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Caught In Dot, January 2020: Making an Impression: Meet local artist Susana McDonnell
Swatch and Repeat, October 2018: Pine Tree Pop-Up Maker’s Series: Printmaking with Susana McDonnell
by Elena Sarni
Susana McDonnell is a Boston, Massachusetts-based printmaker and teacher. McDonnell has been an artist since an early age and has worked in many mediums throughout her career before finally settling on relief printmaking. She began teaching at the young age of seventeen at a summer enrichment camp called S.P.A.C.E. (Summer Program for Academic and Creative Encounters) in her hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. Susana had attended the program herself, became a counselor, and then went on to teach art classes through this comprehensive program for many years. She credits Newton and Newton South High School with fostering her love of art and providing her with a solid base of skills.
McDonnell earned her BFA at The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Her concentration was wood and mixed-media, but she took advantage of Alfred’s broad array of classes and studied drawing, painting, glass, and neon. After graduation she worked as a production glassblower and taught private glassblowing lessons at Sterling Glassworks in Worcester, Massachusetts. She went on to pursue post-graduate coursework at Iowa State University. It was there that she began to study printmaking. This interest in printmaking may have stemmed from her childhood, as her father ran an offset press for most of his career. She took classes in screen printing and lithography, as well as continued her work with glass. She also traveled to Rome for a semester where she studied ink, figure drawing, and watercolor in a studio located only blocks from the Pantheon.
Susana has an innately exploratory approach to all mediums and enjoys figuring things out on her own. While her background seems diverse, upon further inspection there are similarities between her preferred mediums. Glass, wood, and printmaking are all very physical, require precision, and involve patterns. Color is also a huge element in both glass and printmaking. Although she has a BFA, Susana’s work has always represented a balance between art and craft, as she is drawn to functional art.
Upon completing her own studies, McDonnell taught art to junior high and high school students for seven years. It was while teaching relief printing to her students that she began to study it on her own. It was during this time that she developed her signature reduction grid course, which she has since adapted for adults. Eventually after becoming a mom, McDonnell decided to concentrate on lino printing as it was an art form that she could easily work on from her home studio.
Susana is inspired by the potential of materials, particularly fabric. She lets the fabric dictate what type of item she is going to make and what style pattern, rather than beginning a project with a set idea of what she wants to make and what the design will be. She finds satisfaction and joy in “peeling back the inky lino and seeing it transform a formerly plain surface into something completely different and new.” Her strong foundation in drawing provides a solid basis for her printmaking and her European travels inspire her geometric and shape-driven designs. She is a natural at creating patterns and has taught herself to use circle tracers, compasses, etc. She is also known for her use of dynamic colors (a connection to her previous work with glass). She creates modern, clean designs, which she prints on both wearable items and accessories.
McDonnell appreciates the collaborative online printmaking community of Instagram and is an active member. Working with printmaker Mindy Schumacher she shared her reduction grid class via Instagram. Student work is searchable under the hashtags #linocave_u and #reductiongrid. The response was extremely enthusiastic. Printmakers from around the globe participated. Susana enjoys sharing her knowledge with her students and other printmakers. She is excited to join the Speedball tutorial team and to be able to share her skills with a larger audience of like-minded individuals who share her passion. Her energy and attitude will inspire students to follow her example and to “just go for it!” She also looks forward to continuing to build her home-based printmaking business called LinoCave.