by Carol Hopkins
Sitting on the deck of Susan McIntyre’s holiday home, looking out onto the sparkling waters of Taylor Bay through a frame of graceful gums, it’s easy to see why this accomplished artist calls Lake Eildon her “happy place”.
“I’ve had a connection with Eildon since I was a child and I still love it,” Susan says. “I think it’s my place of contentment, my happy place. When I’m painting in my studio here it makes me feel really good inside.”
Susan first started coming to Lake Eildon on camping trips with her family in 1958, a time when there were hardly any other people or boats around. This sowed the seeds for a life-long passion for the area.
“I’ve been coming up here all my life and I really feel it’s part of me. I think it’s a part of the world I could almost say I love the most.”
Although living in Melbourne, Susan does most of her painting at the holiday home. She says being immersed in a beautiful environment – being able to actually see and feel the natural world around her – “fires up” her creativity.
“Even looking out of my bedroom window, having cups of tea, I feel inspired.”
At the moment, Susan is focusing on painting scenes of the lake. She uses acrylic paints and particularly loves to capture the varying moods of the lake as they change with the light, the weather and the seasons.
Susan is also fascinated by the Lake Eildon skies. “I love the big skies here and the skies at night are just magical, so full of stars.”
Before turning her attention to Lake Eildon landscapes, Susan spent many years painting seascapes around Sorrento and Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula. Her work was very well received with two local galleries exhibiting and selling almost all of the paintings she produced. When those galleries eventually – and sadly – closed, Susan found inspiration in the Australian outback, prompted by a trip to Maree, Oodnadatta and Coober Pedy in northern South Australia. The colours and contrasts of these stark landscapes resulted in a series of striking paintings that Susan hopes to exhibit in the future.
But landscape painting is not the only area of Susan’s expertise. Early in her career as an artist, Susan focussed on botanical art, after studying with renowned artist Jenny Phillips at the Botanical Art School of Melbourne.
“I loved doing that very fine and detailed watercolour work,” Susan says.
Susan’s botanical art was so accomplished it was selected to decorate the specialty tins and bottles that Myer produced for their Christmas cakes, puddings and sauces. She also sold many of her works at exhibitions.
However, after taking a break from painting to care for her sick mother, Susan found that she had lost her creative drive.
“I was feeling empty inside and I wondered if I was ever going to get that urge back to paint again because it had just gone, and I loved it so much it just concerned me what was happening.”
That’s when Susan decided to move away from botanical art and “do something bigger” using large canvases and acrylic paints. However, Susan found that her background in botanical art still managed to creep into these paintings, particularly when she was depicting the grasses and bushes that formed the foreground to her coastal scenes.
Rather uniquely, Susan came to her career as an artist from the world of high fashion. After spending two years training as a secondary school art and craft teacher, she realised teaching wasn’t really for her and switched to fashion design. This proved to be an inspired move. On completing her Diploma in Fashion Design from RMIT she not only received an award from Norma Tullo, the celebrated Melbourne fashion designer, but was also offered a job in her fashion house. Within a year, Susan was appointed head designer and was sent all over the world to look at clothing collections and purchase fabrics. She remained with the company for ten years.
“It was a fabulous job for me working with design, sketching, colours and fabrics,” Susan says.
Susan is currently compiling a collection of Norma Tullo clothes and accessories and hopes to mount an exhibition at some stage to celebrate the work of this outstanding fashion designer from the 1960s and 1970s.
As well as pursuing her own artistic interests, Susan has a long history of helping pre-school children to express their creativity. For around thirty years she has been a co-educator at the Yarra Warra Preschool in North Warrandyte. It’s a role she has loved and, she says, some of the collaborative artworks the children have produced have been “fabulous”.
Susan’s art is an ongoing journey. “With your art you are always evolving. I am doing my Eildon paintings now, but I’ll evolve into something else. I’m trying to loosen up a bit and I may even try something abstract.”
One thing is for sure, Susan will keep on painting, not the least because it gives her such joy and contentment. “When I’m painting, I really feel it’s ‘me’. It’s something that is so compatible with who I am.”
And what better place to feel this way than in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Eildon.
If you would like to know more about Susan’s work you can visit her Instagram page: @art_of_smcintyre or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.