Susannah Paterson Painter, Ceramicist & Psychotherapist

Woo Woo

I suppose, being born in the Highlands of Scotland, where nearly everyone has had an encounter with a ghost, a fairy, or a witch, I’ve always been open about the paranormal. My grandmother saw several ghosts apparently and so did my father if you could believe him. I saw a ghost once too.. but that’s not really what I'm going to talk about. I want to talk about other stuff. The kind we are sometimes afraid to speak of, especially as clinical therapists, in case it’s just too, well, woo woo.

Anyone who has worked as therapist or a creative for long enough will tell you that spooky stuff happens. In fact anyone who has to attune to themselves, and their environment in order to work, develops a deep sensitivity to the invisible forces.

Lots of wild and weird stuff occurs for which there is no logical explanation - or at least a satisfactory one. There are scientists, like the absolutely amazingly gorgeous and engaging Brian Cox, who has excellent explanations of why some things are just so and I have deep respect for them. How though, does it explain things like the time I was in a deep trance on a hypnotherapy training when quite unexpectedly I found myself communicating with both my parents who had died? It was powerful and healing and gave me pieces of my personal jigsaw that were profound. Not only that, I was visited by a vast “being” who I simply knew as a big yellow angel. This being laid its hands on my abdomen and I felt something releasing.. I cried and cried, knowing that I had received some kind of healing., but I cannot tell you what exactly. There was lots more, too much to put here. Two hours later, when I opened my eyes and returned to normal consciousness I felt both exhausted and light at the same time. My therapists (there were two of them) were a gobsmacked as I was. It’s an experience that has stayed with me ever since. That was pretty woo woo.

How do I explain that only two days ago in a meditation I hear my neighbour David’s voice loudly telling me that he had Wilbur, our red cattle dog and he was taking care of him. We tragically had to euthanise poor Wilbur a few days ago due to a horrible cancer and I have been inconsolable. Oh, I should mention that David died three years ago. It made total sense on reflection, because David had adored Wilbur and had looked after him as a puppy a few times. In fact, David was known as Wilbur’s DogFather. I found it comforting, but it kind of blew me away too.

So it is when I paint. I can clearly hear Kerrie Lester’s voice giving me all kinds of instructions “not that colour doll”,”that won’t work”…” " at last, you’ve got it .. it took you long enough” . Anyone who knew Kerrie knew she could be quite cutting at times, but I loved her anyway and she did indeed transmit knowledge, liberation and joy to me with regard to paint. Whether I’ve simply internalised her voice so completely or she really is continuing to teach me from another dimension, is anyone’s guess. I don’t care though, I love having her around me either way.

As I am writing this, realising that there are way too many examples to give, I think about being on the wheel, totally i"n the zone" . It sometimes feels as if someone else is guiding my hands. I don’t know who or what, I just feel it and say thank you.

When I am sitting with another person in my role as therapist , I am often surprised at the wisdom or ideas that come out of my own mouth - definitely wasn’t me who said that! It’s like I have a bunch of other therapists all sitting around me giving me instructions about what to say or not to say, or which images to use in hypnotherapy or visualisation work. I confess it’s a little unsettling but they are rarely wrong and I’ve learned to trust them. Mostly I have the experience of my client saying “how did you know about X?” and I always reply saying I don’t know, I just took a punt.

I don’t have answers, I only know that the more I listen, the more I learn, and the more I trust, the better the work in any of these domains. Do you do Woo Woo too? I’d love to know. Feel free to send me your experiences!

Is Social Media Stealing Your Joy

Is Social Media Stealing Your Joy?

Every now and again I think to myself I simply must get my head around this Instagram or Facebook thing. Maybe I could reactivate my old Tumblr feed or tiddle about with my Etsy shop?

I read that other artists are selling loads of stuff on all these platforms and yet I struggle to get more than 50 rather meaningless “likes” and a couple of comments. Don’t get me wrong, I do like those likes, and if the comments are not generated by a bot, then I like those too, but blimey, suddenly an hour has gone by and the washing still needs doing.

