A Boy and His Donkey: the Story behind the Painting

We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks
We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks


It was one of the most difficult trips I’ve ever taken.  We were traveling through Burkina Faso during our missionary days, and the poverty was overwhelming.  I found myself, once again, the spoiled, picky, American girl who had trouble eating what the locals would have been thrilled to have.  One time at a restaurant, flies were swarming so thickly upon our plates of chicken and french fries that the only way we could  eat was to cover our plates completely with napkins,  pulling a fry or a piece of chicken out from under it the best we could.  I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

Speaking of flies, the donkey that I painted above had flies crawling all over his eyes that were swollen shut.  They looked like two slits– they must have been infected.  I had to use my artistic skills to open his eyes and make him look healthy and happy.  The boy also was not as healthy and glowing as I painted him to be.  The truth is that I had to change the sad realities of this boy’s life in order to create a beautiful painting that people would want to see.  I’m not sure what to do with that, and I am ashamed to complain about flies on my fries when so many in that country had so  little to eat.

How do we respond to the stark contrasts and overwhelming misery that exist in our world?  How can we help?  Guilt and shame are not the answer.  The answer is probably different for each one of us.  If only painting away the infections and the hunger would make them disappear.  I don’t know how to fix our broken world, but I do see people helping, one person at a time.  Thank you, all of you who are loving, serving, and helping, one person at a time. God sees you.




Why I Love Oil Pastels


Oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks
Oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks


I discovered oil pastels while studying art in college.  I don’t know why I picked them up in the first place, and I remember being frustrated with them in the beginning.  One of my early attempts was a ballerina whose face looked like that of an ape, sending my professors into spasms of laughter.  It’s a painful memory I’ve probably never shared publicly until now.

In spite of that failure, I kept at it, and I found that if I used a textured board and kept my work large, strikingly colorful portraits began to emerge from the background.  The pastels were so intense that I had to mix the colors on the surface of the painting.  I’ve found that not having the exact skin colors of pastels forced me to used a mixture of colors that became magic for me, and I developed my own style of portraits using oil pastels.  I thought you might enjoy seeing an earlier stage of the work, along with the finished piece.

Update on My Children’s Books

Reading with Poppy
Reading with Poppy, oil pastel painting by Susan E. Brooks. Prints available at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/reading-with-poppy-susan-e-brooks.html

When God invented grandchildren, He outdid himself — forgive me, but all of you grandparents know what I mean.  I couldn’t be more crazy about mine!  They have changed my life forever, as a matter of fact, because I wanted to write books for them.  After writing books for them, I was able to get a paid writing job for a local children’s book publisher.  One good thing led to another, and I have my amazing grandchildren to thank.

Just recently, the company that will be publishing my book later this summer was featured in Insider Louisville Magazine.  Here’s a link to that article https://insiderlouisville.com/lifestyle_culture/louisville-based-baxters-corner-creates-fun-interactive-childrens-books/.  Baxter’s Corner is a great local company that is focused on creating children’s books that promote healthy values.

Meanwhile, I’m working on writing and illustrating the third book inspired by my grandchildren, which is a surprise that cannot be revealed until it’s finished.  If you’re interested in seeing the first two books, go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/susan-e-brooks/ariel-princess-of-the-forest-mischievous-cheetah/hardcover/product-21832502.html.


Celebrating a First

This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper
This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper

In recent years especially, I have felt almost a burning desire to write–about my life, about my thoughts, about funny and interesting things that happen at my job, about the goodness of God, about experiences with internationals–stories slap me in the face nearly everyday and demand to be written!  Writing for me is a wonderful way to really savor your life, to be able to live the fun parts over and over again, and even to invent some fun in your mind if you’re running a little short.

In the summer of 2014, I was inspired to write and illustrate a children’s book for my granddaughter.  That was way more work than I ever imagined, but I also found that something intuitive or imaginative happened when I started to write: the story took a direction I never thought of in the beginning, ideas sprang out of nowhere, and the creative process, a mystery to me, made writing that book,  Ariel, Princess of the Forest, an adventure. 

