Alumni Spotlight: Susan Roughton

In 2021 Susan enrolled in the Certificate in Art and Design at Whitecliffe. Susan is now owner of art gallery Protean Art in Tāhunanui, a seaside suburb of Nelson.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.

I'm originally from the UK, have lived in stunning Aotearoa New Zealand for 28 years and in Nelson for over 20 years. I live with my lovely husband, Erin, and we're lucky enough to have two amazing grown-up kids, Helena and Louis. My background is in education, the arts and small business. In 2021 I enrolled in the Certificate in Art and Design at Whitecliffe. In October of last year, we opened our art gallery Protean Art in Tāhunanui, a seaside suburb of Nelson. Our gallery showcases artists' work from the top of the South and across New Zealand (including two students who have studied at Whitecliffe, Shailee Barde and Lu Steven).

Why did you choose to study at Whitecliffe?

I liked the focus on contemporary art and developing skills in a variety of art and design areas. I also thought it would be great to have a range of tutors, and to be exposed to a wide range of knowledge and approaches to art. Another drawcard was the central location of the campus in Auckland. Coming from a small town, it was great to be amongst the energy and diversity of a big city.

What did your graduating project focus on?

The central theme that ran through most of my work at Whitecliffe was related to my adoption story and my mixed heritage. This has been a challenging area in my life, and I felt that art was one way I could communicate this part of my life to a wider audience who may not understand the challenges of my own personal lived experience. I really appreciated and valued the support and guidance from the tutors who encouraged me to experiment and explore this theme.

What are some of the biggest highlights from your time at Whitecliffe?

My highlights were being taught by such knowledgeable and committed tutors, having access to the library and the brilliant range of reference books about art and design. Finally, meeting some really lovely and interesting people.

What was the biggest challenge while studying and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenges were the pace of assessments and learning new software programs. I managed the pace of assessments by prioritising the study tasks and discussing tasks with course buddies. I also kept going back to the brief to ensure I was doing what was required. To manage the challenge of new software programs, I asked for help from the tutors and watched videos. I also made sure I was looking after myself by eating properly, doing yoga and having regular breaks and treats outside of the course so things didn't get too intense.

What does your creative process look like?

My creative process usually starts with inspiration or ideas from what I am thinking or reading about or stimulated about the most at the time. At the moment, I am continuing to experiment with creating art around the theme of adoption and mixed heritage. I've been exploring some primary resources such as my adoption file, photos and watching videos about peoples' adoption experiences. I've been trying to harness some central ideas and feelings that I can then communicate in a visual way. I've also been experimenting with materials and processes, using collage, acrylics and digital art to explore different ideas. Another area of experimentation is using symbols and iconography related to my mixed heritage. I've been exploring various artist models and analysing different styles and doing lots of visual experiments.

Is there one bit of advice you can offer future art + design graduates trying to kick-start their career?

Create what you're passionate about, and don't worry if it doesn't seem trendy or what everyone else is doing. Try to be open to learning and seek feedback from a range of people. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, everything doesn't have to be perfect the first time, and you'll learn more by giving something a go, than by doing nothing at all.

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