Smoke and feathers are, I believe, the most poetic mediums I’ve ever encountered. The touch of the smoke-coated feather on the page leaves a unprecedentedly soft, gossamer stroke that gives the image and ephemeral quality. One Wofford student has been using smoke, feathers, and charcoal to create amazing works of art. Susannah Bryant is a Senior English and Environmental Studies double major from Clinton, SC. She studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, one of her favorite cities, in the Spring of 2015. She’s been drawing and creating things for as long as she can remember—she’s wanted to be an artist from about kindergarten to at least 3rd grade.
How did you begin creating art?
Since coming to Wofford, I’ve been able to take an art-related interim every year, which has allowed me to continue creating and learning about art despite the little time my English and Environmental Studies majors allow during the normal school year. This past interim, I took Professor Neely and Dr. Sweitzer’s “Elements of Art” class, where we were able to explore many different art forms that related, in some way or another, to Earth, Wind, Water, or Fire. That was where I was introduced to smoke art (specifically through the work of Steve Spazuk) and began experimenting with it. Professor Neely made some great mason jar candles with thick wicks that burned quite well if you could get them out of the wind. I would get a decent coating of carbon from the smoke on the paper and then use a feather to remove the black to reveal the white underneath.
I experimented with a lot of different tools to remove the smoke, but the feather is by far my favorite—the barbs of the feather create tiny lines that give shape to your image without completely erasing the black. It’s a very unforgiving medium. You can always re-smoke it if you mess up, but the smoke is very hard to control, so you typically have to redo more than you planned to.
It was also fun to experiment with this medium after doing something similar in my Figure Drawing class and with my Environmental Studies Capstone project that involved erasing charcoal. For those projects, I would cover a sheet of paper with very dark charcoal and then use a knead-able eraser to remove the charcoal and create a negative image. While I enjoy this charcoal technique, I think I like the smoke method better, simply because it’s more challenging and less forgiving. I also love the shapes made by the smoke and the lines left by the feather.
I think one of the main reasons I enjoy creating art is being able to watch pieces come together. My end products usually don’t end up looking much like what they originated as in my head, and it’s fun to watch them come together.
What kinds of things inspire you (both in your art and in everyday life)?
Interesting lighting and textures really inspire me, especially on people’s faces and in nature.
What do you think about art on Wofford’s campus? How can it’s reception be improved?
I’m very thankful for the wonderful and talented art professors that we have on this campus! I wish I could have taken more of their classes during my time at Wofford, but I’m glad for the few I have been able to take. I’m very excited for the future of the art department with the upcoming building and new faculty members. There are so many artistically talented people on Wofford’s campus, and it will be wonderful for them to have a place on campus that doesn’t make their talents seem like an afterthought, or of lesser value. I look forward to visiting Wofford in a few years to witness the progress for myself.
What do you consider your best piece of art, and how did you get the idea for it?
My favorite piece of my smoke art is one called “Smoke Signals” (shout out to Sherman Alexie and his awesome movie!). Once I realized that faces in the smoke were really quite striking, I began to focus mainly on drawing them. I see that particular image as being the most striking of the ones I’ve done so far.
Thanks for the interview, Susannah! You create beautiful things, and I am excited to see more art from you in the future.
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-Anna Katherine Wilson-