Business Owner: Lauren Benson
Business: Lauren Bee LLC
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♦ Tell us a little bit about you and your business.
I’m a wife and mom of three teenagers (all girls, and also wildly creative). I knit, I drink hot tea, I daydream. As Lauren Bee, my artist’s name, I operate as a fine art composite photographer, following the rabbit holes of imagination, listening to others, telling stories, and living the visionary, creative life. When I’m not doing laundry and other Normal Person things, I pretty much live in Wonderland …. or Oz … or Narnia — wherever worm holes might take me!
♦ Are you following your passion?
I am 110% following my passion, yes! It’s taken my full 42 years of life experience to get here, to give myself permission to listen to my heart and march to the beat of my own weirdo drum, but I feel like I’ve finally arrived — and by “arrived” I don’t mean to imply I’ve got it all figured out, heavens no. I mean I’m wide-open to all there is left to learn (which is so much!), and to the growth and adventure that is this Artistic Life Thing. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, and I love the wildness of that — it feeds my creativity and adds fuel to my fire.
♦ What tools do you use to create?
I tell people what I do more closely resembles collage, though done digitally rather than with paste and paper. I photograph the elements of the image I am crafting, (or purchase rights to use images when I can’t find just the right “ingredient”), then I head over to PhotoShop to do the cutting and “pasting”, layering and painting in light and shadow, adjusting and world-making. There’s a lot of glitter involved too (digital, of course — ‘cause that stuff is messy).
♦ When did you fall in love with your art? How long have you been doing it?
I actually think I’ve always been in love with it; I just never outgrew the child in me. I remember sitting at my great-grandmother’s kitchen table, late summer sunlight streaming through lace curtains, faded linoleum beneath my bare feet, the quiet ticking of a nearby clock — with paper and pencil before me, drawing a rudimentary unicorn. And I have vivid memories of cutting out bits of fabric to construct mermaid tails for my Barbie dolls. And memories of imagining stories, often writing them down, with gorgeous, detail-laden descriptions and sketches of characters. I've always been drawing and dreaming and imagining — and then when I became a wife and mother, it just furthered my instincts to play and dream. I’ve always been “all up in my head”, and after majoring in fine arts in college then writing, I think all of the pieces just fell magically into place. I’ve technically been “a photographer” for 8 years …. but I’ve been creating my inner world since childhood, finally opening up and sharing it with others in the last 3-4 years.
♦ What sort of work do you specialize in?
Walt Disney said, “if you can dream it, you can do it.” I do that. When clients commission me, they know they’re inviting me into their story, giving me permission to cull forth the inherent wonder already pulsating there. I listen with my ears and with my heart, and I craft from that those one-of-a-kind works of art to be hung on walls and enjoyed for years to come. It’s more than mere photography; it’s like weaving a tapestry — but as a portrait of a true person, their hopes, their dreams, the memory they wish to document, the right of passage they wish to celebrate, or the feeling they want to never forget.
♦ Do you create personal work often?
In a way, everything I create is deeply personal. I’m less “business woman” and more like a strongly brewed artist type, deeply invested in every work I make. But I do intentionally carve out a few hours each month to work on the personal things I have rattling between my ears. I’m currently working on a very intensive book project, a visual storytelling collective and faithful retelling of a favorite classic fairytale: The Little Mermaid. It’s an important story to me, because it’s about a soul who didn’t quite know where she belonged — under the waves or on the land … until she did know. And then she spent her ever after pursuing that with a heart-wide-openness that defies human reason. That story resonates with me, and I think it resonates with a lot of people … so it needs telling. Again.
♦ What or who got you started in your creative medium?
I minored in painting and drawing in college, but felt limited by it. Many years later, after my dad passed away, I picked up my first “real camera” and it was like the whole world was unlocked. At first, I fell absolutely in love with macro photography, those tiny little details to be found on my grief-suffused walks in the woods: snail shells, dark crevices in rocks, unfurling flower petals, and especially (of all things!) mushrooms growing from the forest floor; there was something so magical about these quiet details that I’d never really noticed until I had a camera and until my understanding of life was mixed with my intimate experience of death. I found the view-finder narrowed my vision and forced me to truly see the wonder all around us, which was exactly what my soul needed to see and understand. After that, it was just a snowball effect, learning manual settings, upgrading my gear so I could master the sharpest images possible, and then learning what I could do manipulate reality in post-processing and PhotoShop.
