When you walk into A Great Gallery in downtown Gearhart, you get a genuine glimpse into pastel artist Susan Thomas’ personality. The walls and several products are adorned with her artwork and she hand-picked each gift, skein of yarn and eclectic item inside.
“It’s all centered around me having fun,” Thomas said.
When she started the gallery seven years ago, it contained a mere handful of paintings. Now, the space has evolved, doubling as her studio and a gift shop, including a variety of yarn and supplies.
“It’s another way to expose people to my gallery who otherwise would not have been interested,” she said.
The gallery also features the work of a few other local artists: colorful mixed media bird statues by Mary Schlunegger; pet portraits by Deanne Johnson; and jewelry by Donna Mareina of DM Designs. The artists also invest time to help Thomas keep the gallery operating.
Finding inspiration at the beach
Thomas, 61, was born in Surrey, England. She started her career in advertising and graphic design at the London Advertising Agency. She immigrated to the United States in 1980, eventually winding up in Oregon. When she moved with her husband from Lake Oswego to Gearhart in 2010, she found herself inspired by the beach.
“It was like, ‘I gotta paint,’” she said.
Thomas was soon introduced to pastels when she joined a group at the Trail’s End Art Association.
“That was it,” she said, adding she had a natural affinity for the medium.
Since then, her style has evolved.
“I always feel there is room to grow,” she said.
As part of her unique process, Thomas begins with a painted wood board that grabs the water-based pastels and gives each piece a unique texture and undertone. Like most pastel artists, she avoids fixatives and instead puts each finished work behind glass to preserve it.
Thomas’ work covers a range of subjects, from landscapes and seascapes to wildlife and buildings. She has also done paintings of several well-known Gearhart establishments and sites. For example, there is a painting of Sweet Shop Gearhart in a window at the gallery, directly facing the shop across the street.
Although Thomas was initially hesitant about doing portraits of people, she allowed herself to be challenged when she received a commission to paint an image of a grandfather and his grandson watching a baseball game. She was satisfied with the result.
”I loved it and they loved it,” she said.
Thomas has since completed other portraits, including one of her daughter that placed at an art show. In Thomas’ opinion, however, “having someone buy your piece of art, something you’ve created, is the highest form of compliment.”
A different look
Thomas sells original editions and prints of each piece. She also uses the imagery to adorn mugs, paper weights, trays, cards, clocks and pillows.
When she finishes a piece, she said, “I have fun thinking of all the different things I can put it on.”
Something she’s found interesting is to observe how a certain image might be popular on one type of product but not another.
“I like that dynamic of the business,” she said.
A Great Gallery also serves as Thomas’ studio space. She stores her easel, a stool and all her supplies at the gallery so she can work on-site. She enjoys having people watch her work.
“They want to see and they want to learn what I’m doing,” she said. “I want to visit with people and chat about my passion.”