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Lauren A Mills
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Children's Book author and Illustrator; Sculptor
Children's Book author and Illustrator; Sculptor

97 followers
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A student from Hartford Art School interviewed me on my painting, "Dancing Away the Dragon." 
 The piece is my daughter, who is a belly dancer and painter and graduated in Illustration last year. She also dances with snakes and started by wanting to conquer a fear. I see dragons as a metaphor of the things you fear and what challenges you as well as some of the evil or hardships you've encountered. The pose in her arms is a protection pose.  The assaults against women are still such a constant and pressing issue and in this painting the "dragon" was, in my mind, the memory of an assault, as well as protecting against further assaults while still being a strong, sensual and feminine woman. I used to belly dance for fun and exercise and started bringing my daughter to my belly dance classes when she was 9. We learned from this Middle Eastern dance brought to America that it is about empowering women and celebrating their sexuality and birth giving abilities in a very powerful way rather than a submissive way. It is also about being comfortable and graceful in one's body, no matter what shape or age you are. Belly dance is a celebration of life itself, but often it is misunderstood or seen by men to be merely sexual entertainment for them.  It is difficult for women to feel comfortable and powerful in their bodies and own their sexuality  and femininity in a strong way and not feel their bodies are something to give away lightly or be forced to give. I think in our society today both men and women are confused about their roles and therefor don't have respect for each other, themselves, or the sacred act of sex. 
   In "Dancing Away the Dragon" she is dancing away dark memories and fears and protecting herself from what feels threatening and overpowering.... In this painting, she clearly is succeeding though she looks very young and vulnerable.

1. What was your motivation when working on this piece?

I have always wanted to paint my daughter bellydancing in costume. I loved this pose, which she called a "protection pose". I took this theme and painted an abstract and dream-like dragon, along with golden fish scales which tie in with the golden coins hanging off her costume. I wanted the figure to look realistic, solid and strong in the foreground but relate to the more abstract, swirling forms in the background which represent her dreams and nightmares. I named it "Dancing Away the Dragon" as a metaphor to taking a pro-active and creative role in fighting off the fears and the demons of the past as well as being a metaphor for a woman standing strong and feminine against masculine assault.
 Where do you find is the best place to concentrate when working on art?

I live and work in a large loft space in a converted brick factory with huge, south facing windows. I paint by the window... sometimes needing to close some of the curtains... but I enjoy hearing the geese and ducks in the lake below and looking out onto MT. Tom. I battled with dust which the galkyd collected, so now I'm not using that, but using a little bit oleogel from Natural Pigments.

How long did it take you to complete your piece" Dancing Away The Dragon?"


My daughter posed for the photos back in 2009 when she was only 18 or 19... and I've been waiting for the time to paint from them. I was inspired by her own large paintings that were in her senior show at HAS and she challenged me to work large. This is the largest painting I've ever done. Most of my work has been very small and oil is relatively a newer medium for me. I've made my living as a children's book author and illustrator working in watercolor and graphite, but I'm now really enjoying oil and painting personal paintings. I worked on and off on this painting for several months... teaching and writing a novel in the middle of it.

Tips I give to art students: 
1. Be wary of toxic materials... such as sprays, thinners, cadmium paints and try to find alternatives. 
2. I also share this quote by John Burton: "It is the love of the process that pulls one through the discipline necessary to master the demands of that craft."  I think it's important to just love what you're doing... love the whole journey, love beauty and making beauty, love the beauty of natural world and learn from it. Your love will show in your work and touch others and will also keep you from being too self conscious or egotistical about your work. After all, you are just a vessel and visitor here and sharing your gifts and the way you see the world is a wonderful thing to do.
3. What you portray is not as important as how beautifully you portray it. I do believe in mastering craft and learning as much as you can so that you are never limited by how little you know. I also believe that art should be beautiful and moving, even if the subject matter may be disturbing. I don't believe in portraying violence just to be hip. I think the world has experienced enough violence and we need more doses of beauty and uplifting images. I think that viewing violent images are like ingesting poison and as an artist I'd like to be on the curative side of things.
4.   I also advise students to listen to their own hearts and believe in themselves. They are the only ones who can be their best friend and coach. It's always good to have another pair of eyes but make sure they are supportive.
5. I also think it's good to get started on your career while in school... show your work, enter contests, work out in the field where ever possible so that you start creating your own business. Now a days you can and need to find your own niche and marketing. You most likely will have to have a side job to pay the bills, but don't stop doing your art. Let ART be your master not money. 

How do you gain your inspiration when starting a new piece of art?


There are different ways I gain my inspiration. I mostly gain it from looking at favorite artists, going to museums, taking walks in the woods. I like to put my favorite artists on my Facebook or pinterest so I can go back and see them... and then sometimes I'll print them out or layout books with them while I'm painting to inspire me. I like to figure out what it is that each painter does that I like and can infuse into what I do.  

Could you please explain the steps that you took to create your piece of art?

On this piece I posed my daughter, took a photograph, 
and looked at the photo and a black and white printout to paint from. I did change her lips and eyes a bit to give the expression I wanted... and to make it more of a painting that a copy of a photo. The background was entirely made up though I was inspired by looking at several of Gustav Klimt's paintings. I painted somewhat of a brownish grisaille first for the figure and then continued with layers of color.  On the painting I'm working on now I'm not using any photographs for reference, but working on a slick ground with thinned down raw umber first... wiping it around and having the face emerge in shadows. I looked at old paintings for inspiration.  Having worked in watercolors for so long I'm still used to working thinly. After the brown underpainting dried I thinly applied colors, mostly mixed with white to the face and letting the scratchiness of the brush strokes show. 
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Our new puppy Ollie has arrived.
Last Wednesday I flew from Dallas with little Ollie, an 11 week old Italian Greyhound pup. He is very smart and sweet and likes to play. He's learned "sit", "come", and that a high yelp from me means that he's bitten too hard!
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12/6/16
6 Photos - View album

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Last Wednesday I flew from Dallas with little Ollie, an 11 week old Italian Greyhound pup. He is very smart and sweet and likes to play. He's learned "sit", "come", and that a high yelp from me means that he's bitten too hard!
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12/6/16
6 Photos - View album

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Here are some of my new illustrations - for Mike and Alison Battle's UK Lapland picture book called, "Lapland, The Untold Story of Father Christmas". 
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11/25/16
12 Photos - View album

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Teaching Schedule this summer:

MFA WRITING & ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Hollins University, Roanoke, VA
Drawing - June 20 - July 14

MFA ILLUSTRATION Hartford Art School, Univ. of Hartford
co-teaching Picture Book Design with Peter McCarty
July 18 - 22, Keynote Presentation July 20
CAPE COD WRITERS CONFERENCE
Aug. 4 - 7, 2016

Resort and Conference Center Hyannis, MA
Chapter Book Writing, Fri., Sat., Sun., 3-4:30
Picture Book Construction, Fri., Sat., 4:45-6:15

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New oil painting, "Sasha and Elfin Puppet".
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Excited that Minna's Patchwork Coat was chosen for this.
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More books proposals.
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2016-03-12
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