Artist Profile Story by Jamey Bradbury
“I tried to do what I was supposed to do, and it just wasn’t working,” says Sue Dranchak, who attempted to follow a “normal” career path working for the Alaska Department of Transportation – until fate seemingly told her to embrace her artistic ambitions.
“I had winters off, that way I could make money all summer, then do art all winter,” she explains. “It was a way to support myself while I figured out how to make a living with art, and it took a long time.”
Eventually, though, she reached a point where “everything that was supposed to support me was holding me back.” Sales of her original acrylic paintings were generating more income than her state job, and she found herself needing to dedicate more time to creating new pieces. “That’s when I knew it was time to go.”
Today, Sue works out of her studio in Homer, where she paints in an abstract realistic style inspired by her connection with nature. She drips and drags acrylic paint colors onto a canvas laid flat on her table, effortlessly rendering the details of a roaming bear or a scene of trees in autumn.
It’s a short walk from her studio to the beach, where Sue explores the offerings left on the wet sand by the ebbing tide. Jellyfish, kelp, tangles of seaweed – these are the inspiration for her most recent collection, tentatively called “Tidal Offerings.” She snaps photos of what she finds, then sketches preliminary drawings. “I try not to rearrange the composition of what I find too much, and paint what’s been provided by the sea,” she describes.
When she paints, her palette is anything but subdued. Perhaps it’s the influence of the Arizona landscape; Sue and her husband divide their time between Alaska and the Southwest. While other artists often strive to achieve earthier tones in their more realistic paintings, Sue doesn’t dilute her colors. The effect results in vibrant pieces that reflect the inspiration she receives from the radically different terrain and range of colors.
“I keep going back and forth between locales, and it keeps me from getting in a rut,” Sue explains. So does her habit of switching from project to project – she typically has 20 paintings going on at a time and will work on whatever catches her eye on a particular day. “If you’re self-employed, you’ve got to be self-motivated, so I’m there every day putting in the time. Going back and forth with subject matter, it’s like crop rotation. It keeps things fresh.”
It also allows her to make surprising connections. Observant viewers can detect how patterns and colors that appear in her Tidal Offerings collection also make their way into her paintings of Arizona cactuses.
Regardless of her inspiration, the origin of her subject matter all goes back to nature, and to the early days she spent living in a rustic one-room cabin while she attended UAF. There, she walked and skied a local trail system and grew to realize the sustenance she received from being outdoors.
“To have that meditative quality that gives our mind a break seems really important to me,” she says. Those walks in the woods eventually led her to create the Meditation Forest series, inspired by the boreal forest, and her Autumn’s Journey collection, which reflects her favorite time of year in Alaska. “You’ve got to unplug and get away from all the day to day work routines and find that connection in nature. Hopefully, my art has that effect on people. If there’s a message in my art, then that would be part of it.”