Cedars Open Studios 2019 by Laura J. Lawson

Save the date! Cedars Open Studios is back on Saturday, November 23rd. I’ll be in my studio from 11-6pm at The Cedars Union, 1219 S Ervay St, with refreshments and work for sale. Come say hello and support other Cedars neighborhood artists!

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J. by Laura J. Lawson

The middle initial. Is it pompous? Does it give a melodic number of syllables? Is it better for SEO? Sure. That’s not why I use mine.

Maybe you’ve worked with me before, and I had to politely insist that my J. is included in my name when printed. Here is my explanation.

My name is Laura¹ Jane² Lawson³.

¹Laura, after a close friend of my mother.
²Jane, after Dorothy Jane Lawson, my grandmother.
³Lawson, my father’s last name.

Dorothy Jane Broyles was born on July 19th, 1925 in Callis, Texas, which was 25 miles northeast of McKinney in Collin County. She married my grandfather, Henry Lawson, at age 16. Henry fought in Europe during World War II, and had a long career as a Methodist minister. Together they had three sons, the youngest of which is my father.

Dorothy had many roles: a preacher’s wife, a homemaker, a farmer, a saint (for raising those three boys), a skilled quilter, and generally “artistic.” She took some art classes and made artworks, but I am unsure that she or anyone else definitively called her an Artist, full stop, no buts. Reader, she was.

[These photos are framed under glass, and were taken with a cell phone camera as-is on the wall. I’ll photograph them professionally one day!]

As far as I could tell, she enjoyed her life as it was with no complaints, and she was a wonderful grandmother to me. Even though she was all smiles in my lifetime, I can’t speak for her. If I were a young wife and mother in the 1940s, I would probably be frustrated, scared, angry, tired, and never quite content. It is easy for homemaking to overwhelm even one drawing project.

While there is still much to fight for when it comes to equal rights, I am so relieved to have the freedom to make the choices I have made in my life so far. I’m an artist, a college professor, and an unmarried mother of two cats. Though I have no human children, I am proud that her name and creative legacy continue with my brilliant and wonderful niece, Emma Jane.

Dorothy worked hard in raising her family, tending to farms and livestock, and carving out time for quilts and paintings. I’m proud to have her name, and I hope that by using that name professionally, I can honor her work as an artist.

On defining an artist by Laura J. Lawson

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

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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.

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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. (Since this event has passed, this post has been edited.) Erica Felicella moderated the discussion between Jeremy Biggers, Melissa Turner Drumm, Hatziel Flores, Riley Holloway, and me.



Here are some pieces from my story.

I have always been a bit of a Hermione Granger. I was good at school, and I have spent years taking comfort and pride in the fact that my GPA was a good reflection of the things I know. I did not major in art in college, and because of that I desperately needed some sort of academic validation when my art career chose me. (The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter, and these references are never going away.) My MFA did so much for me in terms of becoming a better artist and actually feeling like one.

This is not a required path to become an artist. I look up to many artists who have no MFA, BFA, or formal art education. What matters is a dedication to one’s practice, and an eagerness to learn from peers and mentors, with or without an expensive document and set of robes.

The really magical bit was how I accepted my path in the first place. I studied abroad in Paris, where I took several art history courses, despite being a Psychology major. Out of all the unsmiling European ID photos I had to take, one in particular changed my life: an unlimited student pass for the Musée du Louvre.

Some of Madame Mandel’s classes met in a little classroom with tiny desks and a noisy projector, but most of the time we gazed upon the topics of her lectures in the flesh, at the Louvre. We would make it through two or three petits galeries in three hours, and after class I would stay. On days off, I returned. On weekends, I went back. Even when rooms were thick with tourists and noise, I wedged myself onto a bench, spellbound. I knew that somehow, I had to be a part of this.

Jardin de Luxembourg, 2009. These are not my flowers.

Jardin de Luxembourg, 2009. These are not my flowers.

There were many times between then and now where being an artist was so hard, I thought it impossible. I worked, I looked for better jobs, and I made terrible paintings in tiny apartments. Even when I thought my work was unshowable, I knew I had to keep making it. To give up art would be like giving up both lungs. Maybe I wasn’t a great artist, but I couldn’t deny that I was one.

Celebrating my life choices in 2016.

Celebrating my life choices in 2016.

Fast forward to today. The number of works I deem fit for consumption is exponentially greater. Rejections roll off my back and motivate me to increase my proposals. I am comfortable in this difficult and competitive field because I have stopped treating it like a competition, and started treating it like what it is: humanity’s creation of culture.

My peers at The Cedars Union have significantly different measuring sticks for what success looks like. If I used their stick, I would fall short, but if they used mine, so would they. We are finding success as artists by being true to ourselves on what we want and who we want to be.

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:

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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

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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.