Shore Thing

A Grand Rapids-area artist expresses Lake Michigan’s beauty with paint, water, and a few surprises
Artist Susan Anderson says she gets most of the inspiration for her beach paintings from Lake Michigan, especially at different hours of the day.

Five years ago, Susan Anderson picked up a paint brush and started to create a beach scene on pallet board. “Everyone was in Florida and I couldn’t be, so I said, If I can’t be there, I can at least try to paint a beach,” she recalls. Dipping her toes into the world of painting turned out to be a very good thing. She used wood from a pallet as her canvas and painted water, sand, and sky so beautifully that when people saw the results of the Michigan beach scene, they wanted to purchase her paintings. “My brother wanted a painting immediately,” she recalls, “then others, and then I started to attend craft and art fairs.” The “beach painter” from Jenison, Mich., soon became a well-known fixture at a variety of venues.

Anderson’s husband, Paul, has become involved in the art scene, as well. Today,
he purchases Anderson’s tongue-and-groove wood (no pallets anymore) and does the framing. “He’s been alongside me and I couldn’t do it without him,” Anderson says.

A lover of art since she was young, Anderson, who grew up in Forest Hills, attended Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids and then Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “I loved painting landscapes in watercolor,” she recalls, “but I wanted to be an art therapist.” She eventually received a degree in marketing, with an art history minor.

Portrait by Tracy Terpstra

Anderson, who has three grown children, says she soon started to “get out of my box more.” Floating in a more tactile direction, she added different mediums and textures to her acrylic base, such as gels and sand and crushed beach shells. Her dimensional creations with the added touches were so appealing and striking, she won an honorable mention award in the painting category at her first fine art fair (in Grand Haven). “It was a huge honor to me. I just love to paint to bring joy into the world,” she says.

The beaches of Grand Haven are, in fact, where it all started for the artist, who also owns a marketing firm called The Andersoon Group. “We’ve vacationed there for 23 years, renting the same cottage every year,” the artist says. “We cherish our family and traditional vacations.”

Being right on the water, she found her perfect muse.

Calling her work abstract (“It’s freeing; I don’t have to make it look like it’s supposed to look,” she explains), the painter says adding the sand and crushed beach shells produces texture and depth. Looking at her works, one can literally see the sand, and almost sense the feel of it beneath their feet. Since the water, shore, and sky are created with acrylic paints and, frequently, various mixed-media, and because Anderson’s creations are tactile and lightly multisensory, viewing her pieces is a dimensional experience — it’s as if you’re sitting at the water’s edge feeling the light splashes of white-crested, gently breaking waves and the tacky sand, and taking in the ever-changing blues of Great Lakes water and sky.

“I paint with a passion, to connect people with faith and optimism. I feel like I’m helping to spread more light in the world. Most people tell me they get a sense of calmness and healing from my paintings,” she says. That feeling of calm even is showcased in many of Anderson’s painting titles, such as “Unwavering,” “Healing Waters,” and “Breaking Through.”

Paul frames the finished works in the same wood that’s used for the painting. “Some of the wood is rough and some is smoother,” his wife says. “The knots make the water appear as if it’s moving a bit.” The artist adds that she doesn’t make prints; “All of my work is original.”

As for how the paintings add beauty and serenity to home interiors, Anderson shares that many of her clients hang the work in their master bedrooms, above beds, or in bathrooms. “A lot of the colors I use are peaceful — blues, teals, aquas. I also love sand colors and sunsets. I’m driven by vibrancy. And you can’t go wrong with water.”


You can find Anderson’s art at Ten percent of all sales go toward community organizations such as I Understand, Love Inc., and Mel Trotter Ministries.

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