Look at the pictures. There's Susan Davis.

The local artist died yesterday at 51 after a long illness and a short life of illuminating reality.

Like her watercolors and drawings she was quick and airy as a champagne cork; prankish, precise, amused, bemused, beautiful for the sake of beauty, direct for the sake of wit and revelation, brave, irreverent, wistful and joyful as she moved through the world with the air of a woman about to hear or tell a terrific secret, which she'd salute with a bark of a laugh that trailed into a croon of amazement at whatever asininity had delighted her yet again.

She depicted the truths of the sidelong glance, the seemingly trivial memory--a birdhouse stacked with snow, dune grass, a shabby armchair next to a Christmas tree, distant swimmers at a beach rendered with a quality that seemed both remembered and foretold. She decorated children's books, New Yorker covers, and Washington Post columns by the late Henry Mitchell, who once wrote: "How far do we accept reality before we die inside as men?" Susan understood.

Looking at her pictures was like escaping a cozy restaurant and feeling yourself expand into the glorious cold of a city twilight; or just as possibly the reverse. If the purest of sentiments is joy in a change of psychic state, then Susan was a sentimental purist. She had a psychedelic touch.

Her confident dreamers soared over houses of infinite gravity. But then reality itself would come into question--the watercolors' transparency and the drawings' spareness kept them vibrating on the edge of existence, as if it might not be a bad idea to applaud and thereby save them as you would save Tinkerbell.

We applauded, and in the end Susan was not saved, but look at the pictures. She's there.

CAPTION: Susan Davis's "Star-Filled Night" illustrated a children's book as well as larger truths.

CAPTION: Three of Susan Davis's illustrations for Henry Mitchell's gardening column in The Post.