Coffee or Tea? You and Me! Let’s Chat…Sue Zipkin, Artist

The weather is beginning to cool off slightly here in Fresno, and some of the leaves are beginning to turn, so a chat by my virtual fireplace seems to be in order.

A few weeks ago, I came across the designs of Sue Zipkin. (See a sample of her work above). I noticed that she has a blog in addition to her website.  As someone who works with people who have dyslexia, the title of her blog caught my eye—Blogging With Dyslexia. 

I really wanted to interview Sue.  Luckily for me, and for you, she agreed.  After some discussion, we decided to post her responses to my interview questions unedited.  As she explained,

“To be honest on my blog I call it “blogging with dyslexia” so if I make mistakes and people read that and try and give me a hard time I share the reality. A friend of mine at times helps me but it is not always possible to have an editor so I do the best I can. I really have a wish for others who want to share is… even if they cant share perfect and have no editor in life to go out and do it any way.don’t let the word police stop them. Over the years I have noticed how intolerant and insulting people can be towards people who spell wrong online.”

Nancy Barth (NB): Your tagline is “Put a Little Zip in Your Life.”  Whenever I visit your website or blog, I automatically smile a little bigger. Just looking at your designs in energizing! Did it take you long to come up with the designs for your website and blog?

Sue Zipkin (SZ): the designs that I feature on my website and blog or artwork that I use for or licensing. I do design my own blog, but I use a template that is in the TypePad program, and just change the artwork to my original designs. I also design my own website using a program called Freeway  for the Mac. I have taught myself some basics on web design, and watch video tutorials to help teach me how to do things, the only thing is often I will learn something and then go to try it again and update my site for example, and completely forget what I already learned and how I achieved what I did the first time. I find it even harder to direct web designers what I am looking for and to have them update my site, it can be a challenge for me to give clear instructions to somebody what my vision is. I think this is challenging for many people even who do not struggle with dyslexia.

NB: Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?

SZ: I get my inspirations from everywhere.   I am very inspired by nature, the patterns and colors in nature.  Everywhere you look, you can find such beauty. I study the art licensing market which is what I am currently designing for. I am often inspired by looking around on the web at all the beautiful blogs and the gorgeous photography.

NB: You’ve been designing for more than twenty years.  Has your approach changed over the years?

SZ:Yes my approach has changed over the years, and is always changing, years ago when I 1st started out, most of us did not use computers, over the years I have taught myself how to use programs such as Photoshop, I still paint most of my artwork, then I scan it and often play around with the program. I probably only know a small amount of what I could possibly do in this program, but I know enough to get me by, and work in the industry I am in. Over the years I have watched many tutorials online, and in the past have worked with tech support on the phone, and learn that way. I find it really difficult to learn by reading something. So I am constantly reworking and reinventing how I present myself to my industry with my work.

NB: What are you most proud of?

SZ:  I am most proud that I have managed to earn a living from my artwork.   My industry these days has been more challenging than ever, so I am very proud that I have been able to survive in these challenging times. The business of art licensing is challenging for most artists doing this for a living so i am extra proud my art is still enjoyed by many when I am able to get it to the market. I am proud that I have “let go” of trying to be “perfect” and trying to spell perfect and be grammatically exact when i do business emails and blog posts etc.   There is only so many hours in the day and I have had to make a trade off in my business life. I run the risk that someone might be annoyed and be turned off by my style, however over the years my ability to create good designs has been what most people have focused on.  When it were close with the company, I often let them know about my challenge of dyslexia, the reason is if I am working with type, they must be extra careful to proofread what I submit before it gets manufactured, in general most companies should be doing that anyway.

NB:What dreams for the future do you have? 

SZ: well I know it sounds crazy but one of the dreams I have for the future is that people get along better on this planet,  that  people start respecting each other more. I would love for people to open up there hearts more.  Whatever one’s religion or belief system is should not matter as long as people are respectful towards each other and have peaceful intentions, I feel so sad when I see so many people are fighting about who’s right and wrong when it comes to things like religion and politics, so much hypocrisy, part of the way the world works, but my dream is that more and more people become more loving and respecting towards each other. Greed, hate, blame  and all those sort of things will just destroy our planet eventually, I guess you can say, one of my dreams for the future is peace on earth, perhaps I’m a dreamer, but you did ask.

On a more lighter personal note,  I have a dream that I can  figure out a way how to make my business run smoother, and how  I can grow into a couple other product areas and find the right  Manufacturer partners with some companies who  believe in my artwork and are willing to work with me on developing strong product programs. Another dream I have is I figure out a better way to structure my business, trying to figure out how to work with other people to help me achieve these goals.  So far I have not had much luck with that for I am busy trying to do art and show it, I lack the skills to organize others.

NB: How has having a diagnosis of dyslexia helped you in life?

