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Family ties

Edinburgh College of Art graduates, Susan Smith and Leo du Feu on artistic lineage, nature and their new joint exhibition.

Susan Smith and Leo du Feu

Mother and son, Susan Smith and Leo du Feu are not only both graduates of Edinburgh College of Art, but are members of a family of three generations of painters. In August they are embarking upon their second mother-son show during the Edinburgh Fringe, which will also include paintings from their mother and grandmother, Molly.

An artistic childhood

Susan’s parents were both artists, her mother Molly, was a keen painter who attended the Arthur Segal School of Drawing and Painting. Her father was a draughtsman who drew meticulous pencil and ink line drawings of aeroplanes, field runways and cartoon designs for decals to go on the bodies of the RAF planes he flew in.

Both of Susan’s parents lived through the Second World War, with Molly surviving the torpedo sinking of the SS Strathallan by floating amongst the oil and wreckage for more than four hours. She went on to spend years painting landscapes and portraits which greatly influenced the artistic life Susan went on to lead, especially as her mother encouraged her to attend art college.

My mother had an adventurous spirit... go further, aim higher was part of her philosophy so I landed up doing an honours fine art degree in Edinburgh.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith, Blackbirds.

Continuing her Mum’s artistic influence, Susan ensured that she spent as much creative time as possible with her sons, Leo and Roan by setting up children’s art groups, community art activities and after school clubs.

Alongside these activities, Leo attended degree shows at ECA with his mother, but his decision to study there was ultimately inspired by a summer school he attended towards the end of secondary school, which he considers as one of his most artistically inspiring times of his life. 

Three generations of influence

Finding inspiration both in the natural world and by working together, Susan and Leo have found similarities in their creative processes and vision, despite the fact that they didn’t start working closely together until Leo graduated in 2006.

Now they enjoy working outdoors and sketching together; looking upon each other’s work with a critical eye and suggesting things which need attention. The similarities in what is produced are striking. Both artists paint sprawling trees, use vibrant colours and aspire to the freedom that Molly achieved within her work.

She often worked outdoors, most of her landscapes were started and completed outdoors. She painted in oils, as I do. I think she has a freedom to her work which Leo and I aspire to... Leo and I both tend to get caught up more in fine detail than she ever did. 

Susan Smith

Exhibiting together

Leo du Feu
Leo du Feu, Angus Treeline.

Previously, they had exhibited in mixed exhibitions together but didn’t have their first mother and son show until 2014. They believe their individual works combine well together, and enjoy the opportunity to view them outside of their individual studio spaces. Unlike their first exhibition, they will now show three generations of work by including two paintings by Molly, with the hope of including work by Susan's father in the future.

It's largely thanks to granny that mum became an artist and it's certainly thanks to mum that I became one. We hope people will enjoy comparing the three generations. 

Leo du Feu

The exhibition

Susan and Leo’s exhibition is free to view and takes place between 3 August and 18 September, 10am to 6pm at Fringe Venue 19, the Royal Overseas League. Alumni are invited to a mid-show private viewing on the evening of 21 August. Please email for details.

Related links

Susan Smith's website

Leo du Feu's website

Leo du Feu and Susan Smith exhibition on the Fringe website

Edinburgh College of Art