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“Your artistic voice reflects your unique point of view, life experiences, identity, values, and what matters to you. Your voice is part of your DNA and there will never be anyone else on earth exactly like you. Your choice of style, skill, subject matter, and medium is yours alone.”

I spent most of July with my family. Three weeks on Martha’s Vineyard where I was born and raised and a few days in New Orleans with my brother and my SIL's family. I have deep roots and many relatives on Martha's Vineyard, even my 30 grade school classmates were the same core group of kids from nursery school through 8th grade and many still reside there. For me the Island is a crazy quilt of family and almost-family. My great, great grandfather, a fisherman who emigrated from the Azores, has 5 generations of descendants who call the island home. I don't think I could even recognize most of these "cousins" but I feel their presence when I am there.



Martha's Vineyard is a magnet for artists, writers and musicians who distill long quiet gray winters into beauty in every art form. This is a place where I feel my feet planted strongly in the artistic lineage of past, present and future.


In my own family everyone creates. My mom is a distinguished oil painter and shell artist, my dad carves wood into sculptures of birds and fish, my sister is an award winning animal photographer, my brother has transformed each room of his home into a haven with his hands. One niece is an incredible poet and two nephews are music makers. Their accomplishments feel like my success too.




In this place life revolves around the sea and the seasons. Summers are a frenzy of colorful events and crowded with people. The fall is a time of peace, relaxation and connection to nature. In winter the land and the people hibernate and turn inward. Everything closes and gray overtakes everything. In spring, birds return and anticipation thrums beneath the ground as workmen swarm to prepare for another 100 day summer season. Each corner and each landscape of the island lives in my memory simultaneously in its past and present form.

I remember early morning ferry rides tossed by storms, all day beach picnics by jeep and fishing boat, hunting for quahogs with my toes and my head bobbing above the water, July 4th parades and fireworks, snowy winter fields with cold, solitary horses, the little brick church where I was baptized and married with its Tiffany stained glass windows. Long windswept beaches and tiny coves perfect for collecting seaglass and shells.


My visions are of the mood swings of the sea, boats of every kind and size, the waterfront villages with their weathered grey shingles and opulent flower gardens, the winding stone walls, the sound of fog horns and the lonely lighthouses. Many of these scenes appear in my artwork now and they have made an indelible mark on me.



As an artist I often reflect on how to authentically share my life experiences, identity, values, and truth. This year I recognized the key inside me, inside my memories and experiences growing up in this unusual corner of the world. The seasons, the tides, the storms, the landscape, the traditions, the livelihoods, the year round residents, the influx of summer people, the day tourists, the ferries, the boats, the fish, the beaches are all part of the buffet of images I can draw from.



This year as I go deeper into my self expression I will bring out my personal history through a vocabulary of symbols, forms and motifs to use in my art that are uniquely my own and tied to my experiences on this small patch of land surrounded by the sea.

Already it has been a rewarding journey in so many ways. When I retell and share my memories with my family they amplify my experience with their own memories and stories and I get to relive the good emotions a second time. So much new insight and new information this trip!

I am fascinated by the question of how to portray the passage of time, the layering of memory, the layering of generations, growth and change in a single or a series of paintings. I am curious about the interplay of symbols, of story and history.

It is my hope that by digging into my memory and my history I will uncover some magic there that will connect me more deeply to my history and to you my viewers.


When you desire to reach the heart of your own viewers you will find the path leads from your most vulnerable truth. When you are real and authentic, hearts open in recognition.

Early childhood is when we form our core personality, our opinion of ourselves as worthy or unworthy and the world as safe or unsafe. Understanding our connection to the past helps us to anchor ourselves in the present and be more accepting of who we are. It gives us a rich vein to mine for questions that are ours alone.

Over the years I have supported my students in exploring their own developing identities by searching for stories in their family history. While most of my students are less than 20 years old they have some incredibly deep insights.


Consider the objects and experiences from your past, your culture, and your history to be your subject matter.


(Student Works )



What made the strongest marks on you as a child? Was it your culture? an event? A family member? A place? What stories did your family tell? Who keeps the memories? Look through old photo albums and notice which images reach out to you through time. Why do they activate strong emotions? How could you use those images to touch someone else?


Reflect on what makes you unique and make a list of some elements you could use as symbols or motifs to personalize a new artwork or series.


3 Generations of artists


Are there treasures are buried in your family history? Let's explore those family roots, trees, and groves together…. I will be joining you in this endeavor as I experiment with some of my new ideas. Please feel free to connect with me and discuss where your own inquiries are leading. I would love to contribute to your inspiration. Please reach out, I welcome the conversation. With Light and Delight,

Susan Convery

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. Ralph Waldo Emerson In honor of my 65th birthday, I gave myself the gift of a journey of discovery.