SZ: When I was younger, in those days they really didn’t know much about dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, I was often put into classes for slow readers, and also my mom had taken me for many tests to try to figure out what was going on, back in those days we suspected at some point it was dyslexia however I was just thrown into the system and had to survive the challenges, with no proper diagnosis. At some point I went and was tested by a specialist and he confirmed it was dyslexia. The more I learned about it the more I realized that often people with dyslexia have other learning issues, and mainstream science doesn’t know all the answers nor understand completely what these things are, and there is debate still going on. In some respects it can be a challenge to label something, often people associate dyslexia with writing backwards, in my particular instance I do not actually do that. I have quite a bit of trouble with reading, writing things, I’m always mixing up words such as, form and from, now and know, it can be a real challenge for me. I also have trouble with coordination, and my left and right, trying to follow directions, my handwriting is very bad even though I am an artist, there are also things with drawing that I have trouble with, for example if I have to figure out where a thumb goes on a person I need really good reference or I can create that backwards. One thing I would like to say to your readers is everyone diagnosed has different variations of dyslexia, it is not just a reading problem. There are also many other kinds of disabilities that those who have dyslexia might have, perhaps I have other things but I have not taken the time to investigate, what really matters is that I figure out ways to deal with the issues that come up for me.

NB: How has it made life more challenging?

SZ:  it has made things extremely challenging for me, for example when I have to fill out paperwork, and do forms, when I go to the doctor’s office and I look at these forms I kind of feel sick to my stomach, but I do what I have to do, and I will ask questions, nowadays I will inform the person that I have this challenge, and they are usually very understanding, it is not often the case that people are patient with those with learning issues, but I have found honesty has always been the best way to handle this.  I am totally challenged in the organizational department, I have so much artwork and I’m always trying to figure out how to sort it out and work with it. How to update my website, all of these things are very challenging for me. I am challenged with technology, there are certain things I’m able to pick up on and other things I’m just lost and feel overwhelmed. Now with social media I am extremely challenged trying to keep up with it all.  I think many people have trouble with that so when you had dyslexia into the mix, it can be overwhelming. I am challenged by when I need to write something, like for example this article. I also work with a dictation program but unfortunately the program does not always do what I wanted to do, and I had trouble figuring out how to use all the commands so I am talking and typing sometimes. Then I have to go back and manually correct things best they can. I also have to deal with contracts in my line of work, and this is usually okay when we are working with my standard contract however if we are using a contract from the manufacturer that is extremely complex then it can be really hard to wrap my brain around it (although over the years I have gotten better at spotting “red flags”, I guess this come with experience.

I have also learned to pick and choice my battles carefully that certain things are worth a fight and others just drain life energy away.  I know we all need to protect ourselves in business and it life but so often we complicate everything and waste so much time on paperwork.  I definitely do not do well with reading books and things of that nature, as I’m reading I often drift off into another world so I can read all the words even out loud and not understand word it is saying, for example for many years when I was reading to my son, I would be reading the words and not really understanding what it was the story was about, and I would explain to him that I had trouble concentrating, although the way I pronounced everything, was almost perfect. One of the helpful tools I have found as I am working online, and working with this sort of project, I am able to highlight the text on my Mac and have my Mac read back to me, I have picked up voice whose name is Alex on the computer, and he is my friendly helper. It is amazing the things I can catch when I highlight the words and have him read to me. It is not a 100% perfect system but it definitely helps.

NB: What would you say to someone who just learned they have dyslexia?  

SZ:  The first thing I would like to share is that everyone has challenges, some of us have dyslexia, others might have other challenges in life.  Life in general is challenging so for someone with dyslexia I think it is a great idea to get some help.  These days there are more and more people who are tutors, and teachers that are much more in tune with some of these learning challenges. I would also like to say that don’t be ashamed, be open and honest about it, learn how to except yourself with your challenges. Work on what comes up for you if you are feeling frustrated, depressed, sad and/or lonely, or you feel that you are not good enough, you’re not alone most people who have dealt with this challenge are not always in a situation where others around them understand what is going on. So it is very easy to feel alienated and left out, try and reach out and get some help, find others who are in similar situations perhaps you can go online and find support groups. Believe that you can overcome the challenge, you might not be able to make it go away, but you can find ways to work around the situation and do what you need to do in life.

Always follow your dreams, for many of us with dyslexia we are also driven into other areas such as creative careers and have strong abilities that compensate for the challenge of dyslexia.

NB: Thank you, Sue, for a wonderful peek into your life.



  1. Sue, this is a great interview, thank you for doing it! I think you are one of the most wonderful, courageous and creative artists I have “met” in my life Sue – although we only have met online so far 😉 Your art is very uplifting and fun!. And I share with your the dream of peace on earth for mankind 🙂

    • I read your post about Renee, and that reminded me of the interview I did with Sue.



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