It’s time for another interview 😀
Today we’re going to talk with Suzette from @xo_theartist on Instagram!
She’s an amazing letterer and her watercolor pieces are beautiful <3
We actually used Skype to do this interview. It was so exciting, because I’ve never talked to her in person + I rarely video chat! But I loved it so much!
I tried my very best to type it out 🙂
It’s so nice to talk to you!
I only know you from instagram, so I don’t really know a lot about you. I’d love to get to know you better!
Tell me some things about yourself and tell me some fun facts about you!
Hi, I’m Suzette I live togerher with my husband and my two kids. My daughter is 11 and my son is turning 6.
For people who follow me on Instagram, everybody knows that I bake a lot when I’m not doing household work or something like that. Next to calligraphy, I like cooking. And because my family loves sweets and desserts in general, I started teaching myself how to bake.
So that’s my other passion, besides lettering and painting watercolors, and every once in a while I bring goods to work and they love me for that, hahaha. Sheryl tells me she wants to be my neighbor. And I tell her: of course you can be my neigbour! I need someone to test my bakings for the first time!
Hahahaha, I can imagine! I want to be your neighbor too!
I would love you guys to be my neighbours! We could party all the time!
Before I discovered calligraphy, I used to, well every once in a while, paint with watercolors.
That’s so cool! I love to cook, but I’m a terrible baker, hahaha!
But hey, did you like the interview with Sheryl? Since she’s one of your best friends too 🙂
I enjoyed it very much! I feel like she’s my other twin. She’s one of my closest friends. Actually, she is one of the very few that became my friend since I joined the calligraphy challenge on Instagram. I was so, so, so nervous when I created my other account which is solely for calligraphy and artwork. I didn’t know what to expect. Again, I’m not a very extravert person, like to putting yourself out there and make friends. It’s always that ‘hesitation’ first. So that was a big thing for me. Now I’m so glad I did it, because you know, now sometimes I try to encourage the new ones. Like posting little comments here and there makes a big difference. That’s how you really make friends. Before I just used to say ‘hi’, ‘thank you’, … and at least now I can comment a little more, hahaha. Sheryl was so friendly and she messaged me and she’s always so encouraging.
You know, what I find is, sometimes we’re too nervous when we’re doing stuff for the first time. But I’ve found that, you don’t have to worry so much about what other people have to say or think. I mean, for me what I found, there are more encouraging people and people that will be proud than you will ever know.
That is such great advice. And what you say is so true. I always worry too much about what other people think.. I took me a while to tell people about my blog and only my closest friends know about it now.
But Suzette, you know I love your work!
When did you start lettering and watercoloring?
Actually, as far as I remember, I always liked to draw. I grew up in the Phillipines, and there we didn’t have a lot of materials. At least not where I lived. I only had the Crayola supertips and pencils. I would draw every once in a while. And then I went to college and started computer engineering. So it was mostly math. But we had a drafting course, and I loved that. That was about the only subject I looked forward too because at least I could draw something there; hahahaha.
After I completed my degree, I moved to Canada. Basically, I totally forgot about painting. And then I met my husband and we went traveling. And about 15 years ago we bought a house. We finally lived in a bigger house, and I had a little bit of time off and I thought to myself: I want to try a new hobby. And then, I don’t know why, but I just saw there was a watercoloring course. So I decided to try it. It was very basic, but I got hooked after that. I started painting, but it was more like detailed paintings where you have to sketch first. I used to do it on those really small canvasses, because when you first start, you’re like so scared to do a big piece.
After that course, I got pregnant and I never touched watercolors again.
All this time, I had basically forgotten about it and then 6 years later I had my son. A while after that I stopped working because I had two kids and I needed to spend more time with them.
When my son was 4, he started going to school, and I wanted to go back to work because I missed it. I just wasn’t the type to stay at home. I’d go crazy.
