Women in Art History

As so often happens, circumstances necessitated a temporary pause in posts here on the StudioSS blog. Now that summer is here, though, Suzanne is back and dedicating time to her homemade MFA program.

(OK, be prepared for a shift from the 3rd person to the 1st. This is Suzanne writing and if I don’t completely shift, the whole post is going to be a mess of competing POVs).

Khan Academy

I have been working on the Khan Academy Art History program, slowly, and have made it to a unit about Renaissance Art. Every new unit I come to, I just keep thinking….why are people so…UGH. If we could just leave other people’s things alone, things would be so much better. But now, we have to leave our own marks and ransack the cities of cultures we don’t “agree” with.


This post said it was about WOMEN in art history, so, I’m here to start posting about a new art project I’ve started — 50 before 50. My 50th birthday is June 24, 2022. I don’t even know how that’s a real year, but apparently it’s going to happen. Some people do 50 before 50 bucket lists, where they check off adventures. However, I’m a nerd and I’m making 50 zines about 50 women artists over the next year. I have a list of about 75 (so far) to pull from and I’m sure I’ll be finding more to make the choices each week even harder.

I am reading a book called Broad Strokes : 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) by Bridget Quinn and decided I would start with the women in her book. First up: Artemisia Gentileschi.

Selfies in the 1600s? Yes.

Self Portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s, Palazzo Barberini, Rome
Self Portrait, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s, Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Artemisia’s father taught her to paint and she quickly outgrew him. She earned honors that were very unusual for women at the time — the fact that she had been taught to paint was almost unheard of. Her paintings were depictions of scenes from mythology, allegory, and the Bible. She was especially known for her paintings of women, which showed them with more strength and power than they were usually painted by men. She had the advantage of being able to use herself as a model and a number of her paintings were self-portraits.

Different Perspective

Susanna and the Elders, 1610, earliest of her surviving works, Schönborn Collection, Pommersfelden
Susanna and the Elders, 1610, earliest of her surviving works, Schönborn Collection, Pommersfelden
Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–1620, 199×162 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–1620, 199×162 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Her painting of Susanna shows the distress in the women’s face and body language. Many other paintings of this scene depict Susanna almost as if she were receptive to the attentions of the elders. Ick.

Her version of Judith is very powerful and graphic — many other painters of this era didn’t include any blood! Judith is clearly very powerful and not at all squeamish about her task.

Artemisia’s Story

Her personal life has trauma, so if you do read more about her, please be aware of that. I am purposely not including the specifics here.

I have also read the book Blood Water Paint — a novel in verse by Joy McCullough. It is quite excellent. I was in tears for Artemisia by the end, but also felt her strength. Despite the things that happened to her, she was a celebrated, successful artist, at a time when that was almost impossible for women.

The Zine

For my response to everything I learned about her, I created a one-page zine. The colors I chose came from her work and after some messy scribbled journaling about the things I learned, I started added the paint and marks in an intuitive abstract style. I topped off the background with some bits of gold leaf. I used my Canon Ivy printer to print some photos of her work and added some bits of text.

Short video flip-through of my zine, no sound

What’s Next

I think I’m going to continue follow the order of artists in the book mentioned above, so Judith Leyster is up next. She was working at about the same time as Artemisia, but was an artist of the Dutch Golden Age.

“Everything” you need to know about art history

Bargain Art History

Last weekend I was in a bookstore (it’s a pretty rare occurrence in these strange times…). I was excited to find a book with the enticing title of “Art History: Everything you need to know to master the subject–in one book!”

Of course, the first thing I did was open it up and look at the table of contents.

What do you notice?

And then I took pictures and sent them to Shae so someone else could share in my outrage.

I did not look through and see what the ratio of men to women was. Based on the fact that the table of contents was entirely centered on Europe, I am going to guess the ratio was not great.

“ALL” I need to know about art history and you only write about Europe??? No thank you.

Maybe that’s why it was on the discount shelves.

Actual Art History

I finished the section on the Ancient Near East and moved on to Ancient Egyptian art. One of my favorite authors and book series is Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody book series. Peters was actually an Egyptologist (her real name was Barbara Mertz) and Amelia and her family were Egyptologists in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Having read those novels several times, I fancy that I have a tiny bit of Egyptology knolwedge under my belt. Also, watching all those seasons of Stargate seems like it qualifies me to pretend to know something.

(I’m kidding)

I think the most interesting thing I learned was that over the 3000 years that Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted, there was a ton of continuity in the imagery they produced. Here in modern times, our attention span is about 5 minutes. But there are images of kings with similar poses and royal costumes that are 3000 years apart that are very similar.

