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Painting by day 

Morro Bay's Susan Beauchemin exhibits her paintings in offices, centers, conference rooms, and on the web

click to enlarge LITTLE DINOSAUR : - IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • LITTLE DINOSAUR :

The office is sterile. The scent of artificial air circulates throughout the conference room. The lonely trio of landscapes on the wall—labeled Villa Creek, See Canyon Apples, and Montaña de Oro,—isn’t Susan Beauchemin’s most recent work. Just to see the pieces, priced between $350 and $500, requires permission from the front desk receptionist. But for Beauchemin, even limited access beats leaving her paintings on the floor of her garage.

Beauchemin’s work will hang in the conference room of EDA-Design Professionals through May 1, after which they’ll move to another home in another business. The painter has been participating in the SLO Art Center’s Art and Business Rotation Program for several years now, and while she’s never sold a painting, she’s seen her artwork hang in a wide variety of businesses, from doctors’ offices to the courthouse to the senior center.

The program has run for more than 20 years now. Businesses pay an annual fee of $125 to participate and are matched with artists—who must be members of the SLO Art Center to participate. There are currently just more than 30 artist participants, though not all of them elect to join in every five-month rotation.

Program coordinator Stephen Olson is responsible for examining each space to ensure it meets certain lighting requirements. None of the participating businesses host opening receptions at the moment, and Olson emphasizes that artists must understand the distinction between a gallery and professional workplace.

“These spaces are businesses that serve the general public,” he said. “The only subject matter that becomes questionable is nudes. We are serving, for the most part, conservative business concerns, and I think it is easier for the business not to have to deal with public concerns of individual tolerances.”

click to enlarge BEE: - IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • BEE:
For Beauchemin, the Art Center’s program is a useful—though not singular—outlet for her work. The Morro Bay resident, who originally hails from Rhode Island, is a member of a web-based group called The Daily Painters. She maintains a blog in conjunction with the site and posts a new 7-by-7-inch watercolor painting each day. They sell for $120 matted, or $160 matted and framed. The membership is international and juried, and the site has proved to be a viable commercial outlet for Beauchemin, who recently shipped several paintings to customers in Germany.

Despite the fact that her canvas—140-pound watercolor paper—is small, Beauchemin has her hands full in attempting to complete a new piece each day. She begins each painting the moment her granddaughter leaves for school, often continuing without any meals until it’s time to pick her up in the afternoon.

“I like the format, a small square,” Beauchemin explained. “When I look at the painting, I think, ‘What am I doing? It’s so small.’ I don’t even know what I’m going to paint from day to day. Sometimes I have a series going, but it has to inspire me. I can’t just pick up anything and paint it.”

click to enlarge 2009 SELF-PORTRAIT: - IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • IMAGE BY SUSAN BEAUCHEMIN
  • 2009 SELF-PORTRAIT:
Beauchemin plucks elegant giraffes from her dreams and imprints them upon her canvases, along with toy dinosaurs from her granddaughter’s Christmas stocking, self-portraits, and a series of hands—reaching into purses, clutching fruit, and delicately linking the jaw bones of a deer.

The miniature format—no measure of the degree of the painting’s significance or quality—confers a kind of freedom on the artist. She can explore the shape of a hand as it roves across the keys of a piano, capture the precise grin of a toy tyrannosaurus rex, or reveal the bold wonder of a yellow fire hydrant. And if a subject fails to achieve its potential, she masks her disappointment, posts an image of the piece anyway (not wanting her own prejudice to affect other people’s perceptions of the piece), and prepares for her next day’s work—though she insists the incident always provokes a sour feeling in her stomach.

Commissions infringe upon this freedom, and she avoids them whenever possible, along with paintings of ships (a leftover aversion from her childhood in Rhode Island where there were as many paintings of boats as there were vessels to paint) and plein air landscapes (which she paints when she has no alternative, but doesn’t particularly like).

Over the past 16 months, her paintings, along with accompanying text and photographs, have become a kind of diary.

- PATRONS OF THE ARTS:  Susan Beauchemin’s artwork is on display in the conference room of EDA-Design Professionals (1998 Santa Barbara St. in San Luis Obispo) through May 1. For information or hours, call 549-8658. To see more of Beauchemin’s work, visit paintsee.blogspot.com. -
  • PATRONS OF THE ARTS: Susan Beauchemin’s artwork is on display in the conference room of EDA-Design Professionals (1998 Santa Barbara St. in San Luis Obispo) through May 1. For information or hours, call 549-8658. To see more of Beauchemin’s work, visit paintsee.blogspot.com.
“What is it with cats and mittens? Do they just find each other?” she asks beneath a picture of her cat. In another piece, she explains the image of a hand holding fruit: Her son brought buckeyes to her house. She even explains, in great detail, the process she uses to create her watercolor paintings, which generally resemble a block print or batik.

She starts by sketching, which she refers to as her fussy phase of the creative process, then begins applying masking fluid to the white spaces, gradually progressing to other lighter tones before adding more layers of color. She then masks the middle tones, using a blow dryer to dry the fluid before applying more paint. As she nears the end of her day’s work, she peels away the accumulated masking fluid, rubs off the latex strips, and reveals the painting beneath. Along the way, she playfully experiments with new techniques such as dappling her water with salt. The resulting paintings often bear very little resemblance to more traditional watercolors, a fact that doesn’t bother Beauchemin at all.

“It’s just a different way of working with watercolors, I think,” she said. “Traditional watercolorists would sort of scoff at it, I think. But I really like it. I sort of use it a lot. I imagine that it will evolve into something completely different as I go along.”

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach just ate a deep fried Twinkie. Send milkshakes to wash it down to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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