Late last year I received a scrumptious surprise package containing two beautiful art prints from New York-based multi-media graphic artist Susan Canaday Henry. She knew just what to send - one was a lovely pastel-hued scene with a rendering in her own style of Marie Antoinette languishing on a chaise longue. I love the shades of blues, pinks and purples she used and would be happy to live forever in this room. (Especially if I had Ladies in Waiting as seen in the shadows. Oh wait, that would be weird, wouldn't it? I like to get dressed by myself. Maybe one to bring me tea and macarons every afternoon, that would work.)
The other is the Empress Wu Zetian, the only woman in Chinese history to rule as emperor. The composition is gorgeously coloured in saturated blush, flame hues and crimson. Susan has outfitted her in long, dramatic stripes and an intriguing headdress. Her commanding presence against a backdrop of hazy dawn-lit mountains creates a portrait of power and serenity.
What struck me first about Susan's works was the harmony of the beautiful colours in each, and what looked to be delicately hand drawn detail and watercolour layering in Marie Antoinette and painterly brushstrokes in I didn't want Susan to give away any secrets but was curious how she created these images, and lucky for us she was willing to talk about it!
"The drawings all start as pencil/watercolor and then are oomphed digitally--- I think that's what gives them a sort of dreamy look.
"I get a lot of feedback that the colors in my illustrations are very bright, yet nuanced. I don't want to give secrets, but I think the watercolor base gives a weird glow to anything digital, and I aim to make sure you can still see the hand drawn beginnings of my illustrations. I think so much today is too digitized, too clean. I approach Photoshop like makeup: not too heavy, but enough to add distinction. And layer, layer, layer! Add to that a background in traditional animation (I studied a lot of Golden Age Disney, UPA & Warner Brothers at Pratt Institute) and numerous visits to the Metropolitan to gaze at classics... mix it all together, and these are the results. It took a long time to get comfortable with my style because there's a natural inclination to want to produce what is popular, but I've also found that this is what makes me unique, and have learned better to embrace it.
"The Marie Antoinette print really helped me with that. So many people responded to it, that I finally made it available as a print, and it's my best selling image. Marie Antoinette is my favorite, but so is the Empress Wu Zetian. Like many powerful female leaders, she has such a fascinating (and ruthless) story behind her rise. I am hoping to continue the portrait series of Empresses and Queens in the new year."
Susan is such a faceted, talented creative - and she's fun, too! - so I'll be featuring more of her work on Swelle and talking to her about it.
If you can't wait - and you shouldn't! - see Susan's website Pop Fantastic which showcases her illustration and animation work. I just love her And, Darling...conversations films. Zing!
To see the range of Susan's art prints including Marie Antoinette and Empress Wu Zetian, you can visit her shop on Society 6
Marie Antoinette art print detail by Susan Canaday Henry
Empress Wu Zetian art print by Susan Canaday Henry