LOCAL MAKER CRUSH is a series of blog posts on artists around the East Tennessee region whose work I admire and who I want to share with the world. Enjoy!
A fiber artist working quietly in the mountains of East Tennessee, Laura Bowman creates and sculpts knotted tapestries that defy genres and capture the imagination.
Tell us about your creative beginnings. What was your earliest experience of artmaking, and what drew you in? Was creativity encouraged in your early years?
I only have a few strong creative memories from childhood. I remember when I was about 8, I drew Woodstock, Snoopy's little bird friend. I was really proud of that drawing and I think that's the first I can remember knowing I might have some creativity in me. I don't remember if creativity was encouraged at home, but I don't think it was discouraged either. My dad is artistic and we had a few of his chalk drawings framed on the wall. He used to play a drawing game with us where one person makes a doodle and the other person turns it into a drawing of something.
Another memory I have is from when I was 10 and I made a drawing of a sailboat and it was put on the board with some other drawings. The sail was purple and yellow, my favorite colors at the time, and another kid laughed at my drawing saying that purple and yellow didn't go together and that it was ugly. I didn't know anything about color, but I knew I liked those colors together no matter what that kid said. That didn't stop it from upsetting me and giving life to that ugly voice inside that doubts. But the teacher liked it enough to put it up on the board, and that made me happy and so I suppose I kept trying to make art because I always took art classes in school when they were available.
Tell us about your creative process--what makes it unique? How do you create your best work? What do you love most about your process?
My creative process has transformed over the years while trying to find my voice and style and what brought me the most pleasure to make. Having children in my 20s, I didn't focus as much on art for many years. I was always making things but it wasn't until the last 10 years that I started to truly pursue art again. I took a windy path to being a fiber artist and though I do a lot of different types of work (from weaving, and basketry to sculpture, drawing, and painting) my main focus is on knotted sculptural tapestries.
I think what makes my work unique is honestly that I haven't seen anything else like it. The world of fiber arts is vast and there are so many ways to use a variety of materials, so it's not surprising to find a lot of fiber artists doing completely unique work. My process for knotting is taking a simple macrame knot and repeating it and manipulating it in ways to create a desired shape and design.
I like to listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts while working. It helps keep me focused on the work that I have come to think of as my daily meditation. Without something to listen to my mind will wander onto daily trivialities or stressful life things. This takes away from the mindfulness of making for me. Once I am in that zone, my hands move faster with the strings and I get a lot more work done.
My very favorite part of any art process is hard to describe. There is this moment that occurs over and over in the making of a piece where I fall in love with one or two small sections at a time.
What has been a habit or focus you've had that's integral to your art practice?
I used to wait for inspiration or a "good time" to make art. That kind of thinking never got anything done. The way I work now started a few years ago by making a daily schedule. Since I am home full-time, I have to be very specific about how my time is used. Adding artmaking to my daily routine of family, food, cleaning, errands, and running a business made a huge difference in my process. It was right there on the schedule, it could be checked off. I like lists. I like marking off things I've completed.
Years later, while I no longer make a printed out daily schedule, I still rely on to-do lists. But artmaking is no longer on those lists because after learning to set aside time and make it a habit, I slowly started making a physical space for it. And now it's just part of my daily routine. No need to check it off. I just do it. I'm still making art in between all the other busy things in the day, but for the most part I have quiet mornings for making and that's a big part of my life now.
Tell me about a hurdle you've had to overcome in your artmaking or art career.
I don't think I've had any hurdles to overcome, other than self-doubt and making time for it. I don't pursue artmaking as a career so I haven't encountered the type of obstacles you would expect. If I did, I can think of several ways in which I would struggle to get my art "out there."
What is your educational background, and how does it influence your creative work, if at all?
I studied sculpture in college with a focus on welded metal. I am still very influenced by that early work and occasionally enjoy making sculptures with metal armature.
What are you most excited about in your creative landscape in the moment?
I'm really looking forward to my upcoming solo show in February at The Word in the Willow. I've got several more pieces to finish and thinking about working on them and seeing them evolve and come to life is exciting.
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Be sure to check out Laura's work at The Word in the Willow in February 2017 in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee.