From instructing a sleep-away camp’s arts and crafts program to authoring the amply-praised book Studio Stories, Lauren Rader – an author, artist, and art educator – has been on a winding, creative journey.
As part of the most recent chapter of her life, Lauren has opened her studio to women seeking connection to their innate creativity. In leading classes, which include art and writing exercises, Lauren lights up an infra-creativity within everyone.
This creativity not only becomes visible, but flourishes, as it unlocks hidden truths, deep memories, and life-path reflections.
Lauren’s book, Studio Stories is a courageous and personal book that entwines the stories of the women who attend Lauren’s classes. The book, grounded in the non-fictional and ordinary lives of women, expresses the power of art and creativity found within.
In this interview with Lauren, we discuss Studio Stories, art truths, and much more.
You have been teaching for 20+ years. How did you first get started?
I first got started teaching at a sleepaway camp that I used to go to over the summer. When I was old enough to be a counselor, I ran their arts and crafts programs. I was 17 at the time and have pretty much taught since.
What were some of your founding principles for your current work?
My founding principle is that everyone has his or her own true, creative voice and that if you trust in yourself you will be able to express your own truth. I believe we each have something unique and valuable to add to this world.
When did you get the idea for Studio Stories?
The idea for Studio Stories came from the classes I started teaching 11 years ago. I found that through writing, making art, and sharing in a supportive and safe atmosphere people figure truths out about themselves, have epiphanies about their lives, and make big changes.
I told my husband about these epiphanies and he encouraged me to write a book. So, that was an interesting moment for me because typically my creative work comes from my own heart and soul. And in this case someone was telling me to create this book. I saw it as my husband’s vision; so, it took me a while to understand what it would look like from my perspective.
When I started, I had no picture in my mind of the finished book. Around that time, in my art classes, we were working in clay using the idea of “Life as a journey.” My journey at that moment, writing a book, was a total mess. Thankfully, one of my students, and an author of 3 published books, explained to me that all books look like that when they start. I can’t tell you how helpful that was!
What are some of the similarities that you found between painting or sculpting and writing?
Once I started writing, I realized that it was just another creative process. I understood why writing is called a craft – you craft your words. In some ways, it is the same process as painting. They are both forms of self-expression. And, the way that you write and write, and then then step back to change, alter, and reshape your work is the same process as painting.
You help women connect with their truest selves. When did you first feel connected to your own truest self?
Do you remember those sheets of loose leaf paper with the holes punched in them? Well, when I was 9-years-old, I would take a pencil and color in those holes onto the paper behind so there would be these black circles on the paper. And, I loved the way that looked. One day, I drew one circle on the page in the perfect spot – one black circle. It was perfect and I loved it.
I would say that was my first art truth.
I took it home and hid it away because I didn’t think that anyone would understand why I thought it was so beautiful. Many years later, when I had the maturity and knowledge to be comfortable with being that minimal, I went back to that concept and did a series of black and white paintings.
But, that was my inclination when I was 9. I think that we are just older versions of who we always are and I think that is why I teach kids with the same respect for their work as I would for anyone else’s.
How do you keep that connection in the busy life of a successful author and artist?
I keep in touch with my truest self by writing every day, talking a walk along the river most days, and doing my artwork.
You have mentioned several major career shifts and (literally) life changing moments as a product of your classes. Are there any stories that stand out as particularly moving?
One woman moved away because she realized what she really needed was to live in the country. A couple of my students have gone back to school – one even went back to school for design, another for landscape design. And there have been many moments of remembering and clarity that have brought dramatic life changes for them.
Many UGallery artists have come to art as an encore career, and it is so exciting to be able to provide a platform for those artists to exhibit and sell their work. In what ways can individuals who are professional artists connect even more deeply with their own true selves and inner creativity?
Writing by hand is very, very powerful because it gets you in touch with your quiet inner voice. Some people tell me that typing works best for them, which is fine, but I think that somehow when you write by hand you can go magically from your heart to your page. It is almost like bypassing your brain. You can get to deeper truths writing that you cannot get any other way. I would suggest to your artists to allow all judgement and all the inner critic’s questions to sail out the window and, if there are certain questions that remain troubling, to write about them.
I also use music quite a bit, both with my students and with my own work. Rather than just choosing any music for my work, I choose my music very carefully based on what I am feeling and what I want to express in my work.
Lately, I have been a dark mood and I have been listening to the Leonard Cohen album that was released right before he passed. It’s called “You Want It Darker.” I listen to the album “In Rainbows” by Radiohead and “Essence” by Lucinda Williams. It is all very moody, which I love.
What has the response been like so far for Studio Stories?
It has been a great response! A lot of people are telling me they are buying my book as a gift for the holidays. I was really touched by that; I had no idea it would be a gift book. I hear stories of people re-reading it and giving it to the people they love. So overall, It has been really awesome and I totally did not expect it.
Are there any more projects in the pipeline?
I have been really loving doing book readings and interviews like this one. I could talk about creativity forever. I typically think of myself as a shy person, so I am surprised by how much I have loved talking to people and doing readings. Sometimes I do a mini-art project as a part of my book readings and people love it, so I’m loving that too. So I hope to do more talks and lectures and mix in a little art for people too.
And, as always, I’ll make art.