The Art of Life with Laci Fowler

May 10, 2024 at 10:28 am by RMGadmin

Quiet Joy

By Dominique Paul

David Mamet famously said, “Art is an expression of joy and awe.” The first time I saw a painting by local artist Laci Fowler, that’s exactly what I felt. It was a colorful, abstract floral that seemed to be bursting off the canvas, unable to contain its exuberance for being alive. It was impossible not to feel happy when looking at it. You may recognize Laci’s work, as she has recently brought her trademark style to collaborations with Anthropologie, Harper Collins, She Reads Truth and more. Originally from Mississippi, Laci and her husband, songwriter-producer Bryan Fowler, have lived in Franklin for ten years. “I love where we live,” Laci told us. “I love being part of the art scene and seeing it bloom and grow.”


I recently caught up with Laci to learn more about her approach to art and life. What transpired was an inspiring and thought-provoking conversation about the intersection of faith and creativity... and some bonding over our mutual love of Narnia. We are so proud to have Laci in this issue of YOUR Williamson. I hope you enjoy discovering Laci’s work as much as I did.

What do you love about living in Williamson County? How long have you lived here and what brought you to town?

 LF: We have lived in Williamson County for ten years. My husband’s job brought us here. I love the mixture of big and small. There is a charm to this area, an appreciation for that charm, and attempt to preserve it, which I appreciate. I like that creatives of all kinds can thrive here. Entrepreneurs are accepted here in a big way. I think this is huge for keeping an art culture alive in an area. But it is also “big” in that, it has a little bit of everything. I’m from a small town, so I appreciate the charm *and* the fact that there’s a Whole Foods down the road! 

Growing up, what (or who) influenced your desire and motivation to create?

 LF: The first person to inspire was my Aunt. I was probably 4 or 5. She made these big straw hats for my cousin’s birthday party. Every little girl got a hat. Even at that young age I remember thinking: “she *made* those. She didn’t go buy them. That’s cool! I want to make hats too!” It’s silly, but noteworthy. Other people include my first art teacher at age 9, Vicky Land. I grew up in small town in MS. Very few people stood out as artsy or creative. Like most small towns, sports ruled. Vicky always wore a light, airy scarf and had fun glasses and a lovely posture. She was like a sunflower in a sea of daisies. Both are great, but you can’t help but notice the sunflower when it’s the only one. That’s what she was to me. I always felt a bit different growing up as the one who liked art and music and writing. She made me feel like that was ok. 

When and how did you first know that you were a painter? Was there an “A-ha” moment?

LF: My first moment was an art class I took when I was 15. Everyone was painting…I don’t know… something that felt boring to me. So, I asked my teacher if I could paint this picture of a woman I found in a magazine. She agreed. I struggled through it and she told me to turn my painting upside down to loosen up my mind. To see shapes instead of a person. It worked! When I turned the painting right side up again, there she was, this woman I had been trying to capture. That’s when I knew I wanted to take art seriously. 


Tell us about your training, did you study art in school?

LF: I took art lessons through high school and studied art in college for three years. 


Your paintings are so colorful and whimsical, they are almost like joy on canvas. What inspires your florals and landscapes, and why do you choose to portray the natural world in this way?

 LF: Great question! I think there are a few different answers. First, my mom is a very joyful person. Very hospitable. A glass-half-full perspective almost always, even during very hard times. I think being around this type of personality for 36 years has found its way into my work, which I love, because it is a way to honor her. The other answer has to do with my faith. There are two quotes that I reference often when I talk about my work. One is from CS Lewis: “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” And the other is Tim Keller: “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.“ both are essentially pointing to the fact that “All Things New” is still coming. We wait with hope, full of faith that the resurrection of Jesus means that one day, death and all his friends will be no more. So I paint flowers as a symbol of remembrance. We remember these good promises and walk with gentleness and faithfulness, with joy and love and in doing so, we are a stark contrast to all the ugliness all around us, like flowers standing tall on a tattered field. 

