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Black Mustard the art of the interview

March 2014

issue #4

Black Mustard talks to Laura Roberts Bevan

LOVE IS THE FUEL THAT KEEPS ME GOING


Talking to artists about why they make what they make leads us towards a greater understanding of what it is to be human.

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Laura Roberts Bevan (b. 1965)

Laura Bevan is a graphic designer and illustrator from North London who constantly readjusts her artistic boundaries. Whichever technique or medium she employs, in her compositions she expresses her playful humour alongside a deep love of animals, nature and Picasso.

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan


Love is the fuel that keeps me going Black Mustard: Tell me why the natural world has such presence in your work? Laura Roberts Bevan: I started drawing rabbits as a child. I would draw endless scenes of rabbits in human settings. I loved Beatrix Potter illustrated books. I think this is part of the reason why I became a vegetarian when I was a teenager, because I didn’t think of animals as food, I thought of them as characters. When I was very little, I had a beautiful huge grey rabbit called Sammy. I don’t think I got very involved in looking after him. My mum did all the boring stuff, but I enjoyed stroking him. At the age of ten we got a Jack Russell Terrier. He was called Bobby and I adored him.  He slept on my bed every night and really was my best friend.  He was badly behaved and not trained that well, but I loved his character. I have always admired nature and its resilience against human destruction. As humans we are part of nature, but I think we see it as a force we need to tame rather than respect. If we thought of ourselves more as part of nature, then maybe we wouldn’t be so destructive. Through my work, I try to remind people of all the beautiful natural things around. We get so wrapped up with our lives, we tend to lose sight of natural beauty.  We all need to look a bit closer.  So much is lost by ignoring the smaller details. BM: You live in Barnet – North London – near Oakhill Park. How does your location influence you? LRB: I live in a late 1920s terraced house opposite the park. It’s a very special place to

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me, not only because of the location, but also because it retains a lot of the previous owner’s history. They had lived in it for over fifty years and when we bought the house, we were lucky enough to keep some of their original furniture with it. I love old things and the history that comes with them. My house is very important to me and having the park so close has a huge impact on my work. Oakhill is an open park with small woods and gentle hilly areas of grassland with a brook running through its middle.   Oaks are the dominant trees – hence the park’s name – but my favourites are the three willow trees standing along the brook. They are home to a flock of parakeets and a majestic heron (known as Mr Heron to me and my girls).   He sits high up on a willow tree most sunny mornings. The park supplies me with an escape route when I have a block or just need to get out in the open.  As an artist, I believe that it’s important to see nature as it happens because you can easily miss the detail when you just rely on pictures in books and imagination for ideas. A hedgerow, for example, is much more than a mass of branches.  If you look up close there are berries, decaying matter, thorns, insects and much more. As well as living close to Oakhill Park we are also not far from Trent Country Park, which covers an extensive area. Walking through it you feel like you are far from the city, yet within three quarters of an hour I can be in the centre of London, which is also a major source of inspiration for my work. For me, living in Barnet strikes a perfect balance between town and country. 


Old Apple Tree,

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan

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BM: I love your animal narratives because they are so intricate and detailed – full of secrets. How did they come about? LRB: I have three pieces that are part of Animal Narratives: Fox, Hare and Rabbit. They are mainly made up of text that rambles over the page. With Fox, most of the narrative came from my thoughts at the time. With the others, I researched the myths and facts behind the animals. I find the research fulfilling. Rabbit proved to be the most interesting. For example, I found out

that there is a strong connection between the moon and rabbits in Japanese traditions, and it is celebrated with a Fool Moon festival called Jugoya. According to folklore, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month in the Chinese Calendar, the shadowy shapes seen on the moon are rabbits making mochi, rice cakes. During the night of the Jugoya, wishes are made to the moon. Simple small balls of boiled or steamed rice called dango are eaten. There is also a children’s rabbit song Usagi - connected with the celebrations of Jugoya.

