Arts & Leisure

Susanne Peck pivots with her pencils

BRISTOL ARTIST SUSANNE Peck is making portraiture with pencils her main gig these days.

Sometimes life gives us a great, big shove in a direction we never anticipated. For Susanne Peck, like many of us, the pandemic precipitated an epic change in her career. 
“I lost both my main gigs: teaching singing at Middlebury College and as the St. Stephen’s Church choir director,” Peck said in a FaceTime interview last week. 
So, what next? 
Well, Peck saw this shift as the opportunity she’d been waiting for to launch her business as a portrait artist. She works out of her home in Bristol and primarily uses pencils for her drawings.  
“I’m in love with that medium,” she said. “I think drawing is so evocative and layered and natural. It’s like you take a pencil, make random lines and it forms an exquisite image. You can make anything with a pencil.”
Don’t feel bad if your drawings turn out more like stick figures; Peck’s been practicing for a while.
“I started drawing when I was a kid,” said the 66-year-old, who’s been drawing commissioned portraits for nearly 30 years. “I remember my pictures were in the elementary school principal’s office, which I had to go to for detention…”
But instead of pursuing art in her later education, Peck spent most of her professional life in New York City as a classical singer, educator and conductor. 
“My time in New York was great,” Peck remembered. “Those were the cream years of my life.”
Drawing was always something she did on the side. She’s inspired by Renaissance draughtsmanship and drawing throughout the ages, and notes that her most valued instruction came privately from Elizabeth Steig in the Boston area, from portrait painter Laurel Stern Boeck at Katonah Art Center in New York, and from Tad Spurgeon, Richard Weinstein and Mary Lower at the Middlebury Studio School.  
“These are drawings — not paintings — they are drawings the way the old Italians would have drawn them,” Peck explained. “My portraits are realistic, but not super realistic; there’s never a doubt of who it is. I work very closely with my clients and ask them for their input.”
What makes Peck’s drawings so full of life?
“I start with the eyes,” she said. “That’s not the conventional way to do it, but I don’t care. I put the eyes in first because if I don’t have the eyes, I don’t have anything.”
Peck has taught clay and drawing/painting to children and adults at Katonah Art Center, as well as the Frog Hollow Art Center and Middlebury Studio School. Her commissions have included New York City Federal Judge Colleen McMahon and family, opera singers François Clemmons and Beverly Myers along with actor Richard Gere’s young son.  A portrait of President Obama by Susanne Peck was gifted to the White House in 2009. 
“Here’s the thing, I can draw a damn good portrait,” Peck said simply, “and I’m affordable. Portraits make fantastic gifts. Whether it’s a loved one or a pet, they are such an original thing to have.”
Peck is dedicated to her portrait work and says she still has time to complete commissioned pieces before Christmas.
“I still have time, but it’s running out,” she said. “I’m very excited that the work is coming to me, and I want to keep the momentum going.”
For more info and contact information visit Susanne Peck’s website at


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