Interview with Artist and Illustrator Susan Merrick

Hello! Once again, a s part of The Breathing Ghosts Series Blog’s open call for interviews, stories, writing and artwork, I’m thrilled to introduce this interview with artist and illustrator Susan Merrick. (On Twitter and Facebook.) Her recent work for Veronika Sophia Robinson’s Cycle to the Moon was also featured as part of the October Feminism in London conference, and she recently created an animated music video for The Glass Child. So here she is…

Pavement ArtSusan Merrick (image used with permission)

1. Hi Susan, and welcome to The Breathing Ghosts Series blog! For those not familiar with your art, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work? 

Hi Eleanor! A bit about me. Well I am a Yorkshire red head but I now live in Hampshire and constantly mess with my hair colour! My husband and I have two children and my pregnancies and their births are what ultimately led me back to Art and also feminism. Always creating from a young age I for many years created only for myself and friends. After having my children I became very aware of a real need within me to paint, draw, sketch and get anything I could down on canvas, paper or even skin! My post university training was as a British Sign Language Interpreter so I have always worked with the visual. In the past eighteen months I have stepped away from Interpreting more and I am spending most of my time illustrating, painting and more recently animating!

2. Your work arguably explores themes such as feminism, body image, pregancy and life cycles. Why are such themes important to you, and where/how do you find inspiration? 

Wow, good questions and yes it does! As my creative energy returned with my pregnancies it was natural for me to paint with pregnancy in mind. During this time I also supported several women as a birth doula and the power that I saw in women alongside such a vulnerable time was the most amazing inspiration. Seeing such raw emotion and natural instincts (which were so visible when the birth spaces were protected) was a real honour and privilege to see.
My work as a doula and my own birth experiences has taken me on a journey of my own that has ultimately led me to become a member of AIMS (association of Improvement to Maternity Services). So many women are ‘told’ what to do in pregnancies, and mostly from health professionals. We have lost so much faith in our own bodies and our own choices and decision making around birth often through fear. I find that so much language used between women and from health professionals during and around pregnancy is so destructive that this gets in the way of or complicates our decision making. It’s these elements that have brought me back into the world of human rights, as rights in pregnancy and birth are quite often completely ignored and it horrifies me.
In terms of body image and life cycles this although starting with my first pregnancy really came about with my decision to start removing some chemicals from my life. I chose to stop using chemicals in relation to contraception and sanitary products choosing instead more natural physical products and becoming, for the first time in my life, fully aware of my cycle and how it affects me. Around this time I also read the wonderful book The Red Tent, which really brought me back to the feminine. I had actually spent many years feeling either that it shouldn’t matter that I was a woman, or that it was a pain at times that I was. To change that attitude to celebrate my womanhood instead was pretty liberating. This is what Veronika does in her book Cycle to the Moon and it’s why I was so thrilled to illustrate it. Veronika initially asked me to do about 10 images but I couldn’t stop as I was so inspired by the topic!
I find that an awareness of your own body can be liberating in terms of not only acceptance, but also of sexuality and sensuality. Truly listening to our bodies can be amazing and much of my Art comes from this place of awakening.
3. Do you have any upcoming projects? 
I have just finished animating a music video for the truly talented female singer/song writer Charlotte Eriksson (The Glass Child). I believe in going for your dreams and accepting challenges and this is what I did with this animation. Charlotte asked me in the summer if I would consider animating a video for a single on her new album and I had to say yes as her music is so beautiful! So a complete animation novice I started to teach myself and create the video in synch at the start of September. It’s now finished and it was released this week. ‘Yesterday – The Glass Child’ I hope you love it as much as I did creating it!
I also have an exciting collaboration with The Mother Magazine who have an amazing crowd funding project at the moment called ‘Mother’s Connect’.They have an app part developed that will connect mothers everywhere in terms of common interests/parenting style/locality etc and it is really amazing. I have several products available with them, some of which are only available through their packages, so go and take a look at what they have on offer!

4. What do you find challenging and rewarding about being an artist? 

Challenging : having the time to create whenever I want to just create. I have many things in my life as do we all, but often inspiration strikes at any random time and I can’t always just go for it! So I usually try to do a quick sketch or note about it so that I can come back to it later. But that can be really frustrating. My husband has occasionally asked me why I’ve gone quiet in the car and it may be because I am creating an image in my head from a cloud I’ve just seen or an advert on a truck!
Rewarding : meeting with inspirational people or writers who I can have time to speak with, sit with or listen to and get in their heads to know what they want from me. It doesn’t always happen so easily but when it does it really works and is soooooo rewarding!
 
5. And finally…any words of advice for any other aspiring artists out there? 
Don’t be afraid to call yourself an Artist. If you create, then you are an artist. In my view it’s not defined by what you earn, how much you do or what you do. It’s about acknowledging how it makes you feel to create it.  And create what you want to create. I recently chatted to a wonderful woman at the feminism conference and she told me she had been doing art classes. She wasn’t ‘feeling it’ she said and often wasn’t happy with her work. When I asked her what she liked to paint she told me a wonderful tale about a piece she had done for her daughter which had really meant something to her. Once we talked about it she realised that the class was giving her great skills but that for work she would love she needed to allow her inspiration to choose her focus.

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