Exhibitionists·IN PROCESS

Floating figures and serpents, oh my! Get transported with these otherworldly time-lapses

Let Toronto artist Lauren Pirie take you into her "weird dream world."

Let Toronto artist Lauren Pirie take you into her 'weird dream world'

Artist Lauren Pirie (Photo by Daniela Krug, courtesy Lauren Pirie)

Toronto-based artist Lauren Pirie's otherworldly illustrations are a mixture of flowing, watery acrylic inks and intricate black ink work. She's brought her signature style to illustrating children's books (see Ella and the Balloons in the Sky), magazines, murals and more. For our CBC Arts series "In Process" Pirie created three time-lapse videos that let us take a closer look at how she creates her world of floating figures and serpents.

But before we get to the videos, we asked Pirie some questions about her process:

Style and inspiration

How do you describe the style of your work?

Someone recently called it "weird and dreamy" (thanks Milkweed Zine) and that feels about right — and that it's a combination of coloured ink washes and fine detailed line work.

Why do you paint or draw the things that you do?

A lot of it's intuitive, but I also overthink it a lot, if that makes any sense. I've realized that it's about both control and letting go — the process, and often the subjects too. I deal with our anxieties and our fantasies, and most simply, with feelings. The flowing ink or blended paint can be therapeutic to paint and calming when it's finished. The line work is meticulously controlled and...maybe obsessive, but the repetitive patterns can be therapeutic in their own way.

I deal with heaviness a lot, but it's also escapist. Like, here is a place we can come to to isolate this feeling or deal with our demons. Here is a weird dream world where we — especially women and femmes — can feel everything and confront our shadow selves without the pressures or judgment of real life. We can let go of darkness or harness its power to take back to the real world where our anger is often more valid than we've been taught to believe. The natural and the supernatural and human nature are all intertwined — the long arms lend themselves to this. I draw hands a lot for their expressiveness and to convey a sense of touch, and serpents, which are often perceived as evil, but hold ties to the Earth Mother, creative energy, water and the underworld.

Which other artists inspire you?

So many. But some of the first that come to mind are Toronto artists, and some I'm lucky to know: Ness Lee, Winnie Truong, Rajni Perera, Tabban Soleimani, Ambera Wellman, Tau Lewis, Shary Boyle, Jamiyla Lowe, Sammy Rawal, Justyna Werbel, Walter Scott. A random list of other artists I've been loving lately or always: Dominique Fung, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Kristen Liu-Wong, Kaye Blegvad, Polly Nor, Pussykrew, Jenny Holzer, Nick Cave, David Bowie, David Shrigley, Bjork, Andrew Thomas Huang, Rihanna. Some inspire me more with their voice or approach than by our styles being related, but it's all inspiration.

Watch Lauren Pirie create her work using acrylic ink and ink pen on paper 0:53


Where is your favourite place to work?

Near the ocean, whenever I'm lucky. But when I'm in Toronto, in my studio at Bloor & Lansdowne, or outside, painting on a wall.

Do you listen to music when you paint, and if so, what type?

I do — podcasts and radio shows too, but mostly music, and a lot of different kinds. It depends a lot on what I'm making and my mood. I listen to a lot of dancehall, reggae, Afrobeats (especially if I need a boost) or dub or bossanova or samba. If I'm feeling things and want to sit in it while I'm working on something moody, I listen to a lot of alternative R&B, trip hop, avante-garde pop, experimental, electronic, whatever — genres are weird and there's so much overlap now, but I like to paint to things that are a bit sexy or a bit dark: Oyinda, FKA Twigs, Bjork, Portishead, Solange, Sampha, SZA, Kelela....sometimes if I'm feeling nostalgic and emo, I'll listen to old emo. Or grunge or new wave or Bowie. I've been working on some things for my friend, Toronto artist Very Very, and I've been listening to her a lot lately. And probably always Frank Ocean the most.

"I’ve realized that it’s about both control and letting go—the process, and often the subjects too." Lauren Pirie lets us into her artistic process. 0:57


What is your go-to paint to use?

I mostly work with acrylic ink.

If I do sketches I do 1000, but sometimes I go straight to a final piece of watercolour paper. And I almost always stare at it for a very long time first.- Lauren Pirie

How much do you plan a painting? What is your process to prepare?

It's a balance and it changes. The acrylic ink work — the colour and abstract shapes — are often best when they're not planned at all, but the line work usually needs to be. And sometimes I need to mask off areas that won't be coloured. I usually do some warm-up pages of inking, and if I do sketches I do 1000, but sometimes I go straight to a final piece of watercolour paper. And I almost always stare at it for a very long time first.

How long does it take you to complete a painting, on average?

Oh, this varies so much too. Sometimes I'll do a piece that's more abstract and ink-based in a couple of sittings in a day, and some bigger pieces with a lot of detailed line work can take weeks. The first one I shot for the time-lapses took me about 8 hours of active painting time, not including concept sketches, or staring. My process is not fast. I always wonder why I didn't stick with abstract painting, but it probably didn't feel masochistic enough.

Lauren Pirie on the style of her artwork: "Someone recently called it 'weird and dreamy'" 0:43

Finished work

What is your favourite part of your artistic process?

Coming up with ideas. Painting with ink and watching it bleed into water. Being finished.

What do you hope people take away from your work?

A question about themselves and how they relate to everything else — or just a feeling.

Check out Lauren Pirie's final paintings below!

"Wish You Were Here" by Lauren Pirie, acrylic ink and ink pen on paper
"Lungs" by Lauren Pirie, acrylic ink and ink pen on paper
"The Void" by Lauren Pirie, acrylic ink and ink pen on paper


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