♦ Who are some of your favorite artists past or present?
I’m a SUPER art history nerd — like, annoyingly so to my friends and family; I’ll talk your ear off! I love ancient Greek sculpture, Renaissance painters, and especially the pre-Raphaelites — the billowing fabric, romantic moodiness, and gorgeous flowing locks of the women of Rosetti, Waterhouse, and Millais paintings; that’s what makes me swoon. I want to create work that does that for others — and I’m not there yet, but I’ll keep trying!
♦ Do you create other types of art? What kind(s)?
I love to knit. I don’t always finish actual projects, but the tangible act of knitting, the yarn running between my fingers, the clicking of the needles; it’s soothing and allows me to sit with my thoughts and feelings and ideas. I spin yarn too, with a spinning wheel. And here lately, I’ve taken up beading and sewing costumes and props for certain fine art photographs that I’m working on and can’t quite find the exact thing I’m needing and wanting to pull off in my piece. “Fiddly things” as my husband calls my hobby: quiet activity that demands patience and exactness to craft beautiful things.
♦ How do you balance your personal/family life and passion?
I don’t! Haha. I’m not really a “balance” kind of person. I throw myself all-in on creative projects and practically catch fire and burn until it’s complete. And I really see no point in distancing my personal life from what is so personal to me, my work. My daughters and husband have learned this about me, and my closest friends too. Cooking and cleaning house always fall by the wayside when I’m in the frenzy of creation — which is about 98% of my waking moments. I’m a little mad — but in the best possible way, of course.
♦ From where do you draw your inspiration?
“Anybody with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child.” Tim Burton said that — and he’s spot on for me. I actually adore Burton’s work, his unique (often dark and whimsical) view of things. I love seeing what other photographers are doing too — not merely the composite artists (like Brooke Shaden, whose work is incredibly personal and dark and dreamy) but the ones who are in the thick of it and creating long before they ever pick up their cameras, like Kristy Mitchell and Cheryl Walsh with their gorgeous costumes and hand-crafted props. I’m also strongly drawn to the fairytales of my childhood, the magic of those imaginary worlds that I was immersed in as a kid — and Disney movies. I also love perusing Pinterest, drooling over period costumes and movie stills from English dramas — anything that sweeps me off my feet and validates the aforementioned madness.
♦ What are your favorite online communities?
I’m a person of faith, so I feel very supported when I “sit” awhile with others of like mind. ChristianCreative™ (goodnewsfeed.org) is really great because they don’t separate the drive of creation from the force of faith, rather they encourage the natural blending of the two. I also really love my friend, writer Toya Poplar (toyapoplar.com) and the community she's creating, not merely for writers, but for anyone who is creative and feeling called to purposes higher than the mere self.
♦ If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to young artists wanting to follow their passion?
In a way, I get to do this every day: with my artist daughters who are all eyeing careers in the arts. I also shout it from the rooftops on my social media platforms: you were created to create! So create. Create bad art and create good art, create the stuff you’d never show anyone, and the stuff you can’t wait to show everyone. It’s in your lifeblood. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just CREATE. The joy will follow, and you’ll be blessed and bless others by the mere act of doing what your soul cries out to do. That right there is the meaning life. It’s that simple, and any voice that tells an artist she “can’t” or “shouldn’t”, that voice (often our own) needs to be nipped in the bud. End of story.
♦ What tips would you give to our viewers in an inspirational rut?
Walk away from the drawing board, so to speak. Just pull away from it, take a deep breath, and take a walk — go outside and feel the crunch of dry leaves under your boots, or if you’re a city-dweller, stroll down streets, peer down mysterious alleys, and allow yourself to wander and wonder. Do this for days if that’s what it takes. Open yourself up to whatever you’re feeling and thinking — whether it’s perceived as “negative” emotion or positive energy, just FEEL it. Sit with it. Be uncomfortable with it and embrace the mess of it. Then ask yourself what it means. You’ll maybe feel like expressing something — anything — at that point …. and the expression of it might not best manifest itself through your usual medium. Don’t be afraid to try something new and unfamiliar, to paint or draw (even “badly”), to sculpt in clay, or to take up knitting or crochet or bread baking. And for the love of all that is holy (and it’s ALL holy!), be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to finish everything you start; the act of starting, sometimes, is all you need to just Be the human BEING that you are.