I figured out how to publish it with an online company called lulu.com.  Presenting the book to my granddaughter and her parents and seeing her giggle about the illustrations of her favorite stuffed animal going wild,  was about as good as life gets for a grandmother.

Once I started for one grandchild, I was committed.  Apparently my children think I need to keep busy, because they’ve since added two more grandchildren to the count, for a grand total of six children’s books due so far!

The next summer I created a book for my grandson, Joshua’s Journey: The Secret of the Chameleon, loosely based on an experience our family had in Mozambique.  After going through the grueling work of self-publishing again, I decided that it would be nice to find a publisher.

One thing led to another, and thanks to a sweet friend pushing me to go to a writer’s meeting, I made some connections with a local publisher.  The publisher wasn’t ready to republish my books, but she was impressed with them, and decided to hire me to write for her children’s book series!

I have just completed my first book for Baxter’s Corner publishing company!  Baxter’s Corner’s goal is to create books that will teach  healthy values.  They hired me to write about one of their characters, Ellema the elephant.  Ellema and the Big Rig will be published early next year.  Baxter’s Corner already has an established illustrator for the series, Mary Ellen Stottmann, so I was hired only for the writing.  I appreciated working with the “Chief Pencil,” author and editor Linda Baker.  By the time my third and final draft was accepted, I was relieved, happy, and ready to do my victory dance!  I was paid to write!  A dream come true!  God is so good!






Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Burkina girl - oil pastel
Burkina girl – oil pastel

Selling an original painting is like saying goodbye to a dear friend.  Recently I sold this oil pastel of a young girl we encountered while traveling from Burkina Faso to Niger back in 2005.  The buyer is a complete stranger from a far away state who came across the painting in my Etsy shop, but I was happy to hear that she had actually traveled to the region, and has a heart for the children of the area.  I feel that God used the internet and my artwork to connect us– two people who have never met, and probably never will.  A part of me, an intangible part that is colors and marks and feelings that are uniquely mine,  will dwell with her family now, blessing that family, I pray, as I was blessed to see the beauty and the image of God in the young girl at the border of Burkina Faso and Niger.

Come See my Artwork at the Trolley Hop on Friday!

Getting ready for the Trolley Hop this week! I’ll be there Friday night, June 17, from 6-9pm, displaying original pastels and acrylic paintings, as well as prints, cards, and my books.   My booth will be located in front of VIP Quality Awards and Gifts, at 409 Spring St., Jeffersonville, IN.

Boy in Mozambique, oil pastel
Boy in Mozambique, oil pastel


Susan E. Brooks

2 hrs ·
Eyes That See is a great ministry that rescues women in Ethiopia who are trapped in the sex industry.  Come out and support their Charity Art Show.  As a contributing artist, I was asked to create a piece that incorporated words both positive and negative that have to do with their work in Ethiopia.  The Open House Art Show is Sunday March 6, from 2 until 5 o’clock at 1435 South Fourth Street.

Our Beautiful Mess


God's love is the background to our suffering, constant and never changing.
God’s love is the background to our suffering, constant and never changing.


Messy?  DefiniteIy! Watercolors and girl drama everywhere!

I teach a Bible class of twenty lovely junior high girls.  They are too smart and thoughtful to accept simple Sunday school answers to their many serious questions.  Some of these dear girls have experienced overwhelming difficulties in their lives that have caused them to doubt the goodness and love of God.  Most, if not all of us, can relate.  I’ve been praying that God would show me how to communicate to them that they are deeply, lavishly loved by Him.

Over the weekend as I was thinking about this, I remembered two things: One was an art technique, and the other a lesson from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Bible study that I worked through years ago.

The art technique is called a resist.  By drawing with crayon or oil pastel before painting over it with watercolor, you can produce a resist–the crayon will resist the paint.    If you use white on white, and then paint over it watercolors, you get  a surprise effect, revealing the drawing underneath as the paint runs over it.

