Colorfully abstract and thought-provokingly clever are only some of the myriad adjectives one could use to describe island artist Susan Sadler's varied and prolific body of work.
Sadler has been a resident on Sanibel for 11 years, but some of her earliest memories of becoming an artist date back to her early years growing up in Michigan.
"My first encounter was when I was probably four and I had a family friend that was much older that would lay on the floor and color with me. But he was an artist himself, so we didn't just color - we rubbed the color with little tissues and softened the people's faces. I was fascinated by it," Sadler recalled.
Local artist Susan Sadler poses with some of her most recent compositions in her home studio. She is wearing a jacket of her own design.
"So I started with kids' crayons and pastels, and when I was eight, I began selling my little paintings to all my relatives," she laughs.
From her early career as artist and entrepreneur, Sadler went to college where she studied interior design and then on to Mexico where she studied pottery and batik, a kind of dyeing technique for textiles.
"I started in with batiking in a big way, and then I really got tired of not knowing what color my hands were going to be for the rest of the week - it's so messy - so I started doing more direct dyeing than anything else," she said.
"And then I kind of took a hiatus from that, went back to school at University of Colorado and had kids."
In addition to beginning a new family, Sadler began her own business selling articles of clothing she'd decorated with various motifs. She sold her fanciful apparel at outdoor fairs under a tent for 30 years.
"We were back on the East coast by then and I started out with shows and entered some local fairs and really enjoyed, not only painting the designs, but choosing garments for people. It was really more like a little travelling boutique," Sadler said.
"It was always nice because it made women happy to feel good. I liked making sure everything fit and that it was complimentary to them," she continued, noting that every once in awhile she'll do a local show, but she still has plenty of t-shirts, jackets, pillows and bags for sale at 2 Islands Gallery.
"I do a lot for here. More beachwear - happy, whimsical things," Sadler said, listing crabs, gators, flowers, dragonflies, turtles and frogs as some of her steadfast design themes.
After 30 years of creating fantastical fashions, Sadler decided to branch out and explore some of the other facets of her wide-reaching creativity.
She says it was while taking an art class at BIG ARTS that an instructor took notice of her work and suggested she interview at the Tower Gallery on Sanibel.
"I was shocked. I thought you had to have a body of work and I'd just done three pieces on paper in class. She said, 'Just go!'" Sadler said.
"So I had the things framed up and I took them in there and interviewed with the Tower and they brought me on. I love it. The Tower is a great cooperative. Everybody there is like a big family of artists and like-minded people," said Sadler, who acts as vice president for the Tower gallery and co-manager of 2 Islands Gallery.
With renewed confidence in her artistic abilities, Sadler - who happens to have an insatiable urge for all things creative and is ever the inquisitive student - began to pursue even more fine arts training, especially in painting.
Sadler credits the Fauvist movement (think Henri Matisse) as one of her greatest sources of inspiration.
"That whole period is a big inspiration. I really like [Richard] Diebenkorn. My goal is to get to that point where I can become more and more abstract and still be comfortable," she said.
Sadler says her biggest strengths as a painter are color and composition.
"It's more about my interpretation, so everything is abstracted. I paint from memory and experience," she said.
"Wherever I am, I'm influenced by the colors and the shapes and the light."
And indeed, one of Sadler's pieces - "Flower Market" - thoroughly represents this stream of consciousness style, appearing more as a collection of fluid thoughts and emotions punctuated by moments of delicate clarity, rather than just a static arrangement of flowers.
"Right now I'm doing a series of chairs," Sadler said.
"Chairs represent a lot of things. It's a time to relax. Or they can have an isolated feel. Or a part of a group. They represent conversation. I'm so fascinated with them and I love to make them all different colors and shapes," she said.
She also paints landscapes.
"I do landscapes that are memories of where I've been. I like to go up north [and] I go up to Michigan every year. There's nothing better than Michigan in the summer - that's the only good time in Michigan!" Sadler laughs.
But Sadler also says she's inspired by other people.
"I love the energy of fellow artists. We really feed off of one another."
And just like most creative people, sometimes, they hit a block.
"That's the part about it that I love. It's always a challenge. I think challenges really help you dig for your creativity," Sadler said.
"When I start a painting, I have an idea, but the real process in painting is more of a reaction to what's in front of me. I may have started out with a certain idea, but when I get into the work, then I start reacting to what the paint does. It's a back-and-forth, kind of a conversation with the canvas," she said.
When Sadler isn't adding to her prolific collection of paintings, she's just like any other active Floridian.
"I have two adorable grandchildren and three fabulous sons who are grown. I bike, play tennis, Pilates, I do a lot of exercise. I always start the day out with some kind of exercise," she said.
"I also love to knit. Knitting is a process I love. It's meditative. I love the yarn, the textures. I'll work all day long and I'll be tired and then I'll think, 'I get to go sit in my favorite chair and knit!' I make all sorts of things. I'm not very good at sweaters that fit, but I try," Sadler said, recalling an incident where she had made a Christmas sweater for one of her sons, only to discover that when he tried it on, "I could have fit all three of my sons in that sweater!"
So what's next for Sadler?
"I don't know, it hasn't come to me yet. I'll definitely throw in a few palm trees because tourists seem to like palm trees and I'm not above painting what sells," Sadler said, noting her feelings on balancing creativity with business, especially in a rough economic climate.
"I think I learned that more by having the clothing business. If something's going to sell one week, you better be doing it again. I'm enough of a business person to be able to know that I like to make money and I need to make money," she continued.
"But even if you're painting a palm tree, and it's not really your inspiration, you're still painting. You're still playing with the color and the texture, so it's OK. I just love the process."
You can view Susan Sadler's paintings and clothing at 2 Islands Gallery in Chadwick Square at South Seas Island Resort, open to the public every day from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information about the gallery, call 472-5111 ext. 7633.