On defining an artist by Laura J. Lawson

This has shown up in my social media a few times during the past several weeks:


The comments are totally full of stories about people being afraid to call themselves an artist to other people until they’ve hit a certain milestone.

Just as I sat down to write out my own struggles with artist-identity, I was kindly invited by The Cedars Union to join a panel discussion on this very topic. I hope you’ll join me and my fellow Cedars Union artists to learn about all the different ways the dream of “artist” has become our reality.

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019
6 - 8pm
The Cedars Union
1219 S Ervay St
Dallas, TX 75215

Event is FREE! Click to RSVP.

I will update this post as I collect more information about the event, and will write out my contributions to the panel discussion after it happens. I hope to see you there, and Happy New Year!

Cedars Union Artist Panel Discussion – “Finding your comfort zone as an artist” - January 15th

Panelists – Riley Holloway, Laura J. Lawson, Hatziel Flores, Melissa Turner Drumm and Jeremy Biggers. Moderated by Erica Felicella

As artists we find ourselves at times searching for the inner acceptance of being an artist. How did we get there? How long did it take? What was the process? These are common questions in an artist’s journey to their success. Fighting the so called imposter syndrome to accept our creative self and achieve our goals. Come and join artists Riley Holloway, Laura J. Lawson, Hatziel Flores, Melissa Turner Drumm and Jeremy Biggers to hear their stories about how they got there and where they are headed. Moderated by artist Erica Felicella

Space is limited - So please RSVP through the EventBrite link!

Cedars Open Studios 2018 by Laura J. Lawson

My studio is open to the public this Saturday, November 17th, at The Cedars Union. Here’s a map:

My studio is open to the public this Saturday, November 17th, at The Cedars Union. Here’s a map:


Location #20 is The Cedars Union, home to myself and several other incredible artists. I would love for you to come by, see my work, and ask whatever questions you have. If anything catches your eye, I can now process chip and magstripe payments with Square.

All of these locations are excellent, but I have a couple of favorites to point out. Location #15, Cedars Art House, is going to be excellent. Jennifer Kile Torres runs this incredible artspace that is home to many workshops and events, plus two artist studios. Many additional local artists will be there on Saturday, including Volta Voloshin-Smith, the talented artist behind Color Snack.

Park in whatever designated spaces are available— much of this tour is walkable, and there will be a shuttle service to help you get around.

Since it’s an all-day affair, I recommend fueling your stomach at Full City Rooster (for coffee), Sandwich Hag, and Melted. Even more art can be found at these locations!

On Exactitude in Science by Laura J. Lawson


On Exactitude in Science
Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley.

…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda, Viajes devarones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Process: printing paintings by Laura J. Lawson

Sometimes I print my river-based or border-based landscapes on metal using a process called dye sublimation. This process, often employed in commercial photography, is an image transfer technique that applies gaseous inks into the surface of the aluminum, rather than laying them on top like a printer. Beyond that, I'm not an expert-- this is something I have fulfilled by a print company after I scan my paintings at a high resolution. The result is a large, high-gloss image that reflects light and color in stunning detail.

So as a painter, why use this process at all?

First, it's important to understand the painting process of these works. Essentially, I work with pigmented ink on a nonabsorbent surface, and the settling of that pigment creates the textures of my landscapes. These tiny mounds of pigment are smaller than grains of sand. The images at the top of this post, in their original painted format, are all eight inches or smaller. Even if I paint larger sheets of plastic-- say, 20 inches-- the settling of the pigment does not appear any larger. If anything, the larger I go, the more they get lost in the composition.

At close range, the specks of pigment can feel monumental, like observing the landscape from an airplane. Unfortunately, an eight inch painting on the opposite side of the room does little to amplify that concept. By treating the painting like a photograph and enlarging it into a print, the minuscule hills and valleys can be seen at a larger scale.

Process: Marnay by Laura J. Lawson

Marnay , 200" x 80", acrylic ink on polypropylene, 2016.

Marnay, 200" x 80", acrylic ink on polypropylene, 2016.

Marnay, the piece pictured above, is one of my "atmospheric view" paintings. Totally abstract, the piece narrates what my summer in Marnay-sur-Seine, France, felt like as an immersive experience. This was a two month artist residency at the Centre d'Art Marnay Art Center (CAMAC).

Each morning, I woke early in my comfortable but cell-like room, crossed the 16th century priory through the library, and greeted the Seine on my walk to the kitchen for breakfast.

My Junes were always sweltering and oppressive, but these mornings were chilly, wet, and quiet. The Seine was murky and impatient, much like my Mississippi back home. Even when the sun reached its zenith, its rays were gentle, warming, and meek.

As the days passed, the Seine's flooding subsided, and river's sediments settled enough to restore the water to jewel-like brilliance. Wildflowers popped up in gardens and in gravel. The sun visited for longer and longer, with impressive sunsets past 9pm.

Everything about this place felt enchanting. The light felt more diffuse and sparkling. The persistent grey sky made every leaf and flower pop like an hallucination. There was nothing rugged or tough about the rural way of life-- even the cows were polite and content.

All of this went into my work. I matched my inks to what I saw-- the changing river, the plants and flowers, the cobblestones and tiles, the soil and sand-- and began to piece together how it feels to be wrapped up in all of these sensations at once.

The lightweight Yupo-- which I bought specifically to be plane-friendly-- was the perfect choice for representing this place. It flutters when viewers walk past it, and there is some hint of an iridescent sheen to it, even when saturated with ink. Compared to my other atmospheric paintings, it is weightless and unabashedly colorful.

