Interviews with the Artist: Laura Craig

Preface: I've decided to start a series of interviews here on the blog, all with local artists. I hope you learn something new about established artists and are inspired by the artists you're not yet familiar with. For the inaugural post in the series, I talked to Laura Craig. I know her well and was delighted to learn all sorts of new things about her as an artist. 

Laura and I met in 2007 when I started working at the UMW Graduate campus writing center where she was currently working. She reminded me of both Michelle Williams and my friend Lori and one of the first things I ever said to her was "You like jackets, don't you?". She did, and I did, and we had too much in common for our meeting to not have been written in the stars. Over these past 8 years, we've experienced together countless bottles of wine, a fashion blog, engagements, weddings, career switches, moves, clothes, babies and many nights that ended, sweaty and happily buzzed, at 3am outside of a club. She's one of my very best friends and favorite people. 

Now, Laura spends her days sliding between professional artist and mom - painting commissions and attending tea parties, you know. Her work celebrates the familiar, the everyday, and those small, ordinary moments most of us don't recognize as extraordinary until they're over. Laura has a genuine ability to cut through a lot of noise to get to the essence of a moment and then paint it with such perfectly impressionistic subtly that it really feels like you're looking at a literal representation of a beloved memory. She paints with love and joy with an effortlessness that would make Harper's Bazaar weep (inside joke, sorry). She's talented, ok?

You can find more of her work at her website here and on Etsy here. She currently has a studio at Libertytown and is also working on new pieces for an upcoming show. But how about we let her tell those stories, hmm?

Garden Bench, acrylic on canvas

Garden Bench, acrylic on canvas

1. You're sitting down to start a brand-new painting. Do you start with an idea or do you go searching for inspiration? Do you sketch? Start with a color palette in mind or create it as you go? Work from photographs? In other words, can you describe your process a bit for us?

With paintings, inspiration usually comes first from a photograph I take, or from just keeping my eyes and mind open. A large part of the process is just training your eye to look for these little moments--a perfect sky, colors coordinating in an interesting way, a jaunty perspective or composition, the skin on a peach, a child playing, a dog sleeping--and try not to let them slip away. It may be months before I get around to painting it, but at least it's there for when the time comes. Sometimes, when painting "plein air" (from nature), it's a combination of both scouting out various potential scenes to paint, and just waiting for inspiration (and the right weather) to hit. It can be hard sometimes to feel passive to inspiration, not knowing where the next big idea will come from, but I do find that as long as I have one project in the works and at least one on deck, the momentum continues to flow pretty steadily. I saw a great quote from Picasso who said, "Inspiration exists but it has to find you working." Meaning, creativity is a mix of waiting and channeling, but ALSO taking initiative/self-starting.

Baskets for Sale, watercolor

Baskets for Sale, watercolor

2. Andy Warhol once said "Voyeurism is a director's job. It's an artists', too." Do you personally agree with that sentiment?

I do agree with that statement, in two ways. First, part of being an artist is learning to look at the world and mine it for potential work. This can mean looking at your surroundings somewhat voyeuristically--"oh, that lady walking her dog over there would make a great painting," or "my friends all sitting together on the beach like that makes an interesting composition--quick, lemme try and capture that!" You're analyzing a picture from a somewhat detached perspective and looking at people as subjects, pieces of a whole. Second, and this is especially true with portrait painting, you can find yourself up close and personal with every detail of a person's face or body and scrutinizing it for the purpose of rendering it accurately on canvas. Granted, very soon into the process, facial features and body parts just become a collection of shapes, colors and tones (nowhere is this principle better exemplified than in nude figure drawing). A nose is no longer a nose, but just a bunch of contours and shadows. So you are to a degree removed, but it is a bit weird, being at once SO familiar with the very personal.

3. One of your paintings is bought by a museum and you're able to hang it anywhere on site. Which painting, which museum and where would you hang it?

"Picnic in the Backyard," along with the impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

Picnic in the Backyard, acrylic on canvas

Picnic in the Backyard, acrylic on canvas

4. How long have you been painting? What's your training?

I have been painting and drawing practically my whole life, though it has gotten progressively more serious as time has gone on. I can remember doing watercolors of birds from my mom's Audobon bird book in lower and middle school, or painting pictures of our dogs and cats. I would do paintings of my parents'  friends' houses for gifts. Training-wise, aside from your standard middle-and high-school art classes, and the odd watercolor class here and there, I have had none. Nothing formal. Since I have begun painting professionally, however, I have been trying to push myself to learn new techniques and try new things, fill in some of the gaps that a lack of training might leave, and have learned a ton just from watching youtube videos and following the work of other artists whom I admire. Sometimes I wonder what my work could have been if I had gone to art school and properly honed my talent and received the benefit of mentorship, but you can't go down that road. I'm just happy to have the ability to create the work that I do, through my own particular set of circumstances.