Fox – Animal narratives

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Pet portrait

BM:

Now we come to Lamb and Fox – the online showcase for your art. You launched it in January 2012. How has it evolved?

LRB: It started off as a blog to chart the creative journey I had just begun. For years I had left my creative side tucked away, especially while I concentrated on bringing up my girls. The more they became independent the more I needed something else. Foxes have always featured in my life. Growing up in suburbia you are never too far from one and I never feel threat-

ened by them in any way. When I first started Lamb and Fox I was struggling to find my creative direction. I remember clearly sitting at my desk, facing out to the garden. While I was staring at our apple tree, a fox came into the garden and spent a long time wandering around. I watched and then started drawing and writing. Fox, the first of my animal narratives artwork was created. This became a crucial piece of work for me. It brought me much needed praise and attention and set me on the right path. So, in a way, a fox saved me and I will always be grateful to him.

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan

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Birds Dream

Starting Lamb and Fox has also helped me to define my direction. I now know that I want to go back to my original ambition, the one I held when I was ten – I want to focus on my own artwork, free of the commission process. I have tried many different ways of working over recent years. It’s almost as if I needed to keep experimenting. Now I know I want to make individual canvasses, although I still carry on with my bespoke artwork and pet portraits as these are popular with people and I do enjoy doing them.  Being able to produce something close to people’s hearts and to reduce them to tears – of joy! – is something I still find immensely rewarding.

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BM: You use a few different mediums for your creations. You paint on canvas, you make postcards, produce collages. Do you have a favourite medium? LRB: I prefer working in black ink, creating strong lines against the whiteness of the paper. I find this the most satisfying way of working. I usually add colour to my illustrations digitally, simply because I can change the colours around if I wish. It’s a much easier way of altering the illustration without making any mistakes. I love the boldness of the shades and the speediness of the whole process. When I first got my Mac with a basic Photoshop element, I wasn’t being that creative. I only used it to have a bit of fun with the


Dream Decay

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan

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Green Man

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kids. They would add colour to drawings or photos they had scanned in. So really, I picked up the skills by chance.

LRB:

The love of my husband, family and friends is definitely the fuel that keeps me going. Love is everything. John and I have been married for over twenty years now and he’s very supportive of what I do. So are the girls. My creative process is completely interlaced with my family life. For me, the best times are when we spend rare evenings together, me drawing at my desk while John plays records that the girls have picked out from his extensive vinyl collection - dancing is usually involved at some point. Finding the balance isn’t easy - some days I work from 9.30 through to school pick-up time. Other days I am simply Mum as there are chores to do. We also have an allotment nearby that we rent. There is hard digging to do during Spring and Summer. Then there’s making chutney… There’s always something. I try, though, to dedicate a good amount of time to my art, and I run an online shop, which gives me worldwide reach and makes me feel productive even while I am doing the dishes. I don’t think I could have done what I do now when the girls were much younger. Before they went to school. Both children and my work would have suffered. Family is extremely important to me.

BM:

Would you say that you are replicating your own childhood for your girls? Tell me about how you grew up. Was there dancing and drawing for you too?

BM: It sounds like your daughters - Izi and Ava - are following in your footsteps. Are you afraid that 21st century children will lose their drawing skills as making art digitally becomes commonplace? LRB: It’s all part of evolution. Digital art is an art in its own right. I think we will always want to make a mark using traditional techniques.  Children learn to make a mark using anything that comes to hand from an early age. The tradition of drawing is too strong for it to disappear and it’s a completely different art form, it cannot be replaced.   Recently I have been experimenting with collage. It’s an organic way of creating. I combine a mixture of photos, hand drawn images, colour and paper. It’s this kind of organic process that children will always prefer and you cannot recreate it with machines. There is space in the world for both.  I think if Picasso were alive today, he would definitely be experimenting digitally. BM:

Why do you mention Picasso in particular? Do you like his work?

