Interview with Barb Suttie

The Tweed region is known as the ‘Valley of Contrasts’ It offers an assortment of visuals to those inspired by nature… from oceans to forests, to the mountains and the river.  With such an array of views to paint, sketch, or write about, it is no wonder that a great many artistic folk call it home.

It’s a crisp June afternoon as I take the delightful drive along the Tweed Valley Way on my way to interview Murwillumbah artist Barb Suttie.  Cruising beside the Tweed, I notice the silver ripples of a high tide gently lapping the river bank. The cool winter weather and open blue skies make for clear views over the landscape. Lost in thought, the words of the song, ‘you can see forever and ever and evermore’ flash into my mind.

As I round a bend the imposing figure of ‘Wollumbin’ or ‘Mt Warning’ as it is also known comes into my line of vision.  The mountain is the Tweed’s most distinctive landmark and has been the subject of much of Barb Suttie’s creative work.

The atmosphere, cleansed by recent rains, feels thin and it’s so clear it is possible to see the many subtle hues of the mountain range.  I am daydreaming about interview questions, keen to ask ‘The Mount Warning Artist’ (as Barb is known) about her relationship to ‘Wollumbin’. What fuels her desire to express its beauty and give ‘life’ to the giant on canvas.

Arriving at Barb’s pole home, I climb the steep steps to the first level where she greets me at the door draped in a bright cerise scarf. Immediately Barb strikes you as someone who is unafraid of colour. Inside, the vibrant beauty of her artwork lines the walls. With a steaming cuppa at the ready we get down to business

Later, viewing the paintings that Barb is currently working on, the colour layering, and fine brushstrokes that give life to her landscapes are fascinating to observe. Barb has one ready to submit for an Art Prize. Her book might be called ‘Caldera Gifts’, but after spending such a lovely afternoon together, I know it is Barb who is a ‘gift’ to the Caldera. A generous soul who shares her talents with us all.

YR: What messages do you wish to express through your art?

BS: Fascination, intrigue… the desire to share a journey, hop into my world, everyone’s world.  People think there is some magical trait born to artists, but I believe it’s more about opportunity, and having people who encourage you.  All have the ability of seeing and feeling.

magestic Mount Warning/Wollumbin

Mount Warning/Wollumbin

YR: You have enjoyed success as an artist where does your creative energy come from?

BS: When you have inspiration it almost drives you to the canvas, for me, that’s the addiction, the space you want to be in. During my art classes I sometimes notice students being in a state of total absorbed energy;  calm and focused.  It is similar to when I’m really into a painting. The feeling of the brush on canvas is like a form of meditation

YR: Describe your relationship to the Mountain? How did it start?

BS: When I was in Melbourne I went to an amazing Clairvoyant who described two things about my future. One involved music, and the other was about living in an area near water and a Big Triangle. I believe the ‘Triangle’ she spoke about was Mt Warning (Wollumbin). I like mountains and I yearn to see it.  In Byron recently I had my sketch book and could have drawn anything, but I drew the mountain. When I think of the mountain I feel exhilaration, connection, spirituality. It is silently powerful and has a magnetizing energy ….but I couldn’t live too close, I need some space. When I see [the mountain] I walk it with my eyeball caressing, caressing shapes and extending that to the brushstrokes…creeping around the mountain feeling into the depth, into its core. I can achieve a depth working in oils, that would not work as well in water colours.

YR: What is your preferred medium/s?

BS: Oil, ink, washes, acrylic.  Texturally, I like oils. It’s almost like sculpting with clay, not thick paint though, more like a process of layering. It’s my process and I guess it’s what I’m used to.

YR: Why do you mostly paint in oils?

BS: For the technical skills. It is hugely important to develop mastery, otherwise you can be left totally frustrated if you do not master the medium. That is why I specialize in oils. Push one medium and have the depth of technique to convey.


reflections accross the water

Reflections of Wollumbin

YR: What is your muse?

BS: Nature is my muse. It is grounding looking at the natural world through a palette…clouds, trees, the view. It’s more about shifting your thinking… I see things through an artist’s eye…colours.


YR: What is your current focus?

BS: Originally everyone saw me as the solo artist. I guess that is because I wanted the focus to be on the paintings, to let them speak for themselves.  Now I enjoy much more collaboration…sharing my skills, mentoring teenagers and of course my art classes at Uki.

YR: What projects have required you to collaborate?


  • Working on ‘Colour Your Life’ – a TV series about artists at work,
  • Publishing my book ‘Caldera Gifts’,
  • Being part of ‘In Touch’ group of women artists,
  • Teaching art to teenagers, ‘Links to Learning’,
  • Collaborating with clients to work on murals and commissions.

YR:  Tell me something that people may not know about Barb Suttie?

BS: I suppose that I am a multi-faceted personality. As well as being an artist I teach Special Education and work with people with disabilities. I used to be an orientation [cane and sonic] guide for people who are vision impaired. It was an experience that taught me that you can see the world on different levels, interpreting the world via sound, not vision.

By Yvonne Rose

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