Toronto-based Lauren Pirie is the queen of multitasking. With a background in design and illustration, she effortlessly juggles client work and personal fine art as well as children’s book illustration and the management of the creative sustainability organization About Face Collective. Inspired by the richness of nature and magical allure of childhood memories, Lauren’s delicate creations bring forth fantastical stories of creatures, dreams and a ever-wandering imagination. Check out our conversation with her below!
What’s the first memory you have about making art?
I must have been about five or maybe even younger. I remember making drawings at my grandmother’s place: I’d sit behind the sofa, pretend I owned a little store and sell them to my family. It’s one of the earliest memories I have of art, but I’ve definitely been making things as long as I can remember.
How do you find your inspiration?
I feel like it always changes. Sometimes I’ll be inspired researching something on the internet, sometimes I’ll be inspired when I’m running or in a yoga pose, or sometimes when I’m lying in bed… probably most often when I’m lying in bed (laughs). I have a process once I start working but when I decide to start is always different. Sometimes I’ll be out and suddenly think to myself: “I really need to go home and make this thing”. I’m always coming up with ideas and sketching or writing things down constantly, but to finish work I need to have some sort of deadline and discipline.
What’s it like working freelance?
I love it, but it’s always a challenge. I’m always taking on client work which is essential and can be very rewarding. But, I usually end up prioritizing work I have to do for other people over work that I do for myself… and there are moments in which it’s really important for me to make time for my own projects. Finding that balance is something I’m always trying to figure out.
Do you have any personal projects going on at the moment?
Right now I have a children’s book in the making. It’s a look at the funny things that people do through the eyes of magical creatures. It’s sort of a quirky promotion for going outside and using your imagination as opposed to sitting inside and staring at screens all the time. The advancement of technology is fantastic because it has become a wonderful learning tool for kids: you see children interacting with iPhones, learning how to do things themselves and it’s fascinating…but it’s so important to be exposed to nature, to learn to respect it, and be able to create your own stories.
How do you feel about being based in Toronto?
I feel like there’s a common discussion between Torontonians (especially artists) about whether the city is a good place to be or even a good city in general… and I will stand by Toronto forever (laughs). It might just be silly pride but I think that new life has been breathed into this city, especially with how far it’s come in the past five to ten years. It might sound cliché, but, really, one of the best things Toronto has going for it is its diversity. So many friends and people in the creative community in Toronto are first or second generation Canadians or just bring their own cultural experiences to the table. And there’s a really solid contingent of strong, talented women and feminist voices and LGBT voices… and men who support feminism, and straight people who speak up for gay rights… It’s easy to take all of this for granted, but you don’t have to go far to realize that it’s not like that everywhere. All of this forms the voice of a community of people from all over the world and from different backgrounds and we’re so lucky to live in that environment. And all this makes for great art! On the negative side, the city can have a defensive quality in a lot of fields in which people are kind of uncertain on whether to take big risks until they’re approved somewhere else first.
Does this defensive quality make it difficult for you to find clients?
I’m lucky enough to work with all sorts of people and outside of the mainstream a lot. Being in the environmental realm with About Face Collective brings on a lot of clients in the social enterprise, good food, and sustainability worlds. I love working with them because it’s great to collaborate with people who believe in the same things you do. It’s a struggle sometimes as an independent artist when you’re doing something you don’t feel passionate about. I used to do a lot of design work for people or companies who just needed a graphic designer and didn’t necessarily want or need the more illustrative or hand-drawn approach I usually work with. For a long time I took on these kind of design jobs because I felt like needed to do them (or I really did need to do them to pay bills). I love branding and identity work, and it’s something I’m good at if it’s the right fit. But I’ve realized that there are certain people who are really good at a specific type of design work and do those jobs for a reason. I can create a very clean and corporate design but it’s not really my thing, and I’d much rather have that job given to someone who’s good for it and will enjoy it and work on it wholeheartedly, rather than me spending hours in a dark room, cursing while tweaking a vector curve. I also have a couple of amazing designers that I’ll collaborate with sometimes. It always ends up for the best.
Are there any local artists that you particularly admire or have a strong influence on your art?
Well, Rajni Perera is definitely one. I love her work so much. She’s amazing on so many levels. Her work is as powerful as it is visually stunning. She creates very strong female-centric imagery that comes from a very visceral place and that so many people gravitate toward. It’s interesting, her work references influences from all over the world, but I feel like she is Toronto. Juliana Neufeld is amazing as well, she’s an illustrator I share similar tendencies with: we both lean toward the fantastical and hold on to our childhoods a bit, I think. I love Kathryn MacNaughton and Virgil Baruchel’s paintings, the Broadbent sisters’ pen works (and massage installations!), James Braithwaite and Adrian Forrow’s illustration, Justin Broadbent’s many things, Danielle Hession’s collages (especially the dark ones) and Mahmood Popal’s installations and process — he’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with. One artist who’s definitely had a big influence on me from all of our late nights working together in the early days is Justyna Werbel, who’s in Poland now and who I miss dearly. Oh, and Rodrigo Marti! In the wider realm of “art” I’m definitely influenced by the NorBlackNorWhite ladies, Alana Ka’kia’s design aesthetic, Meg Bolohan’s writing and, of course, by my boyfriend Josh Raskin who is a director and musician and often says stupid things that inspire drawings. I could go on and on. It’s funny…I’m trying to think of artists I don’t know personally.
Do you find there’s a strong creative network in the city?
Absolutely. There are so many respected and talented people in Toronto that are doing really great things. It feels really positive, everyone’s looking out for each other, wanting everyone to be successful. I’m usually a hermit when I’m working on something, but I get really excited when there’s a chance to collaborate on a project that takes me outside of my studio-hole. I’m also notoriously indecisive and prone to spending way too long on everything, so it’s always great to work with friends who tell me when to stop.
Would you have any advice for emerging artists or freelancers in your position?
I would say that even if you doubt yourself and you’re not totally confident about your work, put it out there anyway. It’s way more important to produce things and learn from your mistakes than it is to make everything perfect. Personally, it took me a really long time to feel okay about showing my work to people.
For what reason?
I have mixed feelings toward the things I make; I think a lot of artists are like that. I have so many sides to my work: stuff for clients, personal fine artwork and then my work that leans toward the world of children’s books. I worry sometimes because I don’t want to get pigeon-holed in that space. I know a lot of my work has the tendency to be cute and whimsical but I have other interests and I want to be able to work within other realms and industries as well. I can make something one day and love it, then look at it the next day and hate it or see it as something that doesn’t represent me. I know, I’m rolling my eyes hard at that; it’s so stereotypical of our generation to want everything to represent us perfectly, but when you’re an artist and you’re creating things you’re really just “representing yourself” all the time (laughs).