Sue Hunter Hidden in the Hills Cover Artist

Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer

Photography courtesy of Sue Hunter.

There’s no predicting what Sue Hunter will paint next—and that’s exactly how the talented artist likes it. 

Lately, she has devoted much of her time to creating whimsical mixed media collage paintings, but her diverse works include traditional oil paintings, acrylic non-objective paintings (abstract), impressionistic watercolors, and she even worked in pastels for a few years. Her subjects include landscapes, animals, figuratives and florals, and all of her work is full of color and emotion.

A Scottsdale resident, Hunter is one of 199 artists participating in the 23rd Annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour taking place over the last two weekends of November, and she is this year’s chosen cover artist for the Hidden in the Hills directory.

Coordinated by the non-profit Sonoran Arts League, Hidden in the Hills is Arizona’s largest and longest-running artists’ studio tour. This year’s free, self-guided tour features 47 studios throughout Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale.

True to Herself

A native of Arkansas, Hunter moved to Arizona in 1960 where she worked at Honeywell for 20 years. While she has always been creative, she didn’t pursue art full-time until 2002.

She is a graduate of Western International University and has studied at Scottsdale Artists’ School. While famous impressionist artists Claude Monet and Edgar Degas influence her, she has found her own unique style that, while impressionistic, is true to herself.

“I like to paint what I feel, not what I see,” Hunter said. “I start with a photo, or I may be painting plein air, and at some point, my intuitive nature takes over and the painting takes on the character of the emotion of the image.”

She views each painting as a problem-solving opportunity, and she often takes liberties, even with her still life and figurative paintings. 

“Early in my career, my painting style was traditional realistic, but I didn’t like being so structured,” she said, adding that oils and watercolors require more structure.

She prefers the freedom to experiment with no restrictions.

“I learn the rules then break them if necessary for the success of the painting,” she said. “I never know my subject matter or the background of a piece until I start painting a non-objective painting. Composition, value, color and texture are important to me, but I like to be surprised at the outcome.”

She prefers to paint with fluid acrylics because of their vivid colors. Acrylics also allow her to work quickly. 

“I teach classes at Shemer Art Center and in my private studio, so I have to paint in spurts when I have time,” she said.

Collage Captured Her Spirit

Hunter’s studio is jam-packed with boxes of handmade and store-bought paper, stamps, maps, Coca-Cola bottle caps, stencils, sheets of music, glass beads, buttons, feathers, eyeglasses, wire, embroidery thread and other unique items.

“I never wanted to do collage because I knew it would take over my studio,” she laughed.

However, that changed when she traveled overseas two years ago. 

“When a friend invited me to Ireland to work with other artists on a mosaic, I thought I would be a “go-fer” since I had never done mosaics before. Experiencing how the mosaic was constructed and completed influenced me when I started doing collages,” she said.

She has the most fun embellishing pieces, and she wishes people could see more of her mixed media elements in photos.

“My ‘Book of Knowledge’ painting, for example, includes a set of real eyeglasses that a student gave me,” she said, adding that several students have given her items that she has incorporated into her work.

“One student gave me a bag of beads she had made, and another a student gave me a wreath of white silver tipped feathers which were used in my collage, ‘Peking Duck,’” she said. 

Several collages include coins and music notes. Another painting includes a button that belonged to a student’s grandmother.

“I often include mixed media pieces that have meaning, and each painting has a story behind it,” she said. 

HITH Cover Artist

This will be Hunter’s 19th year participating in Hidden in the Hills, and her first year as the featured cover artist for the popular event. Her mixed media collage painting, “All Tied Up,” featuring a scarlet ibis, graces the cover of the 23rd Annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour directory. 

Over the years, the popular four-color, glossy artists directory has become a collectible among patrons. Hunter’s colorful, whimsical collage painting was among more than 75 pieces of diverse fine art entries submitted for consideration for the cover art during a juried selection process.

“There were so many terrific entries, but we kept going back to Sue’s whimsy and bright mixed media collage painting,” said Hidden in the Hills co-chair Jane Boggs. 

Hunter said “All Tied Up” includes mixed media elements from a trip to Poland two years ago. 

“The flowers on the bottom of the painting are from napkins I brought home, and if you look closely, you’ll see some Polish stamps,” she said.

The colorful painting also includes a subtle message.

“While creating it, I began to think of how so many items we discard end up in the environment, causing harm to the animals,” she said.

Hunter has received many accolades for her work, but her greatest reward is teaching others. 

“I love teaching, and I encourage students, but never dictate,” she said. “I have had many students who had never painted and who did not believe they could produce a painting. But when they completed their first painting, the wonder and joy were unbelievable!”

She believes art is good for the soul, and she said her art has helped her get through many difficult challenges, including the loss of her husband, John, several years ago.

“I believe art is the best therapy for everyone,” she said. “I prefer to go with the flow, let the brush dance along, and then surprise myself with how I can use mixed media elements. If I have to stop to think about it, I’m no longer having fun.”

During Hidden in the Hills, Hunter will exhibit a variety of mixed media collage, oil and abstract paintings at Jane Boggs’ Studio #28 in Cave Creek.

23rd Annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour

Friday through Sunday, Nov. 22–24 & Nov. 29–Dec. 1 | 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Free, self-guided tour featuring 199 artists at 47 studios throughout Cave Creek, Carefree & N. Scottsdale

Maps available at Sonoran Arts League’s Center for the Arts | 7100 E. Cave Creek Rd., Suite 144, Stagecoach Village, Cave Creek

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