Apparently it’s something about the algorithm. It seems I have made the horrible mistake of actually paying for ads on Facebook - usually for events like my Open Studios. It’s always been totally useless (so don’t bother). These platforms are not for the likes of us. The artists who barely make enough to cover our costs, let alone have a spare couple of grand for a marketing campaign. LOL! - if I have a spare couple of grand, it’s off to the art or potters shops for me. It’s probably that way for you too.

Anyhow, back to the story, I begin by spending the better part of a day in a whirlwind of computer screen activity, trying to understand all the most recent advice on what to do. I enthusiastically make some changes to various pages, website, feeds, and then guess what? Nothing happens. Nope. Not A Thing. They’ve choked my feed for god’s sake because I once paid for it, so clearly I will again (no I won’t because it’s rubbish), and until I do, they will make damn sure my posts are sprinkled so very lightly that only a few diehard fans even notice I’ve made something new. Joy duly stolen.

My husband says that social media is like a giant pokie machine. The more you post, the more they encourage you to do more and mine your data is a diamond mine. It’s sucking us all in folks, gobbling us up like that Dr Who episode . So, I hereby announce that I will not try to make my feed look staged and neat with everything seamlessly linked together. I will continue to post whatever I want, whenever I want and homogeny be damned. They will like it or they won’t, but I have a hunch that one day it is those of us who have kept our authentic voices in the public domain that will draw attention away from the boring, banal, and overly derivative.

Anima Mundi


A few days ago I received a letter from an organisation in Italy, inviting me to submit my work for consideration for the Anima Mundi Festival in Venice. It was not the invitation that excited me so much because I am perpetually invited to submit work. It is flattering until you read the small print and find not only does it cost $$$ to submit, if you do get chosen, you are up for even BIGGER dollars getting work shipped there and back, (and don't forget the insurance, your air fare, accomodation etc). Naturally, there are no guarantees of sales.

I was excited by the name itself - Anima Mundi, Latin, for" Soul of the World" . I was so excited that they had seen and understood my work, and that it fitted into that place.

Have you ever had that experience where you are trying to express something seemingly elusive or inexpressible? It can drive you crazy. Then one day, whilst you are bumbling along, you see something, or, somebody says something to you that encapsulates it just so perfectly. You feel delighted, excited or relieved. It happens in therapy a lot, when the therapist reflects something back to us that we have been trying to work out, or convey or understand. Sometimes referred to as a “light bulb moment”. All these years through my painting struggling to express something I could not find he words to convey. I want to shout out that there this otherworldly presence so omnipresent, yet mostly ignored by the majority of our species - The Soul of the World.

Anima Mundi is what environmentalists are so painfully aware of . “The Greenies” who are referred to with disdain by those who cannot feel it. Those who cannot feel the earth crying. They cannot feel the wounds we are inflicting on this Earth and it's soul.

When someone has a lightbulb moment they will do one of two things. They can radically adjust the course of their lives, like the moment during a breath meditation, when I realised that smoking cigarettes was absolutely crazy stupid ( what was I doing inhaling all those chemicals and poisons into my body and telling myself it was relaxing?). Or, they will not act .. they leave the insight on the trail behind them as something delightful in the moment but of no use or relevance for the future

I aim to make use of this light bulb. I want it to help me clarify and delve deeper into the task of creating a strong visual billboard that says Wake Up and Feel!

Meantime, I now look at Evocative or the charcoal drawing “Loved and Lost” and say to you this is Anima Mundi the way I experience it.

Not Everything Is Made To Be Sold

I was chatting to a fellow potter the other day about the challenge of selling our work, especially when it’s a bit “different”. She has two streams of work - stuff that sells and the stuff she loves, feels compelled to make, but nobody ever buys it. Then she said something that I found quite comforting, “not everything we make is made to be sold” I have thought about this statement for the last week, - how wonderfully liberating!

