Graphic designer and busy mom by day, Suzanne Millius of Dubuque, Iowa--the owner of Studio3ten on Etsy--still finds it easy to call herself "artist, poet and dream-chaser"--she says she was born to be an artist. You might call hers a story of someone with an "old soul," someone with a special connection to the past that manifests in her artwork as a nostalgia for the simplicity of days gone by, an understanding of the beauty and wonder that is fleeting and lost moment-by-moment, and a desire to capture those moments and memorialize them forever.
Suzanne says her love for the past has a lot to do with old photographs--with the way the "deep intensity you can see in someone's eyes" is "captured forever." When she plays with elements of fashion from different eras (the 1920s is her favorite), re-interpreting them in her work with a fresh pop-art feel, it is almost as if she's creating a brand-new snapshot of a classic era. And the intensity continues to shine in the eyes of the women who show up over and over again in Suzanne's work.
"I think [the women] are facets of myself, but more importantly facets of EVERYONE," says Suzanne. "Doesn't mater if you or male or female--this internal struggle of being yourself, living for today, themes centered around music and aspects of life that make us feel alive inside--these are things every human being has in common."
"1926" is a piece especially significant for Suzanne, for it represents this struggle in living for today while yearning for the past--and the consciousness that each and every beautiful moment that glitters before our eyes is just as quickly passing into yesterday:
"This piece represents a part of my childhood. My dad's side had a lot of musicians--my grandmother, (my dad's mom) was an amazing pianist. My aunt (her daughter) also had this amazing talent. I remember being in grade school, and my aunt would come for dinner. After dinner, mostly on Sunday nights, we would sit around the piano and sing songs from [the 1920s]. 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue' and 'Bye Bye Black Bird.' I remember my dad playing the guitar or banjo, my aunt playing piano, my mother singing, and us kids singing along.
"At the time it was all I knew, probably not a 'big deal' in my mind. But as I am typing this now, there is a sadness, because that moment is gone ... As a child, singing [those songs], I thought about that time period, the fashion, the energy--the excitement. I look back on those memories and feel blessed to have them, but I feel hurt inside--because I hate that you don't truly appreciate those things, until you are older.
"Looking back, I know how lucky I was to have all that music and art around me. '1926' is about this moment--this moment right now, that will be gone when tomorrow arrives. Its about that era--the 20s. The fashion, the music--THAT was their present time. Very difficult for me to put in words--easier for me to 'illustrate!'"
From this poetic description of her childhood, it's easy to see how the ideas of being creative and artistic "swirled around" Suzanne's household as she was a child growing up--and she says that naturally, she soaked it up, "became a part of it."
"'Artist' was a beautiful title I was given as a young child - and I completely embraced it. I was lucky to grow up in a family that fostered my creativity. There was always music, there was always art. My parents have always supported me, (and still do) and have always told me to be 'me'."
"I remember when I would dress myself--I would pair pink pants with stripes and a red top with polka-dots--and I remember hearing my mother say, 'Suzanne's an artist, she marches to her own beat.' And you know, I liked that. I liked that I was marching to 'my own beat.'"
The polka-dots, stripes and swirls continue to make an appearance alongside original poetry in the funky, art-deco inspired illustrations Suzanne creates using a combination of handmade line drawings and digital collage. And this free-spirit continues to "march to her own beat," completely embracing the life of an artist--even with a family and a full-time graphic-design job.
"I work late at night ... midnight is MY time," says Suzanne. "I'd like to pretend that morning is where I am inspired, but at night, when my brain is semi-tired, but also a little chaotic from the work day--I think somehow in that turmoil, I find I am most creative."
And "it's not just about drawing, painting, writing," she says. "It's about 'being' creative, 'thinking creatively'--noticing the subtleties all around you, that others are too busy, or too preoccupied to notice."
Suzanne says these simple joys and everyday moments are what inspire her the most--"the weather, a smile, my son's laugh, cuddling my dog, a small leaf falling from the tree, the sound of the rain on the roof." And, of course, music.
"Music is ALWAYS a constant for me. Music makes me 'feel'--and when I am creating, I have to feel something, otherwise the piece I create lacks depth emotion. And if it doesn't move me, it won't move anyone else."
What continues to "move" Suzanne more than anything is the way we can hold in our hands the preciousness of each moment, all the while knowing that these moments are fleeting: "As a whole, much of my work is about inspiring yourself, living your best life. Being you, only you. Living in this moment now, because we blink, and tomorrow arrives."
Suzanne laughs that this seemingly complicated and intense dilemma could be simplified if we would only learn from our pets. She observes that dogs always wake up happy--this was the inspiration for her sunflower piece above.
"Dogs have the ability to just live in this very moment. When they wake in the morning, they are not dwelling on yesterday--they are not worrying what tomorrow will bring. They are living in the 'now'. This is something very difficult for humans to do, because the complexities of our lives often take over, and we over-think things. We dwell, we worry--and as we do this, the moments slip by."
In the same way she looks at something as simple as a dog's life and gleans a rich harvest of meaning, Suzanne likes to couple fashion in her art with the unexpected exploration of the human soul:
"I have always LOVED the idea of expressing myself through what I choose to wear. So I somehow create these 'alter egos' of myself--with high fashion combined with the intensity of words--representing thought. Its kind of like mixing beauty/fashion--which can be very one dimensional--with a sort of deep internal struggle ... Because I think we typically think of beauty/fashion as this superficial 'thing,' but combined with perception--and reflection--it becomes something else."
Of course, color and pattern are also integral--Suzanne also enjoys playing with these elements for effect and "feeling." She says she likes to add "unexpected" color: "If the subject matter seems 'upbeat' happy, or 'light,' adding intense red--or dark tones--can throw you a curve ball. Makes you realize what you see in life is not always the 'truth', that things are not always as they seem."
"I think we all struggle with who we are, what our true purpose is--what our 'true self' is," says Suzanne. "My work is about love, joy, struggles, insecurities--the raw emotions that all human beings have."
Poetry, in its essence, is about compacting abstract, complicated ideas into the simplest of forms. Suzanne's art--is poetry in this way--patterns, words, brightly colored images reflecting a hard-fought victory of finding joy in the moment and satisfaction in simplicity.
You can see more of Suzanne's passionate and encouraging work in her Etsy shop, Studio3ten and on her Facebook page!