I spent the past four weeks exploring parts of Portugal I did not know, traveling alone, in retreat, and with one of my dearest friends. This was both an external and an internal journey. I am not the woman I was only a few years ago. Everything in my life has shifted; my work, my family, my body, my activities, my interests, my attitude, my finances, and my friends. I am no longer in my prime. This year marks the milestone where I step fully into being an elder; a vibrant, wise woman opening her third act.


This was the best gift I could imagine - to spend a month curious, questioning, and open to the possibilities inside me.

I want to lovingly welcome this new woman living my life. To discover as much as possible about what she likes to do when there is no one else to please or care for. What does she like to eat, to wear? How does she deal with problems, with exhaustion, with sadness, with joy?

I deliberately chose to place myself daily in situations that stretched me well beyond my comfort zones.

My agreement with myself was to respect the limits of physical safety while engaging in at least one action every day that scares me.

So I stepped deliberately and placed my walking stick carefully on the rocky hikes but I also edged close and peered over the precipices. I allowed space for improvisation and magic.




Each day was an opportunity for me to discover myself newly without my usual reference points, without others calling me back to my old patterns and my old stories. Who am I now? How can I lead others into fuller versions of themselves? I know that I am more now than I have shown you in the past and I am capable of more than even I can imagine.

A month alone in a foreign country might not be a gift that you would give yourself.

But I am sure you have ways of stretching yourself that contribute to your growth process. I often tell my kids there is no one out there more critical or more threatening than the person who looks back at them from the mirror.

Growth is moving into the discomfort zone and making it comfortable. While some people find it easy to express their likes, dislikes, and desires, for me learning to love, honor, and hear my own interior guidance is hard work.




It is curious to me how much time I spent with the question of what do I want?.

How is it that I defer so often to the desires of others that I really have no idea what I am feeling inside?

I spent a lot of time discerning where it is in my body that I feel the response to my choices of “this” or “that”? Given a day to fill with anything or everything it took a lot to distinguish what calls to me and what does not.

The many stories I have about what I “should” do, say, and think kept getting in the way. I found myself reserving and then canceling hotel after hotel as I got clearer that I want a small hotel offering a personalized experience as close to nature as possible.

As I got clarity about when and what I wanted to eat, where I wanted to stay and the experiences I wanted to attract things got easier and easier. Towards the end of the trip, I was working more with “how much is enough?” and receiving with grace.




It surprised me how much my expectations influenced my response to everything around me.

Each town and each place I visited was very different from my imaginings.

When my expectations were too high, it appeared to me that someone else had to be at fault for disappointing me. But since I was alone that someone else is usually me... When foreign customs and language created misunderstandings it was usually my expectation that these things should be familiar that was the actual problem.

It was my story about how things should be that created my biggest challenges.

Over and over again foreign travel has shown me that there are many “right” ways to do things. It forces me to be more adaptable and opens my frame of reference and always seems to bring me back to myself.

Does that happen for you, too? Why is it so hard for us to see things as they are instead of as we are?



Doubt, Fear, and Lack were my constant companions. I am grateful for all of the work I have done over the years to keep them from dominating my choices.

There were many days I wanted to give up and take an easier, safer path but I am proud of the way I was able to keep them at bay long enough to conquer my fear of driving a stick shift up steep and narrow village alleys, of standing on the edge of a cliff over the rocky sea, of eating alone in a nice restaurant, or walking into a room full of strangers and turning them into intimate friends, or paying real money for tours, guides, and good meals.

I was able to get lost, find my way again, discern friend from foe, and find whom to ask for help when I needed it.

And I was able to recognize my own inner voice quietly guiding me along the way.



Another obstacle is my tendency to overpack. I noticed that I don’t just overpack my suitcase, but I overpack my days trying to fulfill a checklist of my own creation.

I struggle with balance and my story is that more is always better.

Over the month I improved at balancing rest and self-care with curiosity and adventure. I even came to the understanding that bringing presence and awareness to one activity could be enough to fill a day.


My treasures from this experience are the people who shared their stories, their accomplishments, and their days with me.

I was able to deepen old friendships and begin new ones everywhere I went. I met a man who created his own utopia out of the stone schist of the steep mountainside, young people opening up to the fullness of their purpose and life path, others who left the country of their origin to make Portugal into their home, people who graciously shared themselves and the things they love about this beautiful country, others who created experiences and opportunities to welcome and entertain the curious.

I was surrounded by passion and warmth everywhere I went. My heart is bigger and more open from this experience.





The Portuguese people are very kind, they move slowly, honor family and keep themselves close to nature's rhythm. Rest, connection and nourishment are the foundation for everything else.

I imagine our constant motion and busyness look very odd to them.


Fearless vulnerability is something I believe is critical to full artistic expression. Your art is all about how YOU see the world and your viewers want to see your truth and authenticity. Challenging your limits expands your ability to respond to your circumstances.