As an artist in these times, there is a mountain of pressure to produce lots of work. The online galleries which I mainly sell my work through, encourage you to upload new work frequently. What
it really means is that you must put something new on the site every week or the algorithm just drops you off, and your work never gets any exposure at all. This is maddening, since it tends to favour those that can produce what my old teacher Kerrie Lester sometimes called “sausage paintings” - formulaic, possibly technically correct, but superficial and dull.

It can be the same with pottery. I have learned that I am not, and never will be a production potter. Producing hundreds of things all exactly the same would bore the pants off me. I love, love, love making big bowls, which need to be sold at around $200 - because they take longer, and much much more skill, and the price must reflect some self worth as well as time taken. Actually $200 for a large bowl does not reflect the level of skill in any way, but people are used to paying tiny amounts for pottery, and so it’s what the market will bear. My favourite answer to the perpetually regular question of “how long did it take you to make that?” is “about five years”, because that’s the length of time it’s taken me to develop the skill to throw such large pieces on the wheel.

I know my work is a bit “out there”, and I know can bring up uncomfortable feelings for some people. However, that is what I have spent a lifetime doing in my work as a therapist - looking for strengths, beauty and light, through the muck of dark, chaos and pain! Of course I know it’s more pleasant to look at a nice still life, or a landscape, or something your brain understands immediately, but I’m just not interested in making it. It would feel like I was betraying myself in some way. It is much more interesting to spend time going deeper and discovering new things all the time.

I’m currently working on putting my paintings onto large plates, which is taking ages and tons of experimentation - I will be lucky to sell them for more that a couple of hundred bucks despite spending hours and hours on each one. Hey ho .. I guess that’s not the point though .. the point is that I need to make them .. just like I need to paint these dreamscapes. Its nice to know that not all the work is made to be sold.

Growing Myself Up

I think it’s blindingly obvious that my art is closely informed by my work as a psychotherapist, but in case you hadn’t noticed … The human struggle of being loved, liked, accepted, happy has always intrigued me. Like many people in the helping professions, I studied psychotherapy to heal myself . After all these years I don’t know if anyone is ever truly “healed” . I’ve come to think of it as a lifelong project.

Having said all that, I know I went through stage of feeling pretty “healed” and stable, only to get knocked off my pedestal by a number of things. The first was professional burn out and some PTSD from the vicarious trauma of listening to so much distressing material. On reflection, it’s not so much the content, but the process and the psychic energy it takes to “hold the space” for years on end for somebody who is being consistently abused by a partner, but is trapped in a relationship. To hold the space with someone who contemplates suicide week in and week out. Holding the space with another who is so possessed with a life threatening addiction and who just can’t seem to surrender fully to the idea, and so on.

The second thing that knocked me was bumping into the reality of being a creative person and dealing with rejection after rejection. I joked with another therapist/artist friend that learning to deal with the inevitable and repeated rejection is the ultimate in personal growth. Gone is any illusion that I will be the next super dooper successful painter or potter. Gone is the dream that I will be “discovered”. The truth is that it is a grind, and it’s plod plod, and it takes years and years to develop your own visual voice, and the confidence to go with it.

You have to hold onto your belief in yourself like clinging to an anchor in a hurricane. Its easy to think that either you will never be good enough so why bother (whatsthepointitis), or you keep changing your style to the latest abstract artist who seems to be doing well , jumping on someone else’s wagon of success … and in the process, abandoning yourself.

I’ve been rejected from 90 % of art prizes I’ve entered, and I’ve had people promise to buy work, never to reappear again. There’s the endless unsolicited advice from well meaning people - and you need a strong internal boundary to deal with it. There’s the paintings that don’t work. The pots that looked fabulous before they were fired .. the breakages, the returns, the judgements.

On the other hand, the practice of a professional artist challenges and forces me to confront the bits of myself I don’t like, more than any Gestalt group I’ve ever been in. I can be lazy, impulsive and a bit disorganised .. oh no no no, there is no space for those things in a rigorous art practice! The public is no kind therapist inviting me to gently explore these things, it is a harsh nope, that won’t do. And of course, this is right. Art is pushing me, shaping me, forcing me to grow up and get real, and I am beginning to grudgingly appreciate it.

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