Please state your name and what it is that you do.
My name is Laura Tan, and I’m a 2 dimensional visual artist. I work mainly with drawing (all media), painting (oil and watercolor) and some mixed media (drawing/painting on digitally printed images).
What got you interested in being an artist?
My love of drawing hooked me. I’ve always drawn pictures, as long as I can remember.
How long have you been an artist?
I think I’ve been an artist my whole life. In 1st grade I won a first place ribbon for a drawing I made with oil pastels. Throughout grade school I was always the designated class artist for projects. My dad would bring rolls of white paper home from the Herald where he worked early on, and he would buy me step-by-step books on how to paint—all before I was 10. By the time I reached high school it was kind of a given: I excelled in art and it was my major in college. I sold my first paintings in college.
How would you describe your subject matter?
My subject matter is representational and diverse: birds, still life, figurative, selfies, and beach landscapes. It’s also ‘playfully associative,’ meaning, straightforward narratives don’t exist in my images, like in traditional realism; I think poetic and personal associations—mine and the viewer’s—can create stories from the parts that exist together in a piece.
What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I think my themes are familiar ones: the celebration of life, death, joy, sorrow— the earthly (sensual) and the sublime (the unknowns, life’s mysteries).
What do you enjoy working on the most?
I enjoy working on anything where drawing is involved: where I get the instant gratification of my hand! So when I’m drawing, which can be at the beach or in my studio, and include all media, oil or watercolor paint…I am enjoying my work.
Do you do any research prior to starting on a new piece?
The only research I ever really do is internet-based trolling for image information. ‘Research’ isn’t really a part of my process, other than needing to gather visual information or some factual knowledge that I wouldn’t have access to myself, like great wildlife photos and things like that.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
This is a tough question! When I was about 8 years old I rode my bike to Fuch’s Park in South Miami where there was an art show (in those days we could do that by ourselves!). I remember seeing one artist whose work was all watercolors, done in mostly monochromatic sepia and black tones, silhouettes of pond or fishing themes…and I went home and tried to imitate one, to make a painting just like his. I still have it. That’s probably an inspired moment, right?
Name something you love and why.
I love watching birds, listening to them, and being outside—in nature. I find it all very soothing, maybe because it’s unpredictable and spontaneous, and for me that’s calming. There’s no noise—it’s quiet.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
‘If you accept what you have, you can do wonders with it.’ In other words, don’t try to be something or someone you’re not: accept your own unique talents, idiosyncrasies and ideas, and go from there.
What type of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Well, I like my privacy, an organized workspace and my music, (I always listen to music while I work). So I guess my ritual is to go into my studio, close the door, choose music that suits my mood, and begin organizing my space, plans, and work for that day.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
While in college I valet parked cars at the Mutiny Hotel and then I waited tables at Monty’s (who didn’t?). As an [adult] artist I’ve: designed and taught college courses, high school and elementary school art; been a fine art reproduction painter (reproduced original expressionist/impressionist/futurist paintings from the original works in private collections); been a team building trainer/facilitator for corporate workshops through art; and been a fine art photographer, documenting collections and other artists’ work for publication.
What's your most memorable piece?
gosh…I don’t know!
Do you have any other interesting hobbies?
…uummmm, besides collecting dead things? (lol)
Can you share with us a fun story / experience involving your artwork?
I’ll have to get back to you on this one too…
What do you read, listen to, or look at to fuel your work and find inspiration?
Artists’ sketchbooks and drawings are always a tremendous source of inspiration to me, (Van Gogh, Giacometti, Rembrandt, da Vinci) because you can see the honest, unedited brilliant energy of the artists’ minds, hands and souls at work. They were their journals. The Dutch and Flemish painters of the golden age inspire me. Music always helps me move into a different mental space and focus, (delta blues, acoustic singer-song writers, rock—variety of styles). And I like to read excellently written, often humorous or darker in tone, short stories, by authors like Flannery O’Connor or Charles Bukowski—about the human condition.
Can you tell us about your process?
My process is pretty straightforward, depending on the piece. I start with a general idea and I’ll either begin a drawing from life or from a photo reference, in paint or pencil. Sometimes I print reference photos in black and white and transfer them onto paper or canvas; often, spontaneous ideas or elements will creep in, so I try to respect those too, and usually the images evolve organically that way. The rest happens more according to the mood or story I see at any given moment along the way, not preplanned so much. I like to leave evidence of the evolution of the piece, like the artists’ sketchbooks I love so much, with their energy of drawn paintings, or painted drawings, erased and scratched out areas, etc.
Do you have a motto?
My motto would have to be “Value what you do and have fun. Keep it simple. Keep it fresh.”
What three (3) things never fail to bring you pleasure?
(*in life or my work?) *in life: (3) things that never fail to give me pleasure are: 1) the love and success of my family and friends; 2) a great night’s sleep and 3) summer vacation.
What risks have you taken in your work, and what’s been at stake?
I’ve taken beautiful, finished still life paintings, pretty labor intensive, detailed pieces, and literally cut them up, to create smaller, new paintings. Initially that was a huge risk, because of the initial time invested in them, and they were beautiful. And finished. And potential sales. Sometimes changing a color is a ‘risk,’ because when you change one thing…everything else is affected. It’s a slippery slope and you risk creating a whole new set of problems for yourself. Being honest (vulnerable) with your ideas can always feel risky, because if it’s an intensely personal idea, your risk is feeling ‘exposed.’
Do you have a day job? What does it mean to you?
I do have a day job: I teach Elementary Art for MDCPS. To me that means I can hopefully enrich and empower young minds to think critically and creatively, and perhaps I can have a positive influence in a child’s life, or even his/her day; it also means I have the privilege to create whatever kind of imagery I want in my art to express my ideas at any given time.
Have you had to make sacrifices in order to live your life as an artist?
Yes I have made sacrifices in order to live an artist’s life, like subject myself to the ups and downs of irregular income and changing economies and market tastes. But it’s also been great because I’ve learned to adapt and appreciate life and my abilities in other ways.
Do you encounter misconceptions about that life or choice?
I think there is a common misconception that being an artist is a fringe lifestyle and not a regular day job, requiring structure, discipline and skills, like any other job. The difference is you have to be your own boss, and you don’t always get paid. That last part can be discouraging but also character-building. You have to boost yourself regularly, which is a good thing I think.
What do you think is the function of art in society?
Art is decorative, can provide aesthetic pleasure, and offer the possibility of contemplative value. Since the beginning of time people have ‘made’ things to adorn themselves, to decorate spaces and places, or be beautifully designed and functional.
Does art / do artists have a responsibility to do anything in particular?
I think an artist has a responsibility to develop his/her craft at a high level or at a level that best expresses his/her ideas clearly and with integrity.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m excited about all of the different projects I’m doing: I’ve been commissioned to do 2 family portraits in watercolor in the style of the beach landscapes, which is new; I’ve begun several new bird paintings on recycled painting surfaces, so integrating the bird elements with the preexisting painted surfaces will be a discovery. I don’t know what will happen. Trusting myself to allow the evidence of my thinking—the process—that’s exciting.