The wisdom from Blackaby was this:  View all suffering against the backdrop of the love of God, shown to us by His sacrifice on the cross.  When I consider the death of my brother at age 20 from a rare form of lung cancer, it still doesn’t make sense to me; but this one thing I know:

God has shown me His love and His grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  His love has been the constant for me; and though I may have been furious at God for allowing my family to suffer so much, I could never deny the fact of God’s love and sacrifice for us.  I might not understand suffering this side of heaven, but I know that He is good, and that He loves all of us because of Christ.  Whatever happens, keeping that as my background against which I see everything, I do not lose hope.

Before class, I drew the cross on Calvary’s hill in white oil pastel on four panels with white backgrounds.  Then I invited my girls to paint their sufferings all over the board with watercolor, just letting it all run down over the background.  They had many words to paint over the cross, expressing their loss, grief, and disappointments in life.  The resist didn’t show up as much as I had hoped, but isn’t that the way it is in life?  Sometimes it is hard to see the love of God in the cross of Christ behind all of our troubles, but it nevertheless remains, and we must look for it.

My little sweethearts seemed to genuinely appreciate the significance of the activity.  Their beautiful eyes were bright and glistening as they fought over who would get to take the art work home.  They are messes, yes–and so am I.  Our lives are messy, but if we look carefully, we might be able to see that our lives are a beautiful mess, painted against the background of the love of God.

Susan E. Brooks, Art and Publications

This year I have published a second children’s book and opened two online art shops!  It’s been a crazy busy year, but I am very thankful for the opportunities available to me on the internet.  One day maybe I’ll write a blog about how the internet makes it possible for shy people to sell themselves and their work in ways not possible in the past; but in the meantime, I’m too busy painting, writing, and selling.  Thank you for your interest in my work.

You can view my children’s books at my Lulu author’s page.

This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper
This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper

You can purchase my original art at my Etsy shop.

Boy in Mozambique, oil pastel
Boy in Mozambique, oil pastel

You can purchase prints from my artwork at Fine Art America.

Cyprus Sunflowers - Acrylic on Canvas
Cyprus Sunflowers – Acrylic on Canvas




Peacemaking through Art

Two Iraqis and two U.S. students created this tile painting.
Two Iraqis and two U.S. students created this tile painting, the “unity” tile.


“We may be culturally different and even messy, but there are some things, such as art, that unify us in a way that can’t be denied.”

Peacemaking through Art

by Susan Brooks

It’s incredible how impactful a few hours of interaction with someone from another culture can be! Our State Department sponsors various cultural groups to visit the U.S., and sometimes those groups come to our city, Louisville, KY, through the local chapter of the World Affairs Council.  Because of my husband, Martin Brooks, and his work with Peace Catalyst International, one such group visited my school on August 26.  The group included 12 Iraqi high school students and their sponsors who had come to the states to explore “peacemaking through art and sports.”  Our students were so friendly and gracious to them!  I began to wonder if the angels had taken the souls of my eighth graders away and inhabited their bodies for that afternoon. We broke up into groups of 4 or 5 and discussed questions about culture, family, political struggles, hobbies, school, etc.  Then when the principal asked what my students had learned, one of our boys shouted, “Iraqis are awesome!”

The last class period of the day, half of the Iraqi students participated in my art class.  Doing art together turned out to be a fantastic, fun time that exceeded all my expectations and brought about the perfect ending to our great day of peace building.  At one of the tables,  two Iraqis and  two of my American students decided to work together in such a way that their tile paintings became more than just individual designs– each tile was an important part of a larger  whole, making a more beautiful and complex design when placed together.  I like to call it the “unity” tile.  One of our students said it well in a tweet she sent out that evening:

“We may be culturally different and even messy, but there are some things, such as art, that unify us in a way that can’t be denied.”

The next day, my eighth grade writing class processed the experience through blogging, and they had some great comments:
“By the end of our time with them they felt like friends, even one of us started crying.”

“They also came over here to let people know that not all Iraqi people are terrorists; and they don’t want war; they just want peace.  The experience of meeting our guests yesterday changed the way I think and react to stories on the news and to life in general.  I think this time with the Iraqis was very inspiring.”

I think so too.