Hanover Street, acrylic on canvas

Hanover Street, acrylic on canvas

5. What's your favorite music to listen to while you paint?

My go-to music for getting in the groove while painting is: Pretty Lights, The Strokes, Radiohead, or my Passion Pit Pandora station. Or, weirdly, utter silence.

Garlic, acrylic on canvas

Garlic, acrylic on canvas

6. What's your greatest art-related extravagance?

 I dont skimp on my paints--and I would give this advice to anyone looking to start out. Go for the good stuff, the pro-quality paints, even though it's tempting to buy the student-quality because it's scary to drop a ton of money up front. But it makes such a difference in your work! And I'm talking about acrylics and watercolors, for the record. But I'm willing to bet it's the same with oils too.

Mike and Holly's Wedding, acrylic on canvas

Mike and Holly's Wedding, acrylic on canvas

7. You decided to begin painting professionally around the time you had Nora, your first daughter. You're going on three years now (with another baby on the way!) with multiple shows and commissions under your belt and more planned - what have you learned so far about balancing work and motherhood? 

Am i really going on three years?! Yikes! I still feel very much like a little fledgling. I think what I have learned and continue to learn is good old fashioned time-management, and I would add, space-management, since I primarily work at home. I've learned to adapt my painting to Nora's schedule, which means I paint while she naps and after she goes to bed, and on weekends when my husband is around and I can check out for a bit. I have gotten pretty good at working in two- to three-hour intervals, which I find has actually helped the quality of my work. I am forced to put the brush down and step away, instead of laboring on indefinitely, and that allows me to switch off my brain and come back later with fresh eyes--always a good idea. Also, I am fortunate that my set-up does not take up a whole lot of space, so I can pretty easily carve out a corner for myself somewhere in the house that feels comfortable and conducive to working. I have learned that I can't work amongst clutter, and it's important to find good light if you can, hence the space-management point. But the work-motherhood balance? There is always a tension there, a fear that attending to one means neglecting the other, but I believe the opposite is really true: a creatively fulfilled mother is a happy one, and a good example for her kids.

8. Painting isn't your only creative interest - you used to own a jewelry design business, wrote a fashion blog, belong to a bookclub, enjoy traveling and love interior design. How do these other creative aspects of your life inform your painting? Is there any cross-over?

All of the creative interests you mentioned are really just different sides to the same multi-faceted die, and they're all equally important to me in their own ways, and do inform each other in turn. I think it's true of most artistic types that you are rarely fulfilled by just one modality, and find creativity and the search for beauty imbuing all areas of your life--your clothes, your home, your work, your food, etc. For me, painting fulfills a need to represent and translate the beauty of what I see around me. I also love the technical challenge of it. Fashion allows me to play with different moods and aspects of my personality--who do i want to be today? Interior design and the evolution of my living space reflect the importance of feeling at once comfortable and stimulated by my surroundings. To me, the purpose of a well-designed home is to evoke a particular feeling (hopefully a welcoming and positive one). Travel is, of course, the mind-expander, the eye-opener, and can affect your creativity in untold ways. So many of my paintings have been from photos I've taken while traveling. They are the ultimate mementos. All of these things satisfy a particular need for beauty, productivity and expression--storytelling in a nonverbal sense. I could never write a poem or short story or novel; my brain just doesn't work that way. But I do relate to the same compulsion that a writer has when they're sitting on an idea, to "get the story out," to take it out of my head, make it a tangible thing, and then share it with others. It's just how we're wired. "Makers gonna make," as they say!

LaPerouse, watercolor

LaPerouse, watercolor

9. If you could go anywhere in the world for a week to paint the landscape and the people, where would you go?

Provence in the spring when the lavender blooms, Venice anytime.

10. Do you have any special events, shows or plans coming up in 2015 you'd like to share?

I am very excited about my solo show scheduled for April and May at Bistro Bethem here in Fredericksburg. I am working really hard to produce all new and never before seen pieces to debut. In a sense, I have one child to birth first before the actual real child can come. And then I'lll be taking it easy for awhile until I get back on my feet and no doubt will be itching to paint the newest member of the family!