In this UnderCover interview, we chat with Laura Carter, that artist behind the watercolour image on the cover of Lauren Carter's Following Sea.
1. The painting that graces the cover of Following Sea elegantly captures a sense of quiet, wistful yearning that is prevalent throughout the collection of poems. Can you tell us a bit about how this piece came into being?
This is the second of two autobiographical paintings. The model for both paintings was the author Lauren Carter, my daughter and the author of Following Sea.
In 1981, I was in a catastrophic auto accident which cost me my identity in many complex ways. The first painting of Lauren depicted a much younger woman standing behind the closed windows of a porch looking out to the distant horizon of Lake Huron. It shows a woman isolated from life, as I was at the time. The second painting, the one on the cover of Lauren’s poetry collection, Following Sea, is a depiction of the same woman, but older. The windows are in a different and brighter porch and are flung open to let the breeze blow in. At that time, I was heading into the promise of a new life, just as the poet is as she examines herself and earlier generations of our family reaching for new possibilities in an unknown future.
2. Your portfolio shows a clear fascination with rugged Canadian landscapes; what is it about these scenes that inspires you?
I love to draw, which means that I first see line and form in the natural world. I have always been fascinated by the abstraction of the rock formations of the Niagara Escarpment I grew up on and by the rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield along the northern shores of the Great Lakes. I have explored and painted them as well as the Canadian Arctic through many decades. My paintings begin with line drawings which grow into complex renderings of the abstraction I see in nature.
3. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Manitoulin Island?
Manitoulin Island has always informed my life. In my mind, it has always been my second home. It floats in memories from my childhood of trips on the Norisle or the Norgoma, boats that ferried people and goods back and forth from the tip of the Bruce Peninsula ( I lived in Wiarton, a town at the bottom of “the Bruce”), to “the Island” where my happiest childhood memories linger. My ancestors on my father’s side are buried on Manitoulin, as is my brother, his ashes awash in a little inland lake we visited as children. Manitoulin Island and the journeys by water across the great gulf between it and the Bruce Peninsula have fed my artistic sensibilities.
4. Is there a certain time of day during which you work best?
I began painting seriously following the auto accident I mentioned above. It left me with multiple skeletal fractures requiring years of reconstruction so my studio time has been dictated always by what has been going on in that regard at various times in my life. During the periods of time I can paint without restrictions, time of day is of no significance. I paint for hours and days until I can see the end result of what I am imagining.
5. You seem to have a special affinity for watercolours; what are some of the joys of working with this medium? What are the challenges?
Watercolour is the most difficult and oldest of the painting mediums. Every aspect of this medium is a part of the end product. That is to say that, contrary to working with oils and acrylics where you are painting on top of a surface of wood or canvas, when using the watercolour medium, the choice of paper, the water and the various qualities of each pigment you choose all work together to create the end result. I am a purist. I do not use white paint. The white seen in my work is the white of the paper. Every aspect of the work provides me with challenges and joy. You can never quite control the end results and that is part of the magic of working with this medium. Success with it can only be achieved by two things: careful design and the willingness to take a chance and be prepared to fail.
6. You also work with oils and acrylics. Does the subject matter dictate what medium you use, or does the medium you wish to work with dictate the type of subject matter you choose to tackle?
Both aspects apply. I certainly choose a medium that I feel with best express what I’m after. If I want transparency and glow, I choose watercolour. Oils are much easier to work with. Mistakes can be corrected, changes in composition can be made. Some of the glazing techniques of watercolour can be used. But the results are not the same. Some subjects work better in oil, some in watercolour. When I just want to have fun with paint I use acrylics. They are easy to clean up and dry quickly and they can be loose. I don’t like the dull quality of them, though, or their environmental impact, so I prefer the use of oils thinned with natural mediums.
7. What were some of the valuable lessons you learned in the early days of establishing yourself in the artistic world?
A few years after I began painting full time, I sought some marketing advice. Through that I set up appointments with ten galleries in Toronto and drove there from Northern Ontario for a week. My first stop was a gallery on the second floor of a building just south of Bloor St. close to Yorkville. I struggled up the stairs with my portfolio and met the gallery owner who, after looking through my work, proceeded to berate me and point out how inferior my work was by showing me paintings of another artist hanging on her gallery walls. I was stunned. I struggled down the stairs, stood at the bottom and thought that perhaps I had over-valued my work and my talent. Perhaps I should just go back home. After a moment, I made the decision that since I had come all that way, I had nothing to lose if I kept on going. The next gallery I went to that day was the Kaspar gallery on Prince Albert St. just west of Yorkville. Mr. Kaspar offered me a one month solo show, advised me about framing my work and advertised the show in the Globe & Mail. I went on to have five galleries from my list interested in my work. Though I was green with inexperience and can see now that I would change some of the decisions I made back then, the one thing I learned from that experience was to have faith in my work and myself as an artist. If you don’t believe in what you’re creating and in your creative potential, who else will? Art is about growth more than about ego.
8. Do you undertake commissions? How do commissions affect how you work?
Although I did commission work, mostly portraiture, in the early years, I have long ago given it up. I prefer to work on what inspires me.
9. You have close to four decades of experience as an artist; how do you continue to challenge yourself and push the creative limits of your art?
Challenging myself through art and pushing creative limits is what art is all about. That has never stopped for me. What is slowing me down now is my accident of four decades ago. As I age, the effects of that accident on my body are more impactful. I can no longer do the jumbo watercolours I used to do because I cannot bend forward without pain. I can no longer frame my own work for the same reason. I cannot work for the hours I once could at a painting because pain saps my energy. The work is lined up in my head but it is slow going to see in realized on canvas or paper.
10. What are you currently working on?
I just finished a retrospective show which combined my paintings, the photography of my late husband, a professional landscape photographer, and a series of work we put together combining my paintings and his photographs digitally. It is called ‘Canadian Mosaic’. You can see some of those images as well as my work on my web site, lauracarter.ca
I am in the process of moving studio and home right now and when settled I will continue with a series I’ve been working on: pen and ink line and form work overlain with watercolour washes. As well, I’m indulging in a little writing. In one way or another, creativity never stops.
To see more of Laura's work, please visit http://lauracarter.ca/