It only takes a few minutes to see that Susan Ste. Marie is a crafter.
On her wrist she wears a hand-made felt bangle entangled with beads, and on her ears hang earrings she’s drawn on with felt pens. Hundreds of the pens are organized by color in buckets in the back room of her Plymouth home, and stacks of finished Zen doodles — an intricate style of drawing — and needle felt creations sit on a table and in a stuffed supplies cabinet.
“I’m always making stuff, making something,” said Ste. Marie. “Always.”
A lifelong artist now retired from teaching high school special education, Ste. Marie has channeled her creative spirit into two main mediums: Zen doodling and, to a lesser extent, needle-felt crafts. She sells her works at a shop on the Plymouth waterfront, teaches classes in Zen doodling at local studios and has a piece on display in Plymouth Town Hall.
Now 62, Ste. Marie and her husband retired from their day jobs seven years ago, sold their Fairhaven home, put their belongings in storage and drove an RV across America. The couple traveled on and off for three years with no permanent home base, and it was then that Ste. Marie picked up what would ultimately become her craft of choice.
“I’d always been creative but I needed to find something I could do in a small space, something that was portable,” she said. “I got a few books on Zen doodling, I practiced and I was hooked. I’ve loved it ever since.”
Zen doodling is a kind of drawing that has increased in popularity in recent years. The art is made by taking a basic shape — in Ste. Marie’s case often a seashell, anchor or superhero-inspired outline — and filling parts it with repetitive line work such as swirls, dots, bubbles or arrows.
It can sound overwhelming, but finished doodles have an organized chaos that come together to form a cohesive piece with seemingly endless detail.
“A lot of people doodle when they’re on the phone, in a business meeting, while they’re taking a test, but I can just focus solely on it,” Ste. Marie said. “I never thought of myself as an artist per se — I was a crafter — but I found it so relaxing. I was a nervous, high-strung person, and it was amazing for me. I thought ‘If I like this, so will other people.’”
And it was that thought that led St. Marie to what she says is the best part of her entire hobby: sharing it with others. While she does sell her works at Made It! in Plymouth, she also loves sharing the process by which the pieces are made. She is still a substitute teacher in public schools and passes on the technique to her students; she has taught Zen doodle classes at M.I.Y Studio and Maribu Spa, both in Plymouth; she has published a how-to in Zen Doodle Workshop magazine; and she works on pieces she sells at the occasional craft fair.
“People like to see the process. They’re just amazed by it,” Ste. Marie said. “They look at a big piece and say ‘How did you do that?’ but when they see me do it they realize it’s an approachable type of art. You don’t have to be a professional illustrator.”
When she’s not doodling, Ste. Marie also dabbles in needle-felt art, a technique that requires stitching different pieces of felted wool together with barbed needles to create works of art — landscapes, in Ste. Marie’s case. It’s a more abstract form of art than Zen doodling and it takes a back seat to her main hobby, but it allows her to be a little less rigid with her movements.
“There’s no right or wrong. If you say ‘I don’t like this,’ you can just pull it out and try again,” she said. “Everything inspires me, but especially the sea. I’m a huge fan of the ocean. My husband says I have saltwater in my veins.”
Ste. Marie’s works — the most popular are her Star Wars-inspired pieces — are available at Made It! Large, 8-by-10-inch prints in 11-by-14-inch mats sell for $20, and smaller ones sell for $18. Original, framed pieces range in price but sell for about $80, and individual postcards are $4.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.