By embracing our obstacles and celebrating joy I think we step fully into improvisational living; “life as art”.


One of my friends once said, "you can't get lost during vacation because travel is all about adventure and improvisation". It is on journeys such as mine that discoveries are made. When you are fully present with what "is" then anything becomes possible. Perhaps you feel something new and exciting is calling you too?

I discovered that I am happier, more compassionate, and more generous now than I have ever been.


Facing my fears, conquering obstacles, and braving new situations brought me confidence and trust in my own resourcefulness.


I hope that next year you will join me on a journey of artistic discovery in Portugal. I am planning an 8-day retreat in the western Algarve next June and I would love to include you. Please reach out to me if you are interested so we can talk more about what would light you up too. I will have many more details to share with you next month.

With Light and Delight,

Once I have a basic tonal value sketch based on a photograph it’s time to use my magical artistic powers to transform or "re-vision" the image into art. As an artist, I have the power to make my paintings sing or create a believable new world enclosed within its four edges. To build your skills beyond being a copyist and become more expressive in your work you have to see beyond the photograph and then build on it.




I always start with my focal point. This is the first place I want the viewer's eye to land. An important rule of composition is that the eye is attracted to the greatest point of value contrast before any other contrast. The human eye is drawn to something light set against something darker or vice versa. By carefully using tone you can create, or strengthen, the focal point in your paintings.


Next, I examine my three-dimensional forms: A careful transition of light and dark tones on a subject gives the illusion of three-dimensional form. It is not the color that makes an apple look like an apple. It is the contour and the form shadow that describe its shape and texture. You could color it blue or yellow, and it will still look like an apple if the tones are right.



Using tone correctly also creates an illusion of depth; the farther away an object is from the viewer the more it takes on the value of the background.

Repetition of particular shapes also adds rhythm and meaning. Rounded forms are more sensual and comforting, angular shapes more threatening, and geometric shapes more conventional. I look for areas where I can adjust my shapes to add emotion at this stage.




Capturing emotion is an art in and of itself, and it’s not automatic. Allowing one value tone to dominate your painting can play a significant role in developing mood and visual impact. Out of the three aspects of color, (hue, value, and saturation) value is the predominant mood maker!

Whether you work in realism or abstraction, planning and revising your work to strengthen the tonal values will produce stronger, more meaningful artwork.



Restricting the range of values is another way you can direct the mood of your artwork. This is called the “Major Key”. A limited tonal range at the light end of the value scale is called “High Major Key” and a limited tonal range at the dark end of the value scale is called “Low Major Key”.

Low-key paintings dominated by darks have a dramatic mood conveying things we sense about darkness, such as mystery, intrigue, fear, danger or sanctuary.

High key paintings dominated by pale colors give the sense of being bathed in light, setting a more ethereal mood. They can suggest optimism, clarity, and life, but there is also the danger of appearing weak, vague, and washed out.

“Minor Key” is manipulating the contrast (difference) between the darkest dark and the lightest light in your value range. The greater the contrast (difference) between the dark and the light tones, the more the visual intensity or dynamic increases. The greater the affinity (closeness in tones) the more the visual intensity or dynamic decreases.

You might want to experiment by transforming your value sketch using several different Major/Minor Key combinations to evaluate their impact on the mood of your piece. If you are skilled with ProCreate or Adobe Photoshop this is a very simple process.

Below is a chart with a variety of Major/Minor Key settings for you to contemplate.



Now that you know that you are probably missing visual information about the world around you, see if you can awaken your perception to notice whether or not an apple is truly red when it looks violet at twilight.

Can you actually see the violet apple, but still know it is red? Does your brain effortlessly subtract the blueish veil from the red apple and “restore” the “true color”.

What happens when you try to see what is actually there, not what you think you see?

It is fun to play this mind game with color and tone, real and not real, seeing and perceiving, truth and invention. Can you see how much easier it will be to apply your color and have fun with color contrast once you have your tonal value sketch ready? I will dig deeper into the application of color in another newsletter.

Training yourself to “see like an artist” opens up a whole world of perception that has been waiting for you to awaken to it. Suddenly you will begin to see things in your daily life in a way you never noticed before.

Jonathan Swift says “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

For this we have to be a little courageous, we have to experiment and try, we have to make mistakes and trust that our perceptions will expand through experimentation. Once you can open yourself to this way of seeing you can paint pictures that jar regular people out of their well-worn habits of seeing.


If you are interested in understanding more about tonal values and still only have a blurry idea about how artists see, reach out to me and let’s talk. I welcome the conversation and I am available for private classes or workshops. I hope you will use these thoughts to strengthen your perceptions and your paintings. Regardless of your art form, understanding how to play with tonal values can significantly improve your creations. With Light and Delight,

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