Scharling paint people and the importance of connection A
by Kathryn Manis RT is an integral part of family life for the mother
and daughter, residents of the North
Carolina coast for the past 25 years.
Susan Scharling, the family matriarch,
is a successful portrait painter and a life-long
sketcher of faces.
“I have always thought that people
are the most interesting subjects to paint,” she says. “As a young
girl, I constantly drew faces. It was a natural progression to do
Daughter, Casey, caught the visual arts bug at a young age
and has been painting ever since.
“My mother is an amazing artist,” she says. “Ever since I can
remember, I just knew that I would be an artist as well. It is a
special bond that we share. Because my mother had a success-ful
career as an artist, I was fortunate to have supportive parents
who encouraged my interest and education in the arts. I always
felt very lucky to have that inclination and understanding of my
path from an early age.”
Susan received her degree in art education in 1975 from
Virginia Tech, where she did coursework in printmaking, ceram-ics,
and woodworking, but ultimately fell in love with oil paint-ing.
After graduation, she took continuing art classes and work-shops
in watercolor and oil, which would form the dual basis for
Susan’s portraits are thorough, detailed, and insightful. She
has developed a complex and detailed commission process that
involves conversations and taking photographs, allowing her to
get closer to her subjects before touching brush to canvas.
“Getting to know people and working with them to capture
their best is the fun part,” she says. “I want each portrait to tell a
story — the setting, the clothing, the gestures, and the expres-sion
are all carefully considered. I could meet with a client a
half-dozen times before I even sketch the picture. We discuss
ideas for the portrait and where it might hang in the home, take
the photographs, meet to go over the photos and choose the
best expression to start with. Once we have the expression —
the painting develops from there.”
Human figures and the nuances of individual personalities
are central for both Susan’s and Casey’s painting practices, but
mother and daughter have very different bodies of work. Susan
paints highly detailed, naturalistic portraits in oil and water-color,
while Casey’s work is more accurately figurative, and she
employs a loose, impressionistic painting style.
Casey describes her painting as very personal, a break from
everyday life as a busy arts instructor at University of North
Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College, wife to
fellow artist Jeremy Millard, and mom to a young family.
“When I get into the rhythm of a session, I don’t think; I’m
reacting to the process and the painting,” she says. “It’s intuitive.”
Casey depicts many images and moments from her own life
— a subject matter interest she shares with her mother.
“In my most recent body of work, I explore the figure through
patterns and motion,” she says. “As a young mother, I often
reflect on the patterns and repetition of our daily existence.
There is beauty in the comfort of a familiar handmade quilt.
There is security in the rhythmic rocking of a baby in your arms.
I’m really exploring how the repetitive qualities of items of
clothing such as a nightgown, or spaces where you play, or a
special quilt can really become woven into who a person is or
how a person grows. It becomes a part of you.”
In pieces like “Sapling,” a 36-by-48 inch composition in oil on
canvas, Casey’s intuitive and gestural style is in full force.
The painting depicts a young girl leaning against what might
be the walls of a tree house. The shadow of tree limbs and a
few spare branches frame her reclining figure. The planes of
this piece are almost collapsed; the girl seems to sink into and
become part of the structure that surrounds her. Her serene but
serious expression and wild blond hair mirror the graceful yet
energetic presence of the tree, highlighting the connection that
Casey draws between them in the painting’s title.
The color palette is natural but vibrant. A bright green mold
grows on the wood planks around the youthful figure, bold
blues are utilized for shadow and contrast to the browns used
to build the scene, and the little girl’s piercing blue eyes and
bright red pants punctuate the surrounding neutrals. The brush
strokes are large and loose, highlighting the emotion of the
piece, and suggesting an immediacy and passion in its creation.