Suzanne Gardner Artist interview by Robert MacNeil

“Lack of sight doesn’t mean lack of vision”

Tell us about Suzanne?

I was born and grew up in Montreal, Quebec.  I became a Type 1 Diabetic at the age of seven years old.  I left Montreal to pursue a university degree in Toronto, Ontario.  It wasn’t until 1999 when I began to experience problems with my vision – blurred colors and trouble seeing details – my whole life changed.  I was diagnosed with Diabetic Retinopathy.  The tiny blood vessels at the backs of my eyes began to bleed.  The surgeons were able to halt the bleeding but I never regained my sight entirely.  I have partial sight in one eye.  This is one of the many complications of diabetes.    At this point in my life I was left Legally Blind and looking for something to give my life meaning.


When did you start to paint and why?  What was the trigger to start creating beautiful paintings?

The funny story behind this question is that I really started painting as my vision was deteriorating.  It seems counterintuitive to do anything artistic when you can’t really see but for me it was terribly therapeutic.  I had always loved drawing and painting as a child but had never pursued it in any meaningful way.  When I started to have problems seeing I was naturally drawn back to my childhood love of art.  I took different courses in drawing, sculpture and painting but was really captivated by oil and acrylic painting.


How has your vision loss affected your art?

As I have been legally blind for over 15 years and have only about 20% of my vision, I learned to work with my disability.  I do this by using bright and contrasting colours that I’m able to differentiate as well as large canvas’ rather than working on small images which are difficult for me to see.  Using yellow next to blue allows me to see the difference whereas blue next to black wouldn’t work with my limited vision.  I also place my paint on my palette in a specific order with colours that can be blended together.


What has been your biggest struggle as a legally blind artist?

My biggest struggle has been to understand that I now need to work with my disability.  What I mean by this is that I need to put dark colours next to light colours.  This helps me be able to see the colours.  If I were to put blue next to green I wouldn’t be able to see the difference.  This impacts my work as I need to keep the work very bright and vibrant. I also use very powerful magnifying glassed and I paint literally an inch away from my canvas.


Is your work inspired by another artist? Is there an artist or artists that motivates you?

There are so many past and present artists that I admire tremendously.  From the greatest impressionist Claude Monet to living Canadian artist Bobbie Burgers. I am inspired by the movement and choice of colours in their work.  Although it is impressionistic, it still exudes movement and life. I am inspired on a regular basis to work on the blending and movement of colour. I also love painting in an impressionistic style because it focusses more on the colour and movement than the detail to tell it’s story.


Why do you paint flowers and people dancing?

I love flowers and dancers but really the subject matter is just the vehicle for me to blend colours.  I want the colours to dance and come to life.  I really want there to be movement so whether it’s a dress or a petal on a flower I want it to look like it’s a river of colour flowing and bleeding together.


Your work hangs in many homes and even a few celebrities (3 time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond owns one of your florals) so it must be an amazing feeling hearing from these clients after they hang your work on their walls. Does any one client’s reaction to your work stand out?

I frequently sell work to people in other cities or countries so I try to ask clients if they would take a photo of themselves besides their painting.  It always amazes me the responses I get back about how absolutely thrilled they are with the painting and I get to see it proudly hanging.  Each and every time it is a thrill and an honour to be the artist they choose to be in their home.  Whether they are famous or an old friend it is equally as important to me.  I did have a man cry once looking at a painting of mine hanging on a gallery wall.  When the gallery owner called to tell me about this and the fact that he bought 3 pieces of my work, I was terribly moved.  As an artist reaching the client on an emotional level is always the goal so this man’s reaction to my work was thrilling.

You have quite a following around the world, is there somewhere in the world you would love to visit to inspire your painting?

There are so many places I have dreamt about seeing and painting. I don’t generally paint landscapes but I feel the beautiful colours of Greece, Italy and Spain really appeal to my colour palette. I think visiting these vibrant and interesting countries would fuel my creativity and my love of colour.


Have your friends and family been supportive of your new career? How do people react when they find out that you create such beautiful images when you are legally blind?

People are quite amazed that with such limited vision I can paint at all.  I think that people really connect with the struggle I have overcome to fulfill my dream. Many people today have similar struggles and I want to encourage and inspire others to never give up going after their dreams.


What’s next for Suzanne Gardner?

As an artist I am always striving to push myself beyond my limits and to continually learn and grow as an artist. I would love to exhibit more out of North America as I have many happy clients worldwide. I love meeting and talking to people who share a passion for colour, art, and my personal favourite animals.

To see more of Suzanne’s work please visit:

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