped canvas or at least it’s price tag for a nice gallery wrapped one. Ron’s dad brought over a shoulder blade and told me I should paint in it. Well, you didn’t have to ask me twice! On that first blade bone I a golden eagle. It turned out awesome. So I’ve been using those ever since. I also like painting on skulls. My dad was a rendezvous re-enactment guy on the side who had me paint on a bear skull for him once and I was hooked!
Who are your main artistic influences?
This is my favorite question to answer, but there is so many! Carrie Ballantyne, Wayne Wolfe, Ryan Skidmore, Kirby Sattler. To name just a few. Could I also say that the state of South Dakota is too? Check out those plains, rolling hills, the Badlands and the Black Hills so rich with history…makes me want to go out there and paint right now!
Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
I hate to be boring but I have to say no. I do have 2 sidekicks when I go out and take pictures for my paintings around the farm; my free ranging miniature donkey and my Newfoundland. Sparky and Fluffy Bear, super best friends. We call them the mall cops…they explore the farm together with their sense of security; they chase off coyotes and protect the kids from what they think is danger, most of the time it is just each other. =) They like to come on photo opps with me, with the cattle. They stand by the gates to get licked by the cattle and that allows me some nice close ups.
Do you have any secret rituals you do to help you get in the zone for your art?
Unfortunately I don’t have much time in the day for painting with all that we have going on usually about an hour or two after the kids go to bed. So after I tuck in the last little munchkin, there’s 8 so that’s a job in itself, I race around spiffing up the downstairs, throwing in the last load of clothes into the wash, if we have to check on animals, etc we get that done, I throw on my comfy clothes and ahhhh…..find my headphones, and my favorite CD of the day (right now Jason Boland and the Stragglers live in Colorado Springs & my other fav is Reckless Kelly Somewhere in Time) and it’s painting time!
I don’t have a designated room to paint in so for now, I paint in the living room where the best lighting is and that way I can say that I’m spending time with Ron (husband) who falls asleep after a hard days work in front of the TV. I get lost in what I’m doing and that’s awesome and I really look forward to that everyday.
Is there a particular place that brings you inspiration?
Okay, I guess this is where South Dakota comes into play. The beautiful countryside, the togetherness of the it’s people, the history, the history, the history, the amazing American Indian etc.
My biggest love is the Black Hills and Custer State Park. If you go nowhere in your life but one place, go there.
What effect do you think the Internet will have on art in the future? Has it had an effect on yours?
I think it’s doing a great job right now! I love the fact that I can find any artist I want or look at a piece online with a click of the mouse. It’s awesome. Seriously, I can’t remember life without the Internet and email. For example, when I’m working on a painting, I will send it out to people while I’m working on it to critique it. It sure helps me out.
Which one is your personal favorite piece?
It’s a toss up, either my “Moonlit Sonata” painted on an old haymow door or “Wary” which is done on elk hide.
Would you ever sell them?
I would, but you may have to fight my husband on the black angus painting. Since that was painted from our feedlots he says that will never leave the dining room. I may have to agree with him, since it sits behind 2 of my most messiest eaters and I saw some specks of oatmeal on it this morning. =) PS They are on my website.
What else are you passionate about?
Well, I’m glad you asked! It actually ties my painting in with it. Farm Rescue Organization. I have decided to do a large series of paintings and give some of the proceeds to this program. I hope to have them done by next fall.
Farming and ranching as we all know who do them is a hard life with a lot of work. But we all do it for one reason, we love it. We love raising our kids in this lifestyle, take pride in growing food for the masses, etc. But with that said, there’s a lot of farms that have not been able to make it because of injury, financial struggle, etc. This program will go in and help do field work etc. It’s awesome.
My paintings are done within a 30 mile radius of our farm. My theme is old places, equipment etc. Each painting is going to be centered around an old house, barn, tractor, etc. and have something hidden in it, like an animal or person/people.
My first one, “Old Haunts”, has an old house (that you have to walk to get back to) with 6 deer; 4 does and 2 bucks out in front but made out of tree branches. It’s really neat. I’m thinking that I will put them up for auction in a small town close to us, Gary SD in Buffalo Ridge, a renovated school for the blind that became a hotel. All are gallery wrap canvases would you believe!
Working on anything new?
Yes, I’m painting another old fallen in home up on a hill and I’m thinking of putting in some cattle in that one. We shall see! If you want to see it’s progression, let me know!
More to Come
Thanks to Suzanne for answering the interview and sharing more about her writing. Be sure to check out her art site periodically for updates about her latest works.
Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists, photographers & authors. Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.