Susan Sellers combines signs with plein air painting

Susan Sellers, a plein air painter who has her studio in Edgartown, created this portrait of Lynn Murphy's tractor. — Photo by Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers has 35 years under her belt running Sellers Signs and providing homeowners and boat owners as well as Island businesses with signs. But she has a second day job as an oil painter. For more than ten years she has been building her creds in the fine arts field as a plein-air painter.

Growing up in the Washington D.C., area, Ms. Sellers was a natural for a career that would end up combining sign painting and fine art. One of her grandfathers was an architect and the other, a signmaker. Drafting always interested her, and in high school she was usually the only girl studying mechanical drawing or woodworking. She went on to study at George Washington University, the Corcoran School of Art and the Maryland Institute of Art. Along the way, Ms. Sellers started working as a draftsman for architects and engineers. A job in that field brought her to the Island.

Fine-art painting always remained part of the mix, though, and she has moved it increasingly out of the sidelines. Ms. Sellers paints in oil and prefers to work outdoors, or plein air, to create her expressionist landscapes. Over the years, she has participated in shows at Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs, Featherstone Center for Arts, and at the annual Family Planning Show. Last year she donated a painting to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Her Edgartown home on Pennywise Path, which she designed herself, doubles as her gallery.

Like many Vineyarders, Ms. Sellers spent 10 years doing the annual shuffle from one rental to another. Buying land started the process of acquiring a home of her own. A building where she maintains her sign business stands next to her house and is almost as large.

“Everything I do is a solitary endeavor,” Ms. Sellers says. By basing her studio in her home, she can move more easily between her two jobs and have the chance to interact with the public.

The names of the paintings hanging on the walls of her house provide a litany of favorite Vineyard spots. One depicts Cow Bay with a storm coming; another shows Lynn Murphy’s tractor; a third, the iconic gas pump on North Road. Menemsha is another favorite subject.

Once she completes a painting on site, Ms. Sellers tries not to touch it again. “I’m not one of those painters who goes back into the studio and fusses with it,” she says. “It’s more an expressionist process. I’m not trying to be a photo-realist.”

Maine is a popular destination for her, and her repertoire of paintings includes spots like Sebasco Point and the Kennebago River in that state. She loves Maine’s weather and thinks of the state as a Martha’s Vineyard without the tourists. Not that Ms. Sellers would quit the Vineyard. She describes herself as ingrained in the Island community.

“There’s this thing that happens when you’re creating, where you feel like a vehicle, that is the most amazing feeling,” Ms. Sellers says of her painting. “It’s just magical. I’m always looking for that.” Her works display a lushness and freedom that contrast sharply with the exactitude demanded by her work sign painting.

“The more you get out of the way and let it go, the better,” she says, welcoming the change of pace that painting outdoors gives her from sign painting. “I’m still an emerging artist. I’m not always going to be painting only plein air. I’m still getting my sea legs with painting.”

Susan Sellers Studio, by appointment, 100 Pennywise Path, Edgartown. Call 508-627-9627.