There is no better way of expressing how much you love something or someone than by the time you spend nurturing that love. Often, our time, just like our money, tells us where our hearts are captivated.
Quite a few years ago, before Lara’s daughter Grace was born, she realised that her heart did not have any love for an administrative job she was doing. She began to explore more artistic options, which finally led to discovering hand lettering after her son, Ioan was born. She thought, “this is it, this is what I really want to be doing.”
The desire gave birth to learning as much as she could, while integrating it into her life as a young mum, practicing during naptimes and reading everything she could get her hands on. Her first lettering piece reflects this, “It’s actually a quote from Gracie, ‘I just can’t be naughty with salad.’ I think she was two and we were in the middle of dinner when she whispered it to me.”
To take her interest seriously, Lara spent time and effort perfecting her craft, even going to Melbourne for two weeks being mentored by a highly skilled teacher. “I kept feeding my love for it by researching as much as I could, whether from the local library or on the internet.”
Lara also talks about the support from Andrew, her husband, who came alongside her, “it’s been amazing having someone with me understanding what I am doing.”
Asked why she settled on hand lettering, Lara observes, “I did calligraphy in high school, which isn’t strictly hand lettering, but there are some similar elements. I’ve always been fascinated with type, wherever I see it. It attracts my eye. Anything that is ornate such as ironwork on balconies or even fine type on massive trucks.”
There are other clues in Lara’s background, though it may not seem so obvious. Lara completed a Bachelor of Science, specialising in entomology (study of insects) which, in her own words, “had nothing to do with art.”
She goes on to talk about her passions. “I’m fascinated with the environment. I still read books connected to it, such as Charles Massy’s The Call of the Reed Warbler, which is about regenerative farming. My next series of artworks will be an expression of my lament over the state of the natural world.” Lara also speaks about her fascination for insects, “I’ve been reading about what’s happening to bees and the implications of not having pollinators around for food resources. I can’t be involved in a scientific way now, but I feel that I can use my visual skill to communicate with people.”
Passion and Lament
Currently Lara is completing a series on the dignity of women, which has stalled during the lockdown period of 2020. There will be eight artworks in the series.
“I did this project on women’s dignity that was specifically reacting to pornography. Collective Shout has been highly influential. The trigger though was an incident that occurred when Grace was only two years old, which highlighted how saturated our culture is with an undercurrent of sexual exploitation.”
“I was horrified to discover that a well-known Fabrics retail chain was stocking Playboy branded bedding, which it had on prominent display. Grace’s comforter is Peter Rabbit. It’s a rabbit! I was appalled that my child could walk through this shop at such an early age and have brand association between something for her comfort and a brand that exploits women. This ignited my research into pornography and sexual exploitation that has driven my project on women’s dignity.”
Lara speaks with conviction that she wants her art to reflect something of her lament for what is happening in our world, whether it is the acidification of the world’s oceans or the exploitation of women.
But not all of Lara’s artwork is an expression of lament. Our conversation comes to the Advent calendars Lara created three years ago.
“I wanted to do something festive for my kids that we could do at home for Christmas. My friends would send me links to advent calendars, which involved different activities, but they were all impractical (for one of them, I had to dress up as Mary…). So I came across the idea of doing a theme for an advent calendar that went through the names of Jesus. I loved the idea because it would teach them more about him.”
Lara and Andrew planned for a modest first year in their production and sales of the advent calendars, “I thought if I did 50, I’d sell at least one to my sister in law and only have 49 left to sell.” But their projections were blown away. “After three weeks we had orders for one thousand. It threw my analysis out a bit.”
Entering year four of sales, Lara is determined that her design continues to be an expression of praise to God, while striving for excellence. “I’ve changed and updated my designs, not because I want people to consume more, but because I feel that I continue to learn about myself as an artist by updating my art. There is an essence of seeing the artist in the artwork, which is so exciting.”
Learning and growing
So, what is Lara learning about herself? “I make really tiny, refined detailed things. I like delicate artwork. I spend a lot of time looking at curves and balance, putting a lot of thought into making it harmonious.”
She holds up a piece she has been working on, “The Weary World Rejoices” and laughs, “you could easily sub in the weary Lara rejoices, because that is how I feel about this year. I feel strongly about hand lettering this piece right now as an expression of life in 2020.”
Lara’s heart has been refined by deep and painful experiences. Asked to reflect on transitions in her life she says, “a lot of my artwork includes butterflies and swans. In the work on women’s dignity there is a series of six butterflies throughout.”
It is a picture of faith – a transition from caterpillar to butterfly. It blows my mind. How can you get a butterfly out of a caterpillar? But this is an amazing picture of renewal with Christ and the transformation he brings us in relationship with him. Similarly with the swan being the ugly duckling turning into this beautiful, refined creature.”
She goes on to talk about a sculpture she completed for an art project that forms a metaphor for her, “I sculptured a human arm in an upright position, with the hand at the top and the fingers joining to a single point. The hand is formed to look like the head of a swan. It starts as dark blue at the bottom and becomes lighter. It is my picture of the shape of a swan coming out of chaos and is influenced by the biblical idea of creation – God forming order and reality out of chaos. It is a transition of coming from the undefined to the defined. For me, it is this process that has operated on many levels where I see my sense of self being formed, ultimately as someone who is worthy of love.”
A mother’s heart
As a mother, Lara’s heart is very much determined to seeing Grace and Ioan grow as people who are affirmed and loved. She talks about how a visitor to her home, who looked at the strewn bits of paper, artwork and various stages of advent calendars being readied for shipment, told her that the advent calendar would become a part of her family lore – their own family tradition and something that forms the identity of her family.
She then takes out a journal and shares with me a record she keeps of each Saturday they have experienced as a family for the past four years. She quickly shows me the journal and I can’t help but notice the beautiful type. “Sometimes one of the kids will say, ‘153’ and we’ll read out what we recorded on day 153. It’s really fun to look back on what we did and what we’ve enjoyed, building up a picture of our family.”
I can’t help but feel that Lara’s art has unlocked many deep and meaningful things in her life, while also creating a wealth of meaning for her own family, and quite possibly many other people. I look forward to seeing the story continue to unfold.
To learn more about Lara’s artwork go to her site: Sweet Honeycomb.