So I was job hunting and I started baking again. I was frustrated and I couldn’t find my way back to work. It was very hard, and after a while and out of frustration, I started using watercolors again and I wanted to connect with other people on Instagram that also used watercolors. And that eventually led me to the lettering and the calligraphy. And I was just like “wow”. I was so blown away. In the back of my mind I’ve been wanting to do it too, but I never had the courage to do it. So then I actually tried the pointed pen and it was just a mess. It was a mess, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was really frustrating for me when I first tried it and I so wanted to learn it, but I was so, so bad at it! You have to pick up ink all the time. All the preparation drove me crazy, so I said “forget about it”. And then I saw the ‘Show Me Your Drills Challenge’ with The Happy Ever Crafter, and she used brush pens. so thought: at least with this you don’t have to worry about your materials. You buy it, and you’re good to go.
But in the end, you picked it up again, you started writing with the oblique pen again.
Yes. So, last September/October I used mostly brush pens, until the challenge ended. And then in December, when I thought I was ok with the brush lettering and I was pretty much comfortable with the letters, I decided to try it again. So I did a little bit of research here and there and I watched many videos on the internet and the very first thing that they said is “use the G nib”.
We only have very limited art stores here, so I ordered it from the internet and it was like 10 nibs in the pack for the Zebra G. So I tried it, and OH MY GOD, what was wrong with it?!
My main problem with the nib was that the ink wouldn’t stick onto the nib and then I tried to write and there was no ink! It was so frustrating! This was driving me crazy. So, I hated the Zebra G. And now I still hate the Zebra G. So I tried something else. Over the holidays, they had some sales. So I bought all these samples of all different nibs, and oh my, it was like a HALLELUJAH moment. So, I got this oblique pen and it was a very good one. I thought was pretty expensive, but it actually was pretty cheap. I think, for a beginner, you don’t have to spend too much money on these materials. That was a big thing for me.
The very first nib that I really, really liked and that I fell in love with was the Leonardt EF Principal.
So that was it, that’s how I started to like copperplate calligraphy and calligraphy in general.
And so I started really practicing in January.
That’s so cool! I’m gonna learn a lot from you! When I’m gonna look for a good nib, you’re gonna be my person!
Your work is so good. I see your work on Instagram, but I’ve never seen it in real life. When I got your card, I was blown away. You are just amazing.
I started making friends on Instagram. And I love Instagram because of the community and the support. At some point, someone asked me: do you sell your work? And I said: I just don’t feel like I’m good enough to sell my work. So I told them I don’t sell it, but I would love to send it to whoever would want it.
Well, I think your work is good enough for selling!
Oh, thank you! But anyway, I said, whoever is interested, just let me know and I’ll send it to you. My cards have been sent as far away as to Australia and I’m glad that it’s made its way to you! I’m just happy that somebody is able to appreciate it. That’s my main thing.
I’m so happy with it! <3 Are there people who inspired you to start lettering and painting in particular?
In the lettering community that would be Suzanne Cunningham. She’s like the master of flourishing. I love, love, love her. There’s also Paul Antonio. When I heard he was coming to Toronto last May I thought I was going to die. I’ve never attended a workshop before and I was so, so nervous. First of all, attending his workshop is like WOW. His workshop was the first workshop I attended and it was very memorable for me. Apart from them, there’s also Nina. She inspired me so much because she does a lot of live videos on Instagram. The thing is, she’s just one of the people, when I meet her, I would probably hug her, because she’s so GIVING. She answers so many questions and she does it for free and in her own free time. She’s one of the most generous people on Instagram I know. I learned a lot from her.
For watercoloring, there’s a few of them, like Yao Cheng and @kuminyoung_artist on instagram.
Do you have any favorite materials? You told me about of some of your favorite nibs, but what do you like to use for watercoloring? Are there any other specific materials?
I’ll tell you a little secret. Because I like watercolors, you can see I like colors in my work.
Blue is my favorite color. And for my lettering, most of the inks that I use, I mix up. I use food coloring and Arabic gum. It’s only for practice and it’s perfect for me. It’s so cheap and you have so many colors! You don’t have to spend a lot of money in order for you to be creative. I would love to buy all these ‘nice’ products, but for now, I’m good. I have a good oblique pen holder and I have the nibs I like.
For my watercoloring I use Winsor and Newton Professional watercolors which I still have from the courses I followed in the beginning. There’s also the Daniel Smith watercolors. They are amazing. They go a long, long way.
For my brushes, they’re actually really inexpensive too. You can buy the Princeton brushes and they are not as expensive as some others, but they work really fine. I don’t recommend buying all this expensive stuff, especially when you’re starting out.
Those are some wonderful tips!
I’’m so curious to know where you work best. Do you have like a studio where you do all your work?
I wish I had a studio. We always talk about how we want something, like the pretty pictures we see on Instagram, hahaha. Right now, I work in our basement. We have an extra room there. It barely has any windows. That’s why all my pictures on Instagram are so horrible, hahahaha. I don’t have that nice natural lighting. I shared a room with my husband, because that’s his computer room and I have a desk over there. A long time ago, when I was first learning how to paint with watercolors, he bought me this table for Christmas. It’s like a drafting table. So I’m still using it now although it doesn’t work quite as well for my calligraphy, because it’s at an angle. So that’s what I have. Nothing fancy. 😉
I think we all would want a studio 😉
And besides that, I think your pictures on Instagram are wonderful!
Are there some things you still struggle with?
Definitly. So, the thing is, both lettering and watercoloring are a work in progress. I love both, but if I don’t don’t practice half an hour or a few minutes a day, it’s like starting all over againg.
Like there was a time when I completely didn’t practice at all. At nighttime, when I have the energy to do so, I try to practice.
Another one of my challenges is the spacing between my letters. That’s something that I’ve been working on. And also, the strokes. I don’t like writing ‘M’ and ‘N’ and letters like the ‘Y’ and the ‘G’.
The compound curve is so difficult. Even Paul Antonia says the most difficult name to write is ‘Emma’.
I also had difficulties with the Tombow Dual Tip brush pens. I think I like smaller brush pens better.
Are there any surprising lessons that you have learned along the way?
Yes. There’s no shortcut to practice. You really have to put in effort. That’s really one thing that I’ve learned so far. You have to do your work and sometimes it’s good to look at different artists to see how they do it. That doesn’t mean that you have to copy them or the way they work.
Different artists spend so much of their time trying to practice and that’s why they’re so good at what they do. I have an expectation of myself of what I can and cannot do and the thing is that I have this high standard but I also know that I have to put a lot of effort in it in order for me to achieve it. I can already see that I’m improving, even if it’s only a little. To me, to see a little improvement is a lot. When you see little changes, when you recognize it looks different. Just concentrate on one thing at a time. Set your priorities.
What are some of the pieces you created that you are really proud of?
There is one that I did recently. I think it was more memorably for me because I didn’t expect it to turn out that well, but it did. It was a car painting. My co-worker was leaving and the first thing that came in my mind was that I wanted to give him something special. And I remembered he loves his car. As soon as I got home, I started working on it. I literally googled it on the internet and I think within 2 hours, I was able to produce it. I showed it to my husband and he said ‘wow, you did this?! It’s so beautiful!’. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces right now. I put lettering on it afterwards too and let all my other co-workers sign it too. We gave it to him the other day and he was beyond happy.
beautiful painting she did for her husband
Do you have other tips for people who just start watercoloring?
It’s frustrating to start. But I always say: there are so many distractions when you look at other people’s work on Instagram, that it can be hard to find what YOU want to do. Think about what you really, really want to do. Is there a particular flower that appeals to you? Then paint that one over and over again. Take a break in between because it doesn’t come out the way we want to the first time we do it. But the more you do it, the better it’s going to be. Pick a simple one that you think you can do first, because that builds up your confidence. And once you feel comfortable doing it then move on to the next one. But it should always feel like “because you want to do it”, because YOU like it. Start with one thing and do it over and over again until you feel more comfortable. Also, when you work with watercolors, paper makes a big difference. You don’t have to buy the super expensive paper, but just make sure that it’s a 140 pounds. Not less than that, because that will just buckle.
Thank you so much for the interview! I really loved it and I’ve learned so much from you!
I’d love to see you in person some day! <3