Tell us about your creative process? Are you a “pantser” (i.e. fly by the seat of your pants) or a “planner”?

LF: Oh, I’m definitely a pantser! Gosh, this is a great, loaded question. I am not, by nature, administrative. Planning is hard for me. However, the longer I do this professionally, the more I see the value in it. I feel like I’m learning how to temper both spontaneity and sticking to a plan. I think it’s important to leave room for spur-of-the-moment inspiration. It keeps me present. And it keeps falling into the trap that says: “hey this is working on Instagram for other artists, so go do that”. I never ever want to create from that place. But I do think that for anything to grow, you need structure. Discipline is good. For me, planning is discipline I’ve learned to embrace. That’s my short answer. 😊 


What has been your most challenging piece to work on and why?

 LF: My most challenging piece was a portrait I painted a couple years ago. It was a commissioned piece going in a new build and to be honest, our styles didn’t line up. I wasn’t sure if I should bend my artistic direction to suit the needs of the house even though I *really* didn’t like it. I struggled with that. I completed the commission since I had committed but after that, I got very selective about what commissions to take. I’ve never regretted that decision. Both to finish what I started and to be selective as I went forward. There’s always an opportunity to practice or not practice integrity, and I think laying aside artistic preferences to show integrity is the secret to doing this professionally. Or one of the secrets, anyway. 

How do you overcome "painter's block" or how do you get into your "zone" to freely feel the creativity?

LF: When I was in college, I was told by a very successful artist to not force it. If the inspiration isn’t there, don’t paint. Walk away. Surrender. If you don’t, your work will suffer. I completely agree with this. We don’t take rest seriously enough. It is as vital as work. Resting well is huge for me. As I do this professionally longer, I know when to break that rule and when not to. I do think there is a way to wake that part of me back up. The secret for us, *nothing* is off limits. I’ve learned to really open my eyes and expect inspiration to come from anything, anywhere, at any time. Patterns on a dress, the colors on my son’s toy, the picture books we read as a family, old dishes, highly textured trees, the way the colors of food interact on a plate, my daughter’s dress and the way it happens to complement the color of my nails when I’m brushing her hair. Rocks, shells, flowers and architecture, a well-kept yard and open pastures and thrift stores. Colors and shapes, patterns and textures. It is all around me. It’s important that we resist the urge to believe that inspiration can only come from art books or other paintings. Steve Dewitt said “If we have eyes and ears to discern, the universe is a floor to ceiling photo montage of God’s glory and grandeur.” It’s so true. Beauty is all around us, waiting to be beheld and cultivated and made into new pieces of art. 


Your husband Bryan Fowler is a musician, what are the benefits and challenges to having another creative person as your partner?

LF: Yes! He is a songwriter and producer. Ya know, they say that opposites attract, but that hasn’t been my personal experience. We “get” each other in a very special way because of creativity. Because we both know the demands of the creative industry, there is so much grace. I respect his work and he respects mine. We’ve learned to critique each other’s work in truth and love. We both understand that creatives can have really hard days that feel like no matter how hard you try, what you’ve made isn’t that great. We know how to pull each other out of it and when to give space. We can both resonate when one of us has a major victory because we saw the dark days it took to get there. Bryan knows that if there’s two ways to get home, to take the more beautiful route even if it’s longer because he knows it’ll fill me up. Things like that. He is one of my greatest gifts in life, truly. 

Tell us about your other creative outlets. What do you like to do for fun and/or relaxation?

LF: I *love* to be outside. I walk every day because I just love being outside. Mature trees and flowers and wind and birds singing. These things relax me and rejuvenate me. I love to cook. I love a lively kitchen with music and people. I love the movement of it. I love slow mornings. I wake up pretty early before anyone is up. I read my Bible and sit in silence. Slow mornings are a big part of what makes me tick. I also love design. I love taking a forgotten space and breathing life back into it. I love a proper antique store. Not a store with crafty booths but a real antique store with solid, beautiful pieces. They affirm what I attempt to do for a living. Good art lasts. 


