It's time for another artist interview and this time with a personal favorite: Taylor Lee from @taylorleepaints (excuse me while I fangirl right now.) I find Taylor's artwork to be a wonderful puzzle. Her abstracts are layered with magic and her florals spark the happiest joy, and completely convinced she’s a color wizard.
For the readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Taylor and I’m a painter (focusing on florals right now) based in North Carolina. I started painting full time almost 3 years ago, and I am pursuing my MFA in Painting at The Savannah College of Art and Design later this year.
Who are some of your biggest art inspirations?
This changes all of the time! As far as the Masters go, I have always loved Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet. I know, I know, everyone does! Van Gogh and Matisse inspire my painting style, but Monet inspires more of my ideal lifestyle - that
one day I’ll have a house and my own
garden to paint from. I am inspired by a slew of contemporary painters. Amanda Evanston, Blakely Little, Teil Duncan, and Ana Leovy are just a few of the painters that I drool over.
You occasionally mention that your grandmother sparked your curiosity for the art world, how do you think her influence shows up in your paintings?
My grandma never painted on canvas and didn’t make a lot of “scenes.” She would paint on other items to decorate them, like painting flowers on a wooden birdhouse, creating little tin signs for the spice rack, or decorating little boxes to keep tiny treasures in. She also built dollhouses and furniture to go inside, and painted all of those. In that way, she had a folk-art vibe, where the stuff is more decorative and utilitarian than what I do, which is purely aesthetic. But because of her approach to art, I got used to being surrounded by creativity and looking for opportunities to paint every day. As far as style goes, she had a really specific handwriting in her work. Her lines were always wobbly, and that’s something I have in my work that I like. My written handwriting actually looks a lot like my grandma’s, so I think that I’m probably close to painting like she did.
What does your creative process look like start to finish?
All of my projects begin with an intense brainstorming/researching/finding inspiration phase. I don’t always clock my time, but I can easily spend 2-4 weeks just researching for my next collection. I like to learn about the subject matter, and study how other artists have handled it. Nowadays with flowers I go to the florist once a week for bouquets but I also look for wildflowers in the surrounding neighborhood, trying to apply what I’ve researched to what I’m seeing in real life.
What body language does this flower have? Does it grow on a vine, a bush, a tree, or from a planted bulb? How does it look at different life stages? I have to be careful not to let myself “research” for too long, because then I’m just procrastinating. I let myself have a few weeks to get nerdy, and then I make a point to start the next phase before I think I’m ready.
The second phase of my process is mostly experimentation. I have analyzed what I did in my last collection and figured out what I want to keep and what I want to change. I’ll now experiment with creating new work that is informed by my research and the lessons I learned in my last collection. I take a lot of notes at this time, essentially A/B testing different ideas until I find something that feels really good and right.
The third stage begins as soon as I find something that feels good. I’ll produce at least 10 pieces exploring that one thing until I feel like I could make these pieces in my sleep. At this point it’s just executing my idea, so it happens really fast. I’ll complete at least 1 painting a day for a few weeks. I’m mainly focusing on colors at this stage because everything else (composition, style, subject, etc) has been decided, so I’m just trying to work in enough range in the color palette that the pieces don’t all look too similar.
I took me a really long time to settle on this process so reader, if this sounds nothing like what you do, don’t despair. There is no RIGHT way to create. I would definitely encourage any artist to find what process works well with their energy levels and personality.
You recently announced that you’ve been accepted into SCAD! (congrats btw) What made you want to further your formal education?
I don’t currently have any formal education in art. I am self-taught, and a lot of really amazing artists are. I definitely don’t believe that you NEED to get a degree to be an artist (I’m literally a pro without one), but the reason I’m getting one is because I have an insatiable appetite for growth. I’ve always enjoyed learning and researching, so I think I will thrive in an academic setting (especially because an MFA is very self-directed). There are bigger things that I want to do with my work and I can recognize some limitations in my skill set that I need to remedy in order to do those things. Since art is my business, I can get caught up in making what will sell or focusing on stocking up for the holidays, etc. I love being an entrepreneur, but I plan to use the opportunity of getting my masters to focus on developing my skills as an artist.
Do you think that art school is something an artist “needs”?
I don’t think artists need art school. I do think artists need to learn, though. Being self-taught is a beautiful thing, but I personally don’t think it’s enough. I think you need to take workshops, intern for an artist, enroll in an online course, work through a how-to book, watch Bob Ross, anything to learn more and grow your skills. I just don’t see the point of making the same thing over and over again, and it’s hard to make something different without being exposed to new information.
I have a lot of respect for academic institutions so I have decided to enroll in one, but I have also thoroughly enjoyed some quality instruction outside of institutions (for instance, Amanda Evanston’s online courses, and my sister-in-law has given me some one-on-one help in the things that she is better at than me). People oftentimes remark on how much my work has developed over a short period of time, and that is purely the result of hard work and a dedication to learning!
As an artist that has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and a big mental health advocate, you often share that you choose to look at your diagnosis as a superpower. Was this always the case?
Definitely not. There was a time when bipolar disorder wrecked my life and I felt pretty helpless. But one of the things about bipolar disorder is that there is no cure, so I realized pretty quickly that this was my life and I could either rage against it or learn to live with it. For a time I worked on just trying to make peace with it and to try not wanting to die. It was really hard because I felt like my life was pretty empty and there wasn’t a point in sticking around for empty. Three years ago I started painting every day, and I soon noticed that it started taking up all of my time, which was an aha moment for me. I think that having manic phases can be really hard if you don’t have anything to do with the energy, so I would feel empty because nothing was satisfying me.
Once I introduced painting into my daily routine I became completely absorbed in it, and finally life didn’t feel so empty. I would not be the artist that I am today without having obsessively devoted 90% of my life to painting, and that’s not something I realized was even a thing until it happened. I never sat there going, “hmm my life sucks how can I make it better...maybe I’ll paint.” And sure painting feels good but it’s not something I think of as a therapy to me. I don’t paint and then sigh in relief afterwards because it relaxed me. It actually doesn’t relax me at all; it stimulates me and gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Most days I cannot sit still, so it gets me standing and moving. It challenges me and keeps my hands busy. It allowed me to become obsessed with something other than depression and despair.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be craving a change in their art but are scared to pursue it?
As a baby it was really scary to walk for the first time, but aren’t you glad you tried it? Otherwise you’d still be crawling.
Where can we learn more about you and shop your art?
I’m the most active on my Instagram (@taylorleepaints), but I have a website www.taylorleepaints.com and will be resurrecting my blog this year. I currently have a floral collection up on the site for purchase, and will be adding more to it over the next month!
Thank you Taylor!