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An Artist Who Draws Painterly Inspiration From Life On Taunton Lake
By Dottie Evans
Susan McLaughlin Rosen is a meticulous draftsman who has enjoyed a long career in interior design working for architectural firms. Having been based for decades in the urban canyons of New York City, her sketches and schematics have augmented many an architects’ portfolio presentation to building committees for hospitals, city schools, libraries, public offices, and even state prisons.
“Simply put, I was a space planner,” said Ms McLaughlin Rosen during an early November interview in her Taunton Lake home where she now enjoys semi-retirement and a welcome change of artistic focus.
“I’m working just as hard, but it’s for myself – and no more deadlines,” she remarked, perhaps thinking back to her professional life in the city.
It has been an interesting, creative journey going from interior design to illustration to cartooning to painting, but her skill in drawing has been the foundation that supported each stage.
“After the architectural job, I next worked for a law office producing endless drawings for cartoons in their weekly newspaper as well as illustrating calendarsÂ as gifts for their clients and staff.
“Then someone at the New York Law Journal saw my work, and I was hired to produce one editorial design a month illustrating the lead story. This was in addition to my cartooning job,” she said. “I was up every night until 4 am churning the work out.”
The New York Law Journal job was her most prestigious and challenging, though she never actually met her art director and editor because she received her assignments by phone and fax.
“My boss would call me and outline the concept. Then I’d run with it. They would pick up the finished drawing at my workplace. This was a more complex assignment than drawing the cartoons, because they never told me exactly what they wanted.”
As if Susan McLaughlin did not already have enough on her plate, she also enrolled in New York University where she earned a master’s in art with a specialty in painting.
Now living in Connecticut but maintaining her studio in the city, she is free from the demands of two high power jobs. She paints for pleasure in oils or acrylics and takes commissions from greater Danbury area residents who want paintings of their homes, their garden landscapes, their barns,Â their dogs, or “whatever it is that is important to them,” she says.
Painting What She Sees
When she begins a painting, Ms McLaughlin Rosen purposely selects a large-size canvas that demands broader strokes and offers wider horizons. She finds she spends less and less time penciling in the outlines before applying the paint. It is Connecticut’s wild side and the artifacts of its rural heritage that fill her painterly compositions.
Those carefully rendered architectural interiors for New York’s urban centers have morphed into apple trees, barns, flowers, and old dilapidated outbuildings. The antique structures have character and history, she says, not unlike the Taunton Lake cottage built in 1917 that she and her lawyer husband, David J. Rosen, have owned for the past six years. Mr Rosen is executive vice president and CFO for a post production television commercial company and divides his time between the couple’s Newtown home and New York City.
“Before we moved here, I was starved for a place like this, but I just didn’t know it,” said Ms McLaughlin Rosen.
“What I especially love is seeing all the small decisions that were made by previous owners. I don’t want to disturb that.”
She pointed out tall, branching trees that lend a cloistered quality to the lakefront yard, and the big glacial rock covered with moss and lichens that she sees outside her screen porch window. Wild morning glories take over the garden in August, and an un-pruned lilac bush threatens to intrude upon their southern view of the lake.
“But I hate to change or cut down any of it,” she admitted.
Part of the reason she feels this way might be rooted in her recollections of summers growing up, spent on Lake Candlewood in Brookfield. Though she lived in the New York suburbs of Colonial Heights, she spent every summer vacation from the age of 5 in the Candlewood Lake house that her father built.
“He started with a shell and over the years, he and my little brother finished the wood paneling and interior. I remember for a long while we had no heat and huddled in front of the fireplace to get warm. You know how it is. Your front half is nice and toasty, and your back half is freezing.”
Remembering those early days, she feels very lucky to have ended up in a house on Taunton Lake in Newtown. When she was in her 30s, she thought of her self as a “city girl,” but friends commented that her drawings had “a woodsy look.”
“I had no idea why that was, but now I think I understand,” she said.
Drawing pictures was always something she always enjoyed doing.
“My mother and grandmother saved everything and I can see where my drafting skills began to develop. I credit my hand-eye coordination to my father, who was a surgeon.”
After two years in college studying liberal arts, she transferred to the Parsons School of Design and majored in environmental design.
“That’s where I learned everything that goes along with that fieldâ€“â€“renderings and projection drawings. Then I began my work as architectural designer. But I knew I always loved drawing better, and I knew I could be an illustrator.”
Â While doing architectural drafting, she worked only in outlines.
“Everything was very technical and hard-edge. Now I want everything to look totally natural, like a human being never touched it.”
Keeping A Day Book
Of Nature Sketches
Susan McLaughlin has a small spiral bound sketchbook that holds a place of honor on her porch coffee table. It is a lovingly kept visual diary including written comments alongside the colorful sketches recording observations of life along the Taunton Lake shore. Flipping through the pages, each drawing suggests a story.
“I watched that great blue heron while he was hunting.”
“I was wearing my straw hat out in the garden. A spider dropped down off the brim hanging on its thread right in front of my face.”
“I picked up a thick chunk of moss and found all these worms were hiding underneath it.”
“Our cat, Blossom, had a face-off with this mouse. For a long time, neither one of them moved. They just looked at each other.”
She has drawn cormorants drying their wings, the lilac tree bent to the ground after a storm, two Japanese beetles on a rose, a turkey vulture feeding on a dead fish, and her dog chasing the swans and barking at chipmunks. Bits of the outdoors – dried pressed flowers, feathers, rocks and stones -are transported inside to her kitchen table and kept there for further study.
The paintings that occupy her time are either commissions, or they are her own ideas sprung from the area landscape, gardens, and old structures she sees around her. Ms McLaughlin Rosen works in her kitchen under a large double window with a northern exposure, and she loves the spaciousness this provides, as compared to the cramped quarters of her New York studio.
Perhaps her second favorite place in the Taunton Lake home is the screened-in porch, an add-on to the original cottage that a previous owner had fitted with jalousie windows on three sides to provide an all-seasons view. The room is filled with comfortable wicker furniture.
“I feel so close to nature out here. When there’s a breeze, it’s ten percent cooler than in the house.”
Ms McLaughlin Rosen applies the same concentration and focus to her work that she once used to produce an architectural rendering or a black-and-white cartoon designed to amuse subscribers to a weekly law journal. Except that now, her technique as well as her subject has changed. The execution is less about precision and more about the freedomÂ to follow her creative instincts.
“I paint what I see. Then before long, I am thinking only about the paint and the colors.
Like I just know when a sky has to be yellow,” she said.
Â Recently, she has received commissions for landscapes and architectural paintings from several area residents. For example, after visiting a property in Roxbury, she felt the idea for a painting take hold and, “I could not stop thinking about it.”
“While driving to the city, I was visualizing my client’s 12 acres of land and the hills around it, thinking about how the trees met the sky and what lovely patterns they made. When it’s all in my head and I’m sitting down to work, my hand takes over.
“I work a long time on a painting and my husband, David, will say, ‘I think it’s done now,’ but sometimes I keep going. I like to mess it up a little,” she added.
“In the back of my mind, I’m always preparing for a show where I’ll put all these paintings together and see what I’ve done.”
Â Susan McLaughlin RosenÂ can be reached at her New York studio at 212-879-9584.