Paintings and Drawings by Sue Sneddon

Life Size, paintings by Sue Sneddon, opens at Craven Allen Gallery on Saturday, November 19th with a reception for the artist from 5 to 7 pm.  The show continues through January 28th.  One of the gallery’s most popular artists, Life Size marks Sneddon’s 13th exhibition at Craven Allen over more than twenty years.

Shells, rocks, fossils, leaves, feathers — for Life Size, Sue Sneddon paints these found objects to conjure a visual journey of her travels and experiences, both alone and shared.  These talismans of nature come from all across the country, including her coastal North Carolina home, as well memorable locales on the east and west coasts, the Southwest, Hawaii, and several national parks.

Life-size literally means “of natural size” — and many works are exactly to the scale of the original.  For these small pieces, Sneddon works in a variety of media, including pencil, pen and ink, oil pastel, pastel, watercolor, gouache or a mixture of these.

Also featured are Sneddon’s signature panoramic oils of landscapes and seacapes, which suggest the context in which many of the small Life Size pieces were discovered.


Many years ago I began thinking of this concept for an exhibition after a conversation with my friend, Sharon.  Why do we pick up shells on the beach and then take some home?  We talked about solitary walks along the shore and the conversations you have with yourself—figuring out problems, making decisions, giving yourself a good talking-to about how to do better and be healthier.  You see this little treasure.  It is in perfect light, and in this moment it speaks to you of what you are experiencing and the beauty around you.

My studio is filled with boxes and shelves of shells, feathers, rocks, leaves, fossils.  Some have notations on them or attached to them with names, places, and dates.  Some still bring back a very clear memory, both visual and emotional.  Life Size is an exhibition that attempts to conjure these objects and ideas, by exploring size and scale in works ranging in size from 1-1/2” to 60”.

For example, holding a rock from Yosemite, I hear our guide talk about the glacier carving out this valley, and I wonder, from this small rock, how will I capture the enormity of Half Dome or El Capitan?  How to relate the dramatic cliffs of the Napali coast of Hawaii to this tiny sand dollar?  How could this jar of red dirt and gravel suggest the grandeur of Cathedral Rock in Sedona?

In doing this body of work, I have been reminded of how much I love to draw.  My numerous sketchbooks are filled with drawings done in-the-field, the old-fashioned way, making a “hand-frame” (thumb-tips touching, index fingers extended) to find composition and measure scale.  My hand-frame measures 4 3/4 inches between index fingers, and there are many smaller works done to this size.

Sometimes the smallest landscape can evoke the larger setting, the feeling of the expansiveness of the environment.  The whorl of a shell, a hurricane, a galaxy—how similar these shapes are.  How odd, I’ve always thought, are the square and rectangular borders placed on two-dimensional art.  There are choices to be made on how to convey the reverence and emotion inside these boundaries.  I’m still in love with trying to figure it all out.


About Sue Sneddon

Becoming an Artist

One of my first memories of drawing was trying to figure out how a dandelion flower turned into a ball of small seeds with fluffy tops that could be carried by the wind. I was probably five at the time, and at that early age I was drawing what was in front of me—bugs, flowers, clouds, trees—realistically, so I could attempt to understand how nature worked.

I grew up in the beauty of the Allegheny Mountains and Laurel Highlands area of western Pennsylvania, in a family where creativity was highly valued. My mother and three aunts were all artists, and my father was trained as a classical violinist, but became a jazz enthusiast, along with my mother. My fascination with Carolina landscapes began on childhood vacations to Southern beaches.

I had my first thought of being a painter was when I was 13 or 14. My mother and I were discussing whether the pink in a bank of oyster shells was a reflection of the pink sky or in the shells themselves. We were on the south end of Pawley’s Island, SC witnessing a glorious sunset. I said to myself, if I could paint the joy I feel in this moment, then I could be a painter.

Most of my work, as it turns out, is exactly that—fleeting moments of light in the sky, on water, or on wet sand. These moments do something to me that I can only express by trying to capture them on paper or canvas. I continue to realistically approach a subject at first, so that it gets filed in my brain somewhere, to be called on when I want to express how I feel about the moment of a sighting that has moved me.

I live for these moments of joy and wonder and reverence. Whether or not there is a human figure in the work I create, I may also be influenced by a conversation, visit, walk, or relationship associated with a particular moment I am trying to capture. And although water-related subjects are the ones I most frequently choose, there are other landscapes that I have painted over the years, particularly rural settings of trees, fields, and aging barns and houses.

Mixing a palette of colors for an oil painting is very intense for me. This ritual signifies the commitment of many days, weeks, or months of painting to capture this one moment. The application of a medium onto a surface can transport me to that first inspiration. I may hear the water, wind, birds, or a song I was humming. My senses are filled as if I were witnessing it for the first time.

I work from memory. My memory is sometimes sparked by the notes/sketchbooks that are filled with these moments that I don’t want to forget. There are a lot of notes and sketchbooks. Sometimes I do see something and immediately paint it. But there can also be a long process of distilling an experience to its essential elements and then working to capture those in my work.

Oil, pastel, acrylic, pencil, gouache, watercolor, oil pastel, pen and ink, and mixed media all have a station in my studio. I like to have options in my choice of medium, and also in the music that accompanies my work day. My tastes there are eclectic, as well, ranging from jazz to rock-and-roll, to classical, to folk and other genres. All of my artwork seems to have a soundtrack.

I am fortunate to have a studio that gives me access to my main sources of inspiration and allows me to mark my time by sunsets, tides, moon phases, solstices, and equinoxes. My studio looks out onto the marshes of a tidal river, the Shallotte River. And a 10-minute drive takes me over a bridge to the Atlantic Ocean, the place I feel most alive, where that powerful body of water meets the soft sand, with the ever-changing play of light on water. There is no check-out time. I am so very thankful.