This residency had the dépaysement I was looking for. CAMAC gave me the space and time I needed to work with a clear mind, and Marnay-sur-Seine gave me a landscape unlike any I had seen before.

Elements of Place: gallery views by Laura J. Lawson

Elements of Place was on view at the Dennis Gallery at Austin College in Sherman, Texas from October 9th - December 8th, 2017.

Austin College press release

The Austin College Art and Art History Department will host the exhibit “Laura J. Lawson: Elements of Place” now to December 8 in the Dennis Gallery of the Forster Art Complex, 1313 N. Richards Street, Sherman. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For additional information, call the Art and Art History Department at 903.813.2048. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Lawson lived all over Texas growing up and frequent family road trips fueled her love of exploration. While earning a bachelor’s degree from Austin College, her studies took her to Scotland, China, France, Peru, and Ecuador, and she traveled to New Orleans and Chicago after graduation. She earned her MFA from the University of Memphis and spent two months in residency at the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Center (CAMAC) in France. She has since returned to Dallas.

Her residency on the banks of the Seine in Marnay-sur-Seine helped Lawson explore ways of thinking about place. Though nearly 5,000 miles away, the area sometimes reminded her of American towns she knew, including Sherman. Rather than create works about the people and cultures of the places, she was compelled to investigate the physical landscapes, which existed before the places were ever settled. The places are examined in her exhibit through a satellite view, an atmospheric view, and a navigational view.

The satellite-view paintings explore how land and water shape the landscape and form significant relationships for these regions: the Seine is a major artery for France, and the Red River feeds the Mississippi watershed. The atmospheric paintings investigate Lawson’s personal observations of being present in the place. The colors and patterns tie directly to light, water, soil, building materials, wildlife, and other elements that make the area what it is. The navigational view uses regional maps that Lawson has cut into miniature webs of roads. These sculptural drawings highlight years of human effort to make these regions both navigable and livable.

“Ultimately, the physical elements that make up Sherman and Marnay-sur-Seine are the seeds from which their people grew,” Lawson said. “Cultural ways of living can (and should!) cross borders, but the landscape itself can never be truly replicated.”


Photography by Mary Cyrus Photography.

Depaysement: gallery views by Laura J. Lawson

Dépaysement was on view at the Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art at The University of Memphis from October 21st - November 4th, 2016. 

The University of Memphis press release

Dépaysement is the MFA thesis exhibition featuring the work of Laura J. Lawson. Dépaysement, a French word with no direct English translation, describes the feeling of being out of one's home country. The exhibition addresses her three years in Memphis contrasted with her recent artist residency in Marnay-sur-Seine, France.

Lawson's paintings are made with ink on translucent plastic. The result resembles cartographic endeavors, separating the viewer from each place with an aerial perspective. Her two largest works layer these paintings in front of cut paper maps in a grid formation, creating shadows of highways beneath the landscape-like surface. In other works, Lawson has drawn directly on the painting to mix the universal qualities of topography with the arbitrary shapes of borders and roads. The color palettes of all of these paintings are specifically derived from either Memphis or Marnay-sur-Seine, but the characteristics of these places become lost in the similar and strange elements of geography.


Photography by Katherine Stanley Photography.

Why I married my MFA by Laura J. Lawson

I'm sure you've seen it by now: portraits, like mine here, of an overjoyed person batting their eyes at a degree, major project, or job offer. I don't know if it's overdone yet, but I'm in favor of it continuing. I've seen way too many friends and peers quietly accept their masters or doctorate to little fanfare; business as usual, no big deal. 

It IS a big deal. 

Getting any degree is a big deal. Particularly with grad school graduates, it seems to me that they finish, heave a sigh of relief, and resume taking care of the baby, the job, the housework, and life as usual, as if an MBA was on the grocery list.

Great accomplishments deserve celebration. Easy enough; just throw a party. Why marry it?

I do not always adore what I do. I have days where I wished I didn't have this stupid calling, days where I want to go out on the town or binge watch TV without the guilt of needing to get up and work. Acquaintances ask why my "hobby" takes up so much of my time, and I wonder if it's a fight worth picking. But I also have days where I am so grateful to have this thing that brings meaning and joy to my life, even when it's hard or thankless. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. I am and will always be an artist. That's my commitment.

I had a professor say that something like 90% of art graduates don't continue to make work after graduation. I looked for real statistics to cite, but I couldn't even decide what parameters to put on the data. Does it count if you show work without selling it? Does it count if you make work without showing it?

Regardless of what the numbers are for everybody else, I made my goals and remain devoted to them:

  • I will make art.
  • I will show my work.
  • I will be unafraid to push my work to new limits.

My MFA taught me these habits, which is why I wanted cement this relationship as a lifelong commitment.

A major criticism of appropriating marriage to celebrate a vocational milestone is that to some, it undermines the celebration of marriage between people, especially if I want to tie the knot later. No, I didn't have to call it a marriage. A lot of people getting these grad school photo shoots are simply emulating the over-the-top celebration without wearing their hot-glued wedding bands everywhere they go. 

I've thought about this a lot, and this is where my personal priorities lie. I have an amazing partner, and he understands and supports my commitment to art, in part because he's equally committed to music. We labor at our day jobs, and help each other when laboring at our creative jobs. He and I are the kind of people who are not hurt by what art asks of us.

I hope to see others publicize their commitments to what they love, and not just who they love. It's a great opportunity to share how things work in your field, especially if it's different from what your family and friends are used to. What do you love?