That love of enhancing any and all things with decorative flair has never let up. Susan began formal studies in art at the age of 12, continuing her education through high school and college. She attended Austin Peay State University pursuing a degree in Fine Arts. Unfortunately, she was diverted by life when only a few credits shy of having her B.A. in Fine Arts; and her dream of making a living in the art field took a detour into the world of politics and government. Although her dream was put on hold, she never stopped in her endless quest to enhance her environment through the use of decorative art. Along the way, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from T.S.U. with a B.B.A. in Finance and Economics. In 1999, she finally had the opportunity to pursue her dream of building a decorative arts business and left behind a 20 year career in corporate public affairs, forming Susan Bickford Singing Walls in Nashville, Tennessee. Singing Walls offers all forms of decorative artistry, including walls, ceilings, furniture and cabinetry, accessories, and murals and strives to offer clients unique and original finishes designed specifically for them. Susan believes that her education in the decorative arts is an ongoing process and continues her studies with artisans across the country.
In 2004, Bickford attended Fauxcademy, bringing home the Level II Platinum Trophy Award for Best Venetian Plaster, Veneziano, or Marmarino Decorative Finish Project. Singing Walls’ finishes were featured in the custom home that won the 2005 Golden Aurora Award, a competition presented by the Southeast Building Conference recognizing excellence in design and construction. Most recently, Susan was honored to have multiple projects included in Melanie Royals’ “Modello by Design” publication, as well as the new Modello Design Library.
Susan, known by her close friends as “Suz,” serves as moderator on Murals Plus and regularly collaborates with other artisans both locally and nationally. In 2005, she was asked to join Sisters Hands Decorative Artists Consortium, a group that started out as a support network of friends in the business. However, when ten successful and creative women get together and start sharing, it can’t help but grow into something more. With the desire to share and network outside the group, the “sisters” are currently developing a new website, a newsletter, and a blog so they can easily share with others in the industry what they are working on both together and independently. The newsletter will share information about tricks of the trade they’ve discovered through experience, recipes, recognition of peers outside the immediate group, as well as funny anecdotes from the real world of finishing. The group is currently putting together plans to offer IDAL chapters a “Sisters” class showcasing an original finish from each member, to be taught by the local sister. The theme of the class will be best selling finishes from across the country, as well as a contribution from Cait Whitson located in Scotland. Each sister’s original finish will be one of their best sellers in their local market. Look for recipe packets available for purchase in 2009.
In 2007, Bickford began teaching a business class at Decorative Finishes Studio in Louisville, KY, focusing on pricing and estimating. The class is now being offered at other schools and to private groups as well. The class, “Taking the Guesswork out of Pricing,” was a direct result of a conversation Susan had with Martin Hirsch at the 2004 Fauxcademy about the importance of offering more in-depth training for artists about this often overlooked, but very important component of having a successful business. With an education in Finance and Economics as well as Fine Arts, it was only natural for her to first look to an efficient job costing and record keeping system when she started her own finishing business. She took her background in finance and experience in developing automated spreadsheets and developed an automated estimating and job costing system that would make pricing easier and more efficient for her own use. Through the years, she refined the estimator from a simple spreadsheet to the automated "Client Workbook" that it is today – more than just a spreadsheet, a fully automated workbook that incorporates personal break even analysis, company overhead analysis, estimating, job cost summaries, automated invoices, as well as square foot worksheets and a permanent client information record.
Susan says, "In talking to friends in the business, I realized that this was an area in which a lot of artists struggle, even after years in business. The issue of how to price and whether one was actually making a profit was a big question for a lot of artisans. That's when the idea for a business class focusing on pricing and estimating began to take shape. I felt compelled to share my knowledge and teach other professional artisans the true cost and value of the talent and craftsmanship they provide their clients. I firmly believe the first step in elevating the perceived value of an artisan’s craft is for the artist to value themselves. And I wanted to make it as easy as possible to see that value in black and white, so even those who dislike working with numbers would find it easy and time saving. I am hopeful that my effort to educate artists in this area will be my contribution to helping raise the buying public’s perception of the value of fine decorative finishing. After all, how can our clients appreciate and value our art and craftsmanship if we don’t recognize and understand that value ourselves?”
To view more of Susan’s work, visit her website www.singingwalls.com.
Susan Bickford Singing Walls