We had the good fortune of connecting with Susan Wasinger and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susan, what role has risk played in your life or career?
In business, “risk-taking” is often confined to putting your financial well-being in peril. However, career “risk” can also mean boldly striking out on a new, untried career path; mastering an untested skill set; expanding your definition of who you are; envisioning another, non-monetary metric with which to quantify success (say contentment for instance, or growth?). Risk requires being willing to start from scratch again, to learn, to be willing to say, “I don’t know…YET”, to jump in and try something without the safety-net of guarantees and soft, sure-footed landings. “Risk” means risking being really, stunningly, publicly bad at something, which most of us live in terror of most of our lives. In my career, I have been many things: a creative director in advertising, graphic designer, musician and performer, editorial art-director, amateur architect, photographer, author, interior designer, fine artist. Each time, I took a leap into something I had never done before and risked fantastic, humiliating, demoralizing failure. Each time, the learning curve was a perilously steep, grueling uphill slog. But, as Goethe said, “Boldness has genius, power, and magic to it…be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid”. Risk taking is scary, but it is perhaps the only way to open yourself to the unique and powerful magic which awaits the bold and the undeterred.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Let’s just start by saying, I’m not very good at doing the simple, the normal, the pleasantly expected. In all my creative pursuits. It is always important to me to start out in an unusual direction or expand the challenge or stretch the original mission in everything I do. I need to start out without knowing for sure where I will end up. I think I owe that to my clients and my collectors: good design and art should be a journey not a destination. Sure, I write craft books, but I use shake it up by using trash as the raw material, Yes, I design buildings but I use a 19th century mining shack in the Colorado back-country as my inspiration for a modern, luxury home, sometimes I wish I could paint a simple, lovely, evocative landscape, but my muse pushes me relentlessly to paint something deeper, harder, more mysterious, that exists beneath the surface. None of these things are easy to love, they are not obvious to others, and sometimes require a harder “sell”. All creative pursuits must be a path of discovery and contain a surprise. In all things creative, I love veering off the beaten path, or flipping the idea on its head. I love the beginning of a new design, or painting, I love the period of pure joyful play and exploration, when all kinds of crazy directions are possible. And even after you commit to a single path, you have to be open to being thrown a curve, flexible enough to dance to a new tune. Sound dangerous? Maybe. Why would any client ever agree to pay a design fee to be taken on a surprise journey with no fixed destination? Well, because the best design outcomes come from a completely blank canvas. No good design or meaningful art comes from a template or a boilerplate. You have to search for the soul of something—the animated beating heart of the project, only then can you know what it is it needs to become. If you start out knowing where you’ll end up, you miss all that power and magic and genius along the way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
• Hike to the Dream Canyon Overlook at the headwaters of Boulder Falls; • Mountain bike on the aspen and pine-clad trails around my Sugarloaf neighborhood hoping either TO see a moose or a bear or a mountain lion, or hoping NOT TO see any of those;
• Dinner of Persian Chickpea Kufteh or Malaysian Sambal Curry at the resplendent Boulder Tea house hand-crafted by Tajikistani craftsmen as a gift from our sister city of Dushanbe (it’s incredible, look it up: https://www.boulderteahouse.com/history-of-the-teahouse);
• Take in an exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporay Art (BMOCA) that happens to be right next door;
• Next day, we’ll start with breakfast on the wide, flower-bedecked porch of Boulder’s Chautauqua Dining Hall with a gorgeous view of the dramatic red-stone Flatirons –a steep walk up the Bluebird Trail soon afterwards will help burn off some of those buttermilk biscuits or ricotta flapjacks while giving us a stunning view of the plains to the east all the way to Kansas;
• If it’s a Friday or Saturday, we might catch an opening at Seidel City in an industrial area north of town which exhibits some of the more avant-guarde and intriguing art from Boulder Locals as well as established artists from both coasts and abroad (https://www.seidelcity.com).
• Before bed, sit on our deck for some star-gazing — at 7800 feet of elevation and miles from the big city, our house has a gobsmacking view of the milky way and is a perfect place to watch the Perseids meteor shower in August;
• And, if our visiting friends are sufficiently geeky, we’ll visit Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric research – a dramatic IM Pei designed structure that sits at the base of the Flatirons and is a hot bed for international research into the intricacies of our atmosphere and at the forefront of the international pursuit to understand the extent and the effects of climate change and leading the charge toward ways to mitigate its damaging effects.
• On Saturdays in the summer, Boulder stalwart the Trident Café has live entertainment on their rose-filled back porch. Drink a beer, a glass of wine, or a cup of exotic ice tea, and if we’re lucky, my 3-time Grammy Award-winning husband Tom will be playing there with his band “Lucky Me”.
• We own at least a dozen bikes, so no visitor escapes without a bit of riding. Boulder Valley has over 300 miles of official bike trails and the ones that tool around town connect Boulder Creek and the Boulder Mile, wend through the University of Colorado campus, climb up to the Davidson Mesa, and also happen to connect to a few of Boulder’s famous breweries and restaurants, parks, bandshells, and recreation centers.
There’s so much more, but my visitors and I are officially exhausted…
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Well, first and foremost, my family—going back several generations (and forward one!). I come from a long line of polymaths: of scientists who were also sculptors, of artists that were also teachers and house builders, of mothers who were also mountain climbers and psychologists. People who couldn’t be contained by just a one-, or two-word definition of who they are. Folks who continued changing and growing and trying and failing all their long lives, who keep taking leaps without knowing exactly where they’ll land. It is to honor that courage and belief, that I try to tap into my own courage and resolve. I’m also grateful to my clients, my publishers, my collectors. I would never have been able to take these life-altering, soul- fulfilling risks without their willingness to take a risk on me. I owe my lucky life to all these people who pushed me into the deep end long before I thought I could swim.
Instagram: @susanwasingerstudio @lostangelroad. @suzwas
Other: please google me for publisher’s links, music, books, design credits, and international gallery representation.