Egyptians believed in part that this continuity proved that their culture and beliefs were correct. And that the images they created had a power and meaning beyond the image itself. The imagery governed the afterlife and heaven forbid if the king was shown in an image with the wrong tool! His afterlife would be ruined!

What’s Next

I still have to finish Ancient Egypt and then I’ve got Ancient Greece and Rome to look forward to. And I’m not saying that sarcastically! I’m truly enjoying this trip through ancient art and the way that it is presented by Khan Academy is just right for me. The videos and readings are just long enough to get some good information in, and just short enough that I can watch or read one or two here or there.

Which is perfect, since I’m also trying to do a million other projects at the same time!

Drawing and painting girls

Shae and I have talked about how we aren’t very good students. We’re the ones that sit in the back and read ahead and figure stuff out on our own and get a little impatient with everyone else.

Apparently, I’m such a bad student that I can’t even follow the plan I’ve set for myself!

Which is not to say I’m not making any art and seeing any growth — it just means this Make Your Own MFA plan I made isn’t quite going the way I expected. I need to examine that a little bit. In the meantime, I am going to actually post on one of my “scheduled” days (please note that we made a schedule that we both have blithely ignored for most of the month….whoops… and show you some of the drawing I have been doing.

I decided to take Mindy Lacefield’s Acrylic Girl class and learned a ton.

Here’s my first girl:

Don’t miss out on something great just because it could also be difficult. (Most of the time the quotes I use in my journals are there to call myself out….)

I then decided to try the steps in Procreate and created this young lady:

Painted in Procreate using Bardot Brush’s Magic Paper and an acrylic brush

One of the most interesting parts of Mindy’s class was the limited palette: we used a peachy colored paint for the skin (I used a Jane Davenport skin tone, but Mindy uses Folk Art Warm Bisque), Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold, Payne’s Grey, White, Red, and a Blue. Mindy also explained how to use these same colors to create a darker skin tone, but I haven’t tried it yet.

I’ve also spent some time just drawing faces with a pencil or with a pencil brush in Procreate:

I don’t know if this girl is finished or not:

But needless to say, I’m having fun and feeling pretty good about what I’ve been creating lately.

Even if it isn’t exactly the plan I had originally started with a few months ago….

Drawing lessons? What drawing lessons…

OK. I have not been keeping up with any of my planned lessons for drawing, history, or anything else. Instead, I’ve been making a LOT OF ART. Which…I cannot regret.

I’m currently holding myself to three daily challenges. (THREE??) I’m doing Feathruary — bird art every day. I’m doing Making Art Every Day — drawing in procreate based on prompts. And, I decided to do a 100 Day project — 100 Days of Rainbow Joy.

It’s a lot. Oh, plus I’m taking Wanderlust 2021, which involves a weekly lesson and I am bound and determined to keep up with it this year (after I did about 3 lessons last year and then never got back to it….)

And I work full time, although, last week, we only had 3 days of school, thank you snow storm. Actually, no thank you, it is C.O.L.D. now in Iowa. We’re talking the temperature on the thermometer is negative 17, not just the windchill.

That’s a lot of words to say: I haven’t done any more work in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain since the post I wrote two weeks ago.

But again: I’m not sorry, because I have been drawing. A LOT. I have made a TON of art in Procreate and some of that has been drawing animals. Starting with tracing them, but then moving to drawing them on my own.

I also made my first (but not my last) repeat pattern and I LOVED IT. I have already planned (in my head) an entire collection of fabric that goes with it. Now…to execute those plans…

I am supposed to be writing about my history studies again next Monday, so hopefully by then I will have done some more work on that. I have also looked at my stack of books I have been planning to read and think I’d better at least open one of them soon.

Global prehistory – what has Suzanne learned so far

My draft title for this post was “Modern Humans are Assholes.” I finished the Global Prehistory unit and I swear that every single article included something about the original artwork being lost (or nearly lost) because modern humans messed it up. Unfortunately, that was my biggest takeaway from this unit. I’m also not really feeling too kindly towards my contemporary humans during this pandemic, so you’ll have to excuse my pessism.

I do think it’s funny to say “prehistory” because….if something is before “history”…..isn’t it also history??? But as you probably know, prehistory simply means the time before written records. This particular overview looks at art made between 30,000 and 500 BCE.

(As a reminder, I’m following the AP Art History track on Khan Academy. The content comes originally from smARThistory.org and I find it easier to link to the information on their site.)

Not only are modern humans are destructive, we can be tricked by fakes and fall victim to confirmation bias. And of course, racism rears its ugly head in the stories about what historians have decided must be true. I was glad that this section took a global view of prehistory, as opposed to focusing on ancient western art.