In addition to your own original artwork and prints, you have also recently re-imagined the covers to some classic novels for Harper Collins and also women’s bibles for She Reads Truth. How were you approached for these products and what was your process for deciding what to paint?

LF: It really is an honor to be part of things like these. I don’t enter into creating work for companies lightly and I hope I never do. Now, more than ever, I’m so aware of the options these large companies have. Instagram is really important. I once heard someone say that Instagram is a tool, not a toy. I completely agree. If you learn how to put this tool to work, it has a lot of benefits. This looks different for everyone. Some spend hours a day using this tool. Promoting and growing constantly. I understand why, but I’m not there. I really limit my time on Instagram because we have young kids and we homeschool. I’m content with this. I love this season where art takes a backseat and the beauty of it is, this order of things feeds my creativity in a huge way. Anyway, all that to say, it certainly isn’t my “hustle” mentality that has gotten me anywhere. It’s grace. 
The classics for Harper Collins are a major high point in my career. I *love* books. I love to read and have made reading all but mandatory in our home. It is highly encouraged. I love stories and exercising my imagination. So really, these books were all fun and very little work. The Creative Director, Kate Armstrong made my job so easy. She had a vision for this series and I still remember where I was when I read her first email about bringing me on to create the covers for this series. I hope to work with her again and again. It felt like all the creative keepsakes I’d tucked away in my mind throughout my life were finally able to be put to good use. Like unpacking boxes that have been in storage can feel like Christmas morning, I opened the arsenal and applied so many ideas I had been saving for a special occasion. Color palettes and loose brushstrokes. Whimsical beach scenes and highly pigmented nightscapes. I treasure these covers. 

Rick Rubin recently said that the creation of art is a devotional act. Do you agree? And how is that true or not true in your own work?

LF: I really sat with this question. Rick Rubin is a creative genius of sorts. There’s no denying that. I appreciate his off-the-wall-ness more than I can say. I like when successful people aren’t overly loud about it. I think that’s why people are drawn to him. I went back and watched the interview where he made this statement. And in its context, I completely agree with his statement. I’m slow to fully endorse it because he and I probably have different ideas of who God is. But yes, I do fully agree and would add that art is most valuable not when other people like it, but when the artist offers it up to God. If it were my statement, I would tweak it a bit and say this: Art is most valuable not when other people like it but when the artist reverently and skillfully offers it up to the Maker of all things, seeking first and foremost to please and praise Him by taking in his creation and responding by creating beautiful copies of all his originals. Steve Dewitt says in his book “Enjoying God In Everything” — (which I highly recommend!)— “Beauty is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the Source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.” To be honest, I love this topic and this question and could talk about it all day. But we don’t have space for that, so, onward! 

What are you currently working on and what can we look forward to from you in the future?

LF: I am currently working on sketches. This may seem strange since I’m known for bright colors. But it is my love for bright colors and pattern mixing that led me here to sketches. Sketches are timeless. They can be layered with *any* color palette and pattern combination because they are neutral. Many people are timid when it comes to purchasing original art because it is expensive and there is a lingering thought: “what if I want to change things up in my home in two years and this painting doesn’t fit that change?” That’s a valid concern. But with sketches, you don’t have to worry about that. They don’t tie you down because they go with everything. That’s why I love them. I also love that they seem to capture a moment in time in a special way. There’s something about the “no nonsense” of a sketch, the quiet confidence of it, that I am very drawn to. I am also excited to start releasing work (paintings) one piece at a time instead of releasing large collections. I want to do this so that I can really sit with a piece for a while without feeling rushed.  


What advice would you give aspiring artists?

LF: Gosh there is so much advice to give. I’ve learned so much. I’ve shared a lot of advice through the article, I guess. If I had to sum it up in two words: stay teachable. 


Anything additional you would like to share for our readers?

LF: I love where we live. I love being part of the art scene and seeing it bloom and grow. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support!