LRB: I love everything about the man. His work, his ambition, his life story, his words.  He has inspired me more than any other artist. But I also like the use of vivid colour in Marc Chagall’s dream-like paintings and his evocative images of embracing floating couples. I have recently been looking at work of Louise Bourgeois. I became aware of her work when her Maman sculptures were exhibited at Tate Modern.  What attracts me to her the most is the fact that she is a woman who succeeded as a female artist, as well as being a mother.  Her work is very autobiographical and therefore touching. BM:

How have you managed to balance your domestic life with your need to work as an artist?

LRB: There was Beatrix Potter, there were trips to my aunt’s bungalow by the sea and visits to art galleries. My parents often took me to the V&A and the British Museum. Generally, they liked the classics, so nothing too avant garde. I loved the V&A best. I am an only child so it was just my parents and me. I daydreamed a lot. I had an imaginary friend and imaginary horses.  I created stables in the garden and spent long afternoons grooming my herd with my ‘friend’. It’s hard to explain what it’s like being an only child – it’s something to do with not having to fight to be seen.  You don’t have to share your

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan

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parents, your things or your thoughts with anyone. The narrative in your own head is uninterrupted. My mother trained as a milliner and worked in one of the many hat companies in London before she was married. She worked from home when I was little, getting a delivery each week of unmade hats to be assembled for the following week’s collection. By the mid 70s hats were becoming a thing of the past so she stopped. But her needlework and knitting skills are still top notch. My father was an engineer and has always made things. At eighty-four he still has a lathe in his workshop and still makes model railway trains that actually work. He has a railway track in his garden too. He was also a keen photographer when he was younger. He would develop the photos in our bathroom, blacking out the windows and watching the magic appear. I have been lucky in that I was always able to have access to these things. I was allowed to use my mother’s sewing machine and I was allowed to enter my dad’s shed and make things. Nothing was out of bounds. When I decided to go to art college, they were supportive, but they pushed me towards graphics as they thought the job prospects were better. Being around creative, artistic people at college made me truly love and engage with art. The graphics course I eventually did was precomputers so I missed out on all that knowledge. But I was fortunate enough to have a great illustration teacher, David Sim. He taught me to think outside the box.  He made me see that a rough scribble could have an extraordinary amount of life and potential in it.  A great teacher can enhance your life.  Having a skill and finding someone who recognises it can lead to a powerful experience.  BM:

Being surrounded by other artists can be challenging. It can go either way. How confident are you?

LRB: Comparing yourself to other artists is both dangerous and inevitable. Seeing other artists being successful while you haven’t

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sold a thing can be soul destroying. And in this day and age it’s also easy to get consumed by how many ‘likes’ you do or don’t get on various social media sites. I try not to care about these things too much but inevitably it can grab you and bring you down. On a good day, I enjoy viewing other artists’ work. I often get involved with Illustration Friday, which is an online site that issues a word every Friday (for example recent words have been – rescue, onomatopoeia, entangled). It is fascinating to see how differently artists and illustrators will interpret them. BM:

Tell me about your favourite illustrators…

LRB: I love Edward Bawden and his graphic illustrations. He was a prolific illustrator of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. He was also employed as an official war artist. Chloe Cheese I discovered when I was at art college and she’s still one of my favourites. Her illustrations are always bright and she sometimes includes hand written descriptions or words drawn in her specific style. And Sara Midda. I discovered her work in the late 80s when she published Sara Midda’s South of France – a sketchbook.  It is a wondrous compilation of quirky little illustrations. She draws intricate little figures full of details, which in many ways inspire my own work. BM:

Okay, time for the big question. What’s the difference between fine art and illustration?

LRB: A fine artist creates from feelings, from the heart. Even through a still life or a portrait, the artist’s feelings or mood will be expressed.  An illustrator always tells a story, not just a feeling. He illustrates a point, a message. There is always a story running behind an illustration.


Dancing with wings

interview with Laura Roberts Bevan

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“I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.� Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (1903)

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Black Mustard: interview with Laura Roberts Bevan  

Laura Bevan is a graphic designer and illustrator from North London who constantly readjusts her artistic boundaries. Whichever technique or...

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