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.

100 Day Project

This will be my third year doing a 100 day project, woohoo! The short of it is: pick a creative project, do it for 100 days. Anyone can join and any project you want to take on is fair game. Any number of days you actually get done is just fine. The point of it all is to show up for yourself, devote time to your creative passion and , for me, find some joy in creating. You can explore further here: https://the100dayproject.org/

The FOMO is Real

I hate to admit this about myself, but here it is: I am susceptible to the fear of missing out. That’s right, I get the FOMO. I see all the things everyone is doing and want to do them too. Hell, that’s how I ended up here ;). Luckily, I don’t think I’m alone in this. It is strange though, because in real life, I am decidedly not a joiner. I am an introvert by nature, a hermit if you will (if you know what Human Design is about, then I am literally a Hermit). But, I love a good artistic challenge, and I love doing them remotely with other people. What a strange world we live in.

It’s been a long week for me, so I’ll keep this pretty short. I almost passed the 100 day project up this year. I had a TON of ideas, but wasn’t really super excited about any of them. Also, some were quite complicated and I knew I would burn out (which happened last year). Also, I am cohosting Feathruary, a another art challenge this month, so I wanted something a bit simpler. I had given up trying to decide and that’s when inspiration struck! There was a box of anatomy cards on my desk that I had recently been gifted. ‘Shae’s anatomy’ popped into my head and….the rest is history! My project is altering 100 anatomy flash cards with collage.

Once I had that silliness in my head it was quite easy to start, and I’m glad I did. So far, it’s super fun, which I totally needed.

You can follow along on my IG page here https://www.instagram.com/scrappyshae/ orwith the hashtag #100daysofshaesanatomy.

You can read more about Feathruary here: https://studioss.art/feathruary-2021/

Art Skills

abstract in procreate

I have two things pinned to the top of my art practice/art skills list: drawing and learning procreate, which is also drawing. I am going to make a confession- I don’t enjoy drawing. There I said it!

However, this does not mean I am going to give up, like in previous years. I am going to acknowledge the fact that I do not derive much enjoyment from drawing and push through it. Why? Because in the end it will get me where I want to be and at some point I think that I actually will enjoy it.

To be quite honest, the end of January/beginning of February was very full and my drawing practice got pushed to the sidelines. Was a ready and willing to do that? Absolutely. I told Suzanne this very morning that I have been avoiding it like the plague. I need to dig into this a little bit more, but ultimately I feel it simply comes back to the aforementioned issue: I don’t enjoy it.

Abstract Is My Happy Place

What I do really love is abstract work, and anything that can be abstracted. So, that’s mostly what I have been doing, especially in Procreate. Even though that feels like play, I AM gaining functional understanding of the way Procreate works, experimenting with the tools available and appreciating how very fast you can create work. Also, I don’t have to feel guilty about ‘waste’- I just hit delete!

This piece ended up being turned into cover art for the new album ‘Immediacy’ by B. Aubrey Freeman (aka my husband)

One Last Thing

Before I wrap this up, I do have a minor complaint about the drawing workbook I’m working in. The method to start making ‘real’ drawings utilizes a viewfinder or picture plane:

There is a corresponding page in the workbook with a grid. After several (literally five) attempts at drawing to scale by transferring the image on the picture plane, I gave up. It just wasn’t right. I walked away, as I usually do and when I returned saw the problem instantly. The scale of the frame and the scale of my practice space are not the same! Aha! You can see where I drew the correct border on the practice sheet on the right. I’ll give it another go.

*here’s the link to the above album: https://b-aubreyfreeman.bandcamp.com/releases

Photos of above workbook are from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

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?

The Business

Bisignes, from the Old English meaning ‘care, anxiety, occupation (as in occupied with)’, is the root of ‘busyness’, and although the meaning has changed throughout time, the root meaning of anxiety still probably holds true for a large amount of artists today. We’ve probably all heard cliché things like artists aren’t good at business (or math) and we artists just accept that this is true because people say it is. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t really hold to those ideas, but I will say this- being a creative and running the business of being a creative is a lot to deal with.

Been There, Done That

As I have hinted at before, in a previous life I was a sculptor. Not only did I make art, have gallery representation and sell sculpture, I ran a metal fabrication business AND ran an Etsy shop (which is still live but unused). I am no stranger to running a business (neither is Suzanne for that matter!). However, it was exhausting and eventually led to total burnout, failing health and an existential crisis. Whew.

Shae in her metal studio circa 2017. Photo courtesy Sybille Peretti.

I am not really about to do that again, so the business of art I am talking about for this MFA program has more to do with learning how to make passive income via teaching and designing, utilize technology to improve my business opportunities, learn time management skills that work for me, and to put my energy towards teaching and sharing my knowledge. I want to create an art centered life that fills my cup instead of draining it.

Many things on my list will be concurrent skills, i.e., when I learn how to film and edit tutorials, I am one step closer to having an eventual way to make passive income from those tutorials (theoretically). Slowly but surely, I’m working my way through a few Skillshare classes that deal with video editing, and of course Creativebug has a some great classes: one by Lisa Congdon, Building a Creative Brand; another by Lisa Solomon appropriately titled ‘So You Want to Be a Professional Artist?’.

Art + Healing

There is one more piece to this puzzle for me. After I quit metal work, I had a lot of healing to do. In the process, as happens to a lot of people, I uncovered my gift for healing. I did things that had been close to my heart for decades and had never been realized: I became a certified herbalist, I deepened my astrology and esoteric studies, and became a Reiki master teacher. I explored all manner of healing modalities and really dug into mind-body connections, studied breathwork and movement therapies (to deal with my musculoskeletal issues). This is the work I do now, and I love it, but the fact of the matter is, I was born an artist, I will always BE an artist. Art journaling filled the void that was there after quitting metal work, and my real business is figuring out how to merge my artistic and healing skills and what that will look like in the coming years.

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.