While people can (and will) speculate about what certain paintings or sculptures signify, it is impossible to know for sure what anything means. I find it fascinating what historians and archeologists CAN discern, based on what they know from other objects they have found.

While I enjoyed all of this unit, my favorite artwork was the Tlatilco Figurines from Central Mexico. These small ceramic figurines date from around 1200-400 B.C.E. Most of them depict women in everyday activities and include a lot of humor. They are small and quite intricate. My favorite is this one of a woman kissing a dog:

Tlatilco figurine of a woman kissing a dog
Original photo can be found here: https://flic.kr/p/rkqJqE

I highly recommend doing an image search for Tlatilco figurines to see more figurines. It has occurred to me that I should be making an art journal page with some of these figurines as inspiration. If I do, I will come back and add it!

The next unit in this course is titled Ancient Mediterranean: 3500 B.C.E.-300 C.E. I’ll be back in two weeks with another update on what I’m learning from the past. I have a suspicion I still won’t be feeling too kindly towards modern humans.

Reference: Dr. Rex Koontz, “Tlatilco Figurines,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed February 1, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/tlatilco-figurines/.


Joy, a mixed media canvas by Suzanne Earley

Thursdays here at StudioSS are going to be a little bit of everything — some weeks it might be a list of links we’ve been collecting or it might be an essay about a Big Art Topic or maybe just something beautiful we saw recently and wanted to share.

It’s been a rough week, so I thought I’d start off simple and just share some of the things that are bringing me joy lately — JOY is my word of the year and I’m doing my best to seek joy each day. Sometimes it’s a minute by minute choice of trying to choose joy. Joy to me doesn’t mean just simple happiness: it’s something deeper. It’s choosing to be true to myself and make things that I love, rather than what I think other people will find “appropriate.” That’s why I’ve been embracing my love of Disney lately. And rainbows. Wearing colorful headbands with big knotty bows on them.

Here’s my (incomplete) list for today:

***Rainbows: I’m getting ready to do a rainbow themed 100 Day Project (starting January 29, 2021). I don’t know exactly what each day will look like, but my Instagram feed should be colorful for the next 100 days.

I’ll be posting on Instagram, if you click the picture, it’ll take you to the collection of my rainbow joy posts!

***I’m finding joy in Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb. It’s not enough to just read the poem to yourself, you need to listen to her and WATCH her as she reads it:

***Learning about Yayoi Kusama and her artwork. (I mean, how can you NOT feel joyful looking at all of those dots!).

***Learning about Georgia O’Keeffe and her flowers. I was doing a mini artist study of her and I wasn’t even sure where to start. For one of of the paintings I did, I decided to look at YouTube art videos (that are meant for kids!) and it was a lot of fun. The art teacher made her sketch using Mr. Sketch Scented Markers and I’ll admit: I was jealous and seriously thought about acquiring some scented markers.

***Sharing my art with two of my nieces. They are my most adoring audience and sometimes you just need that.

***And lastly, for tonight, because it’s past my bedtime: my cats.

What has brought you joy lately?

Overcoming My Drawing Resistance

I drew this upside down on the page — following a line drawing I had created on my iPad by tracing a photo of myself.

We made up a posting schedule last week and I promptly ignored it as soon as I shared it with Shae. She has gotten us back on track with her art history post yesterday, and now it’s my turn to talk about my basic art skills progress today.


When your brain has determined that you cannot do something, it’s hard to convince it to even try. And the lengths to which I go to avoid my drawing lessons are pretty impressive. I rarely clean, but suddenly, I need to clean my desk completely before I can properly get to work. And maybe I need to vacuum out the cracks in the hardwood floor.

And some of my resistance is in direct opposition to evidence to the contrary — I’m really proud of the picture above. So why do I continue to tell myself I can’t draw??

I am also good at making up excuses, such as my trouble with depth perception. I can’t always judge distances very accurately in real life. (Which is probably why I have bruises on my shins and trip over dust). Several of the drawings you see below were done with the original and my copy upside down. The exercise is all about the linework rather than knowing what you are drawing. Even though they look “fine” — I can totally see where I went off the rails with the lengths of my lines, which is clearly related to my depth perception issues, so therefore I should just abandon any hope of accurately drawing things…….

HOWEVER: here I am, pushing back against that resistance, reporting on my drawing homework from the last few weeks and recommitting to both the process and to making progress.

The top left picture is a pure blind contour picture — I was looking at the lines of my left hand, drawing blind with my right hand with a rainbow pencil. Because regular pencils are boring. The other three pictures are the ones I copied from images in the book, but upside down. The bottom three pictures are my pre-instruction drawings — a drawing of myself, looking in a mirror, my hand (trust me, my pinky finger is NOT broken), and a corner of my home.

Digital Art

On a related note, I have completed a piece of art in Procreate every day this month (so far). I am learning so much about Procreate itself, as well as about drawing (see, I recognize the absurdity of my brain saying I can’t draw, but yet, I have spent tons of time DRAWING……….SIGH).

I’m following along with a challenge called Making Art Every Day by Lisa Bardot. She provides prompts and tutorials and all kinds of inspiration every day. The first month has all been food related. I’ve been trying different styles and it’s hard to pick favorites!

You can see all of my digital artwork on Instagram: Suzanne’s Digital Art.

Art History One-Oh-One

One of the ways in which I (Suzanne) feel disadvantaged as an artist is not having a solid grounding in art history and so part of my Make Your Own MFA program includes art history, from the prehistoric to the modern and contemporary. I can already hear some of you groaning as you remember bad art history classes, wondering why someone would subject themselves to something like this.

image of a blurred dictionary page with the text "art history 101" in script on it


Well, for one thing, I’m stubborn, and I decided I needed to know this, so I’m going to do it. More seriously, though, I think it’s important to know the language, so to speak, and to have a grounding in where the things I’m working on have come from. I know I’m not making art out of thin air, everything I do is influenced by something else.

I also just really like learning things.


I’ve got some loose guidelines in mind as I approach my study of art history:

  • Broad overview of everything, from prehistoric times to contemporary
  • Learn about women (or those who identify as such) and not just the white men
  • Diversity: not just western art, and not just from a western perspective
  • I don’t have to be able to pass anexam, I just need to have been exposed to the ideas and art
  • If I find something really interesting, I will follow the idea to wherever it leads me
  • If I’m really really bored, I can move on to whatever is next


As you can imagine, there are an infinite number of resources available online. I had decided to follow the art history curriculum from Smarthistory.org, when I discovered that Khan Academy had taken the Smarthistory curriculum and packaged it into a nicer format. So that’s what I’m using. I picked the AP Art History course, just because it made me feel fancy to do an AP class. Even though I’m nearly 50, and not in high school. Or a freshman in college.

I am finally through the first section — aptly called “Getting Started. ” It is an overview of terminology for both artmaking and art history. There’s also a section with an introduction to the 5 main religions of the world, presumably because a lot of the work that will be studied is going to be religious. Yay.

Hating Art History

One of the videos in the beginning is by Sarah Urist Green, in which she talks about why people hate art history. In her opinion, art history is complex and interesting, but in order to teach it, we end up simplifying it and take out all of the cool stuff. And most people give up before they get to the interesting bits or are disillusioned when they find out how much simplification they were fed. Or don’t want to believe the actual story because it doesn’t fit with the fantasy in their head. (Gee, sounds like regular not-art history, too…..)

The video is actually on YouTube, too, if you’d like to watch:

I am hopeful that the resources that are available through Khan Academy and Smarthistory.org as well as the independent work that I’m sure I’ll do as I try to follow up on the things that I find fascinating will help me find the cool stuff. I’ll try to share the most interesting bits here and I’m sure that the things I’m learning will make their way in to my own art practice.

Enjoying Art History

I’ll be honest, I started to get a bit bogged down in the section about the major world religions, but now that I’m ready to move on, I’m energized again. I hope I can keep that energy up and enjoy my trip through art history!

Have you ever taken an art history class? What historical periods interest you the most? Let me know in a comment or on Instagram if that’s where you came from!

School is in session, where do I start?

It’s sometimes necessary to 
remind ourselves that 
Shakespeare at some point 
learned to write a line of prose, 
Beethoven learned 
the musical scales, 
and...Vincent Van Gogh 
learned how to draw.

Betty Edwards

Shae and I both officially kicked off our MFA coursework yesterday. We both want to work on our core art skills and drawing is high up on the list.

Learning To Draw

I am definitely an artist who used to think that in order to actually BE an artist, you had to be able to draw, and you had to be able to draw from memory anything. It was never explained to me that “real” artists use reference pictures all the time. Or that while drawing was definitely something that some people can just “do,” it’s not something that is out of the reach of everyone else to learn.

I have owned the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards for many years. (Honestly, it’s the 2nd revised edition from 1999 and I probably bought it somewhere in the early 2000s….and I may have gotten talked in to ordering the most recent edition plus the workbook….)

I pull it off my shelf every so often and thumb through it, and then stick it back on the shelf because it is a LOT OF WORDS. I just want to learn how to draw, why are there SO MANY WORDS.

