Botanical Meets Mechanical, Cover Artist Sue Steele Thomas
The lines, the curves, the irrefutable suggestion of thrumming horsepower waiting to be untethered – there are a thousand reasons for Sue Steele Thomas’s automotive passion. Those reasons lie at the center of a pulse-pounding exhibition at The Bascom.
As far back as she can remember, Sue Steele Thomas has had a love affair with art … and cars.
The clean lines, sculptural forms, and reflective surfaces had her at vroom. That was back in the ‘80s and she’s still loving every detail about automobiles, from their smell to their sound to their look.
“Some people think a woman liking cars is crazy, but I really do like automobiles,” she says. “When I started painting auto images, I was pretty much the only female at any gathering. I approached my work from a painterly point of view. Then someone suggested I go to community college and study mechanical drawing so that I could nail down perspective, proportion, and the math of it all. I found a young student who tutored me in math while I walked him through fluidity of organic line. That technical study gave me and my work the authenticity I needed.”
“Along the way I fused the botanical to the mechanical. Flowers, trees, shadows, and car surfaces merged into an amalgam of nature-made and man-made shapes. That style was inspired by a friend who said, ‘Find something uniquely you, then carve out your niche in the automotive world.’ BAE (best advice ever).”
Perhaps Sue’s strongest influence was her husband, Radford. When she met him, he had seven cars. In his lifetime he’s owned 80, from Jags to Packards. Since marriage, they’ve had all kinds of cars.
She says, “We are both fascinated with vehicles. On occasion we still drive to dealers and wax poetic over an automobile’s aesthetic.”
When Sue isn’t painting cars, looking at cars, or photographing them, she’s teaching. She was a college art professor for nearly two decades. The past two years she’s taught kids, pre-K through five.
It was a huge shift, but a glorious one.
She says, “When you tell a college student to darken a value, they’ll likely argue/complain. When you ask a pre-schooler, they’ll run to their table, make the change, run back to you for a high five.”
Even though Sue’s shadow work looks supremely complex, she insists it’s simple … simple lines, simple shapes, simple forms using the basic principles and elements of design. And yes, it’s drawn in pencil by hand and painted, repainted, and unpainted to perfection. No digital work here!
Sue’s a fine watercolorist, but she incorporates opaque gouache into her compositions. She might spend most of her day mixing paint and pigment to get just the right consistency and color, not too thick, not too thin or the paint will crack or be transparent. It’s a tricky balance requiring scores if not hundreds of test samples.
You can see the results of her meticulous prep and final products at The Bascom’s FreeWheeling exhibition in the Bunzl Gallery, May 11 through August 21. This special showing is in partnership with Highlands Motoring Festival.
Learn more about Sue’s process and background by visiting steelethomasstudios.com.