A self confessed art forum addict, Lauren Small is an extremely talented local artist who specialises in fantasy art. She tells us more about her unique style.
How long have you been exploring your artistic creativity?
As a child, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I was older, but as far back as I can remember, I have been addicted to drawing. I was completely absorbed with the natural world around me and loved all the animals I grew up with and the creatures I would find when I would spend hours exploring the paddocks and creeks around my home in the Orara Valley.
Though I didn’t immediately pursue an artistic career when I finished school, spending a few years training in equine husbandry and young horse education, I quickly realised that further formal education was frustrating, and it was drawing and illustration where my passion really lay. I’ve spent many years educating myself in creative and artistic skills that held the most interest and which inspired me to challenge myself.
Describe your style …
When I begin a new work, I imagine the design of each character and structure down to the tiny details for the scene that forms in my mind, so that there is life in each blade of grass, each feather and flower petal. The fantasy worlds and characters I imagine in my dreams are sometimes so vivid, that it’s almost disappointing to wake up and lose them … even if it is only until I can switch on my computer and start putting the dreams back together again with my vast collection of stock images.
The colours, patterns and textures I use are created from combining my own photos with royalty free stock images and resources provided online by artists around the world. Each artwork may have over 50 photographic references worked into every inch of the digital canvas, and it’s all stitched together with drawing and painting, so that the finished artwork looks like a movie still from my imagination.
Many of the artworks I created over the past 12 months have the distinctive appearance of seeming as though they are set on a theatre backdrop, with the scene growing out of the stage. And the characters I create for each visual story are usually wistful, ethereal and feminine creatures that are completely part of their surroundings. Some are even growing out of the ground as trees or are part of the ocean they swim in, with their hair forming fronds of seaweed in which the ocean creatures live.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The most significant influence comes from reading folklore from around the world, though recently I’ve been studying mainly the folk tales of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. After I travelled to the UK a few years ago, I went on a solo backpacking trip around Ireland (without the backpack) and fell completely in love with the landscape there. I was wandering around in the forests of Glendalough and Killarney in autumn … absolutely the most magical places I’ve ever seen. The thick forest trees, beautiful streams, waterfalls and the plush carpet of moss on everything was so inspiring. For some reason, it’s the smell of those places that is the clearest memory for me … the wet earth and the gentle sound of the rain filtering through the branches above before it plops onto the ground.
As I’m writing this, it’s raining here at home and the sound is making me very nostalgic … I would go back to Ireland in a heartbeat.
What mediums do you use?
My graphite and coloured pencils are never far away from my hands. Drawing is one of my favourite ways to relax, and it is easy to carry a little sketch book around with me so I can quickly scribble the ideas that pop into my head at any moment during the day or night. Then later, I’ll take some of those little scribbles and develop the idea into a finished piece using my computer to layer my sketches with photos and digital painting.
For the past 3 years, I have been teaching myself how to paint digitally and create photo based mixed media artwork using a digital pen and graphics tablet. It is just like having a canvas and paintbrush plugged into my computer, so the process of painting digitally is much the same as using acrylic paint but with no mess, and I don’t have to wait for anything to dry.
The experience of painting in such a way and being able to replicate the images I imagine is so rewarding. Ever since I created my first digital piece Mermaid Behind Her Mask, I haven’t looked back.
What are some of the challenges you face when creating a piece?
The main challenge is the limitation of time. There are simply not enough hours in the day for me to fit everything in. Daily chores, housework and sometimes even mealtimes are forgotten. When an idea takes shape in my imagination and wants to be set free, I am very easily distracted from everyday life, and the artist brain takes over.
I might sit down in the morning to draw for just a few minutes, then seemingly only moments later realise that it is late in the afternoon and I haven’t even had breakfast yet!
Do you have a favourite piece you’ve done?
It feels almost like being asked to choose a favourite friend … would I be betraying the others if I chose just one? There is an enormous sense of achievement that I feel with quite a few of my latest works, so they stand out for me more than the others.
SorrowStar, my drawing of an Ophelia inspired water nymph and my digital painting Wrencatcher are particular favourites, both because of the amount of time I poured into them, but also because I enjoyed every moment of their creation. Sometimes everything just falls into place; the pencil feels smooth against the paper, there is no indecision, and I completely zone out and just focus on the drawing. I’d love those moments to go on forever …
You recently had an exhibition at the Bunker Cartoon Gallery. Tell us about that.
I had developed a large body of work over the past 2 years, some of which I put on display at a local school fair last year, where I met the Bunker Cartoon Gallery Coordinator, Lisa Magri. When she suggested my artwork be displayed in the gallery for Youth Week in April 2011, I jumped at the chance to share my work with the local community – especially in a venue where children and young adults would have the opportunity to see it. As many of my works are inspired by folktales and fairy stories that were essentially written for children, I was eager to see the way younger people responded to my illustrations. It has been wonderful to receive such positive feedback from the community.
Who are some of the major influences on your work?
I adore the artwork of Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha and many of the masters of fairy painting, including Edward Hughes and John Atkinson Grimshaw. Grimshaw’s painting Spirit of the Night is one of my absolute favourites.
I also love the darker illustrations of Victorian children’s book illustrator Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac and the vivid, strange fairy scenes painted by John Anster Fitzgerald. Another two masters that I greatly admire are Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the prolific painter of mythical and Shakespearean women, John William Waterhouse. Their medieval maidens and rich symbolic scenes have provided me with inspiration to last a lifetime.
More recent fantasy illustrators such as Brian Froud and Charles Vess have also left fairy shaped marks on my imagination. There is an ever growing list of contemporary digital artists that I am simply in awe of and from whom I continue to learn new and ages old techniques.
What are some of the highlights of your artistic career so far?
Having my artwork chosen for the book cover of an internationally acclaimed fantasy author has been a very exciting highlight. It won’t be on the bookshelves until next year, and I’ve been discovering just how much patience I have to muster when dealing with publishers.
Certainly, this year has been full of first time experiences, including an important milestone, my first exhibition! Having the opportunity to exhibit my artwork to the local community at the Bunker Cartoon Gallery has given me a great boost of confidence.
Where do you hope to be 5 years from now?
Hopefully, I’ll be knee deep in illustrations, with all my creative endeavours in full swing. There are so many things I want to do and learn more about, including photography, silversmithing and maybe even sculpture …
I’m also hoping I’ll have my own studio space by then. Even if I have to carve a little Hobbit house out of the side of a hill, I’m determined to move into my own space, where I can stretch my imagination and where I’ll be allowed to paint on the walls.
How do we keep up with your work?
I’m an art forum addict, so you can find me online almost anywhere, from deviantArt to my own blog gingerkellydesigns.blogspot.com, or visit my website: www.gingerkellystudio.com, where I often have updated news and even some art tutorials, contests and giveaways. People can contact me through my website and join my emailing list to receive my monthly Ginger Kelly newsletter.