I mentioned this to Shae and her response was basically, get over yourself and read it.

I did not appreciate being called out.

Because she was right, darn it.

As I was trying to decide what to do last night for my first day, I realized that because I was most resistant to it, this book needed to be where I started.

Brains are weird

And…it turns out that all of the words at the beginning are actually quite interesting. There’s a lot of information about the brain research that she used as the basis of developing her techniques. Human brains are so wild. Our brains do so many things that we are barely aware of and one of those has to do with how we SEE.

We tend to see what we expect to see or what we decide we have seen. This expectation or decision, however, often is not a conscious process. Instead, the brain frequently does the expecting and the deciding, without our conscious awareness, and then alters or rearranges–or even simply disregards–the raw data of vision that hits the retina.

Edwards, p. XXV, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Revised 2nd Edition

No wonder I can’t make my drawing look like what I see if my brain is mucking around with the data it’s taking in! I’m sure a lot of you reading this are nodding your head, thinking, I can SEE it, but I can’t make that same thing come out of my hands through my art tools. But how do other people know how to do it? And why hasn’t anyone shown me?

Probably because it’s hard to put it in to words for many people. And they probably don’t understand the underlying process anyway.

Learning to See

According to Edwards, the issue isn’t even about teaching people how to draw, it’s about teaching them how to see. How to shift your brain to a different way of processing the incoming visual information.

And that’s as far as I got last night. I’m almost ready to do the pre-instruction drawings. Which should be entertaining! The drawing instructions spend a lot of time on the human form, so the first exercise is to draw a self portrait.

Have you worked through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain? What was your experience? Do you think “real” artists need to know how to draw?

What’s Next

I need to do those pre-instruction drawings. And then get to work on retraining my brain. I’m also working on the introductory material for an art history class. I’m also looking for more resources for women in art history, so if you have any suggestions, be sure to comment or send me a message. You can email us at hello@studioss.art. Or visit me on Instagram!

Introduction – Studio SS and Make Your Own MFA

What are we up to now?

If you follow either (or both) of us on Instagram, you know that we are always finding new things to do and try. And you are probably wondering, what on earth are Suzanne and Shae up to NOW?!?

The thing you have to know is that we are both lifelong learners and are curious about learning about everything. (Seriously, I took one of those quizzes that tell you what your values and character traits are and curiosity was way at the top. I assume Shae is the same…)

And yes, it might seem like we have short attention spans. I like to think it all cycles around in my brain and everything eventually bubbles back up.


A few months ago, I asked Shae if she wanted to take an online class with me. We chose Scribblepedia, taught by Rae Missigman and we both had a lot of inky fun. And then life happened, so we haven’t exactly FINISHED the class yet….

However, the interesting thing about the class and some other things I stumbled upon in November is that it felt like I was breaking through to a new place in my artwork and it renewed an idea that I’ve had tumbling around in my head for awhile.

I have been interested in “going back to school” — but I have no interest in spending $50K for art school, for a number of reasons, not least of which is….$50K, YIKES. But also, I’m not sure that traditional art school is the actual place for what I want to accomplish.

Suzanne’s Big Idea

What if…I made up my own art school? Made my own MFA? Sought out the resources that I needed to meet my own personal and professional goals, and do it as inexpensively as I could. There are certainly many resources available online, it was just going to be a matter of piecing them together.

I decided to share this Big Idea with Shae and she didn’t laugh at me. In fact, she asked if she could join me.

Studio SS

The next thing we knew, we had given ourselves a shared name, started a website, and are working on figuring out how to make this happen.

Some day we’ll share all of the details of where our name came from. There’s more than just smashing our initials together in that story! For now, we’ll leave you to wonder!

One thing we knew was that we wanted to share what we were doing, even if our only audience was our family members. But we hope that we’ll find some other artists along the way that are interested in the resources we are finding and the things we are learning. We’re viewing our shared studio website as our long term thesis project — a way to document our experience and progress.

Our plans

We are both interested not only in making art, but moving in to selling art and teaching. Our backgrounds are varied and we both have lots of Opinions that we aren’t afraid to share.

We’re planning to fill up our site with lots of links to the art history, business, and art classes we are working on. We want to have conversations about critique and do artist studies and make lots and lots of art.

We haven’t even really started to brainstorm all of the things we might do together as artist, teachers, and lifelong learners.

For now, you can read our biographies or check out our Instagram feeds (Suzanne, Shae) or sign up for our email newsletter and we’ll keep you posted (no more than once a week, we know your inbox is already stuffed) with what we’re up to.

Thanks for checking us out and stay tuned for lots more to come in 2021.