An interview with artist Laura Wickstead.
Laura Wickstead discusses her artistic journey and how she’s given herself the permission to be titled a self-taught artist. Since relocating to London and discovering her style, Laura has painted commissions for restaurants and hotels, had her work hung in boutiques and grade-listed buildings and been featured in various home and interior magazines. Defined as expressive, yet understated, we learn how Laura’s artwork is not only inspired by it’s commissioned venue, but also how it inspires her space, at home.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background as a self-taught practising artist?
I have always painted. At A-level I studied Art - my art teacher thought I’d go on to further study art. Yet where I come from, no one is an artist, therefore the prospect of becoming one wasn’t really considered or encouraged. So I went on to study English Literature at University and in doing so, I think I broke my art teacher's heart! I did continue to sell my work on the side though and would often sell my pieces at art markets at weekends whilst having a full-time job. About 5 years ago, I relocated to London and decided to change my artwork to be more abstract since this is the style I love the most.
At this time, I decided to give myself the permission to be called an artist. If you commit to the title yourself, people start to believe you! The traction then gains and commissions build. My artistic career has most definitely snowballed since this moment.
Since working from your at-home studio, could you give us an insight into your day-to-day, what are your focuses?
I spend my mornings doing admin and then the afternoons sourcing inspiration, drawing shape studies and painting new pieces. I would always say to myself ‘you have to keep producing the work’, since customers often don’t know what they want until they see it.
How would you describe your artistic style, and how has this developed?
My artistic style is expressive, but understated. I’m quite a big fan of contrast, with brush strokes and pastel mark-making counteracting clean lines and shapes. I feature circles a lot in my works as I like the way they can counterbalance anything expressive on the page. Muted tones and natural colours, with perhaps a suggestion of a contrasting colour I like too. I think this really finds balance in a piece. This style works with my aim of making artwork that people would expect to see in a home, or restaurant - one that isn't offensive or garish, but rather calms and complements a space. I’m not necessarily trying to make a statement with my work but I’m trying to produce art that is pleasing to the eye.
The whole journey of being an artist is one big development process. I have often worked through trial and error. When I moved over to abstraction, the initial pieces weren't quite what you see now. I would ask the question ‘what could I do and commit to that I can make multiple variations of’, as I wanted a signature look that I can produce in different ways.
Reducing and drawing back my work as I went along also helped me get to the pieces I produce now.
How do you go about painting commissions for luxury spaces, such as restaurants, boutiques and brands? Does the space dictate the artwork?
Often, commissions begin with a brief or pitch document, where the interior designers working on the project have pitched what they are looking for in that space. This may be the furniture, furnishings or colours they are using. They will also pull out the art that they like or can envision in that space. For example, BiBi restaurant gave me a pitch document but I was also able to visit the site to see what shapes and finishes they were using.
For The Hoxton wall mural, I was able to see the wall itself and work out the scale. I made a mock-up beforehand but it is really helpful to see and understand my ‘canvas’ before I tackle it.
From painting murals for hospitality interiors like Hoxton hotels and producing commissions for interior design studios like Amos and Amos, how would you define a best-in-class interior?
I love interiors, so I’m always looking in magazines as well as in-person spaces. The best interiors that I am drawn to have a high-quality mix of materials and fabrics. l like it when an interior designer juxtaposes a soft furnishing with something brash like gold or solid wood. I’m a big fan of Studio Ashby and Sophie Ashby who owns that, she’s a great interior designer. She designs spaces that feel well-thought through. They can be homely and inviting but also aesthetically pleasing.
Are there any interiors in London you find particularly inspiring?
I love The Modern House. Their website is where I go to get my daily interior design fix - It’s interesting to see how design-led people make their homes look and feel so beautiful. I find this particularly inspiring in terms of thinking about how I can create artwork that reflects a similar feeling.
I also really like the Petersham restaurant in Covent Garden for the artworks they have on the walls and places like the Hoxton hotels for their look, they’re just beautiful. I like how every hotel is different but when you walk into their lobbies, the feeling is instantly welcoming. It was a match made in heaven when they approached me to work with them.
How has this career journey and exposure to great interiors inspired your space, at home?
I like my space to have a similar simplistic yet luxury feel. This means I wanted to have some beautiful key pieces of furniture that weren't overwhelmed by clutter and decor. I’d say I’m probably quite a minimalist.
Do you think your artistic style, that features muted tones and soft abstract shapes, is reflected in your home and the furnishings you choose?
I am drawn to shapes, as well as colours, my bed and the curvature of the frame and headboard being an example. This is contrasted with the black, square and almost blockiness of my bedside tables, which is what I tend to do artistically. Colourways and the contrast between them are the strongest reflection, like my dressing table being of natural wood with the cream boucle stool.
Like I create artworks for commissioned spaces, I also use my home as a place to try out how paintings not only look but feel in a room. I’m often trialing different paintings throughout the flat. As I see myself as painting for a version of myself, for someone that has similar taste and aesthetic, making sure my home edit reflects my artistic style, is also important for the works I create.
Is the quality and style of home furnishings important to you, in ensuring your home is comfy but also enhances your aesthetic?
Yes! Buying once and buying well is my mantra, which especially entered my thought process when furnishing this flat. I'm looking for things that will last both design and quality wise as I’m not a fan of waste. I ask myself ‘could I see myself using this in 10 years?’ and if so, we might as well buy one big quality purchase and keep it for a long time.
How about your bedding? Do you favour quality fabrics and designs?
Bedding is something you enjoy and love, an item that if you go down the luxury route it will last. It won’t start to bobble anytime soon or deteriorate in quality. Changing my old bedding to my beddable set is an example. My boyfriend could really tell the difference, which says a lot!
Do you think this impacts or inspires the pieces/artworks you make? If so, how?
Yes, your bed and making sure it is as comfortable as possible, can really ensure a great night’s sleep. And the quality of sleep informs everyone’s everyday, in any field. I’d say it can be the key to success. I find it can particularly affect my confidence and ability to tackle the day. Being an artist takes self-belief. I have had waves of feeling as though ‘I can’t do this’, but being in a good headspace due to a healthy lifestyle which involves not just quality sleep but also feeling comfortable in my space, at home, really makes a difference.