Silk artist Laura Fox-Wallis’ work is all about flow: the flow of color, the flow of texture and the flow of creative elements. Laura translates her knowledge of the properties of watercolor on paper to painting ethereal images on silk with liquid dyes. She achieves vivid colors with botanically inspired details that blend yet remain distinctly their own.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
My two grandmothers were instrumental in planting the seeds of my passion for fiber art. At the age of eight, my Gramma took me to a watercolor class. Watercolor, like silk dye, has a beautiful, graceful flow that is not easy to express in any other medium. Also at the age of eight, my other grandmother taught me to sew, thus starting my connection to fiber.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
Understanding the complex variety of fabrics, patterning and constructing is important to my process. These experiences are rooted in my expression of color, pattern and texture that appear consistently within my silk art. The moment silk painting was introduced to me, it was immediately a perfect marriage of both watercolor and fiber, the two mediums I have loved since childhood. This is also where the name of my studio came about, an homage to my grandmothers. Rooted Expressions Studio represents the creative roots: these two women passing on to me the passion to create.
Why silk painting? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Sixteen years ago I was standing in an art classroom in Greenwood, Indiana, while I watched my colleague give a demonstration of silk painting to her students. At the time I was 24, in my second year of teaching and considered myself a ceramic artist. As fate would have it, that year I had to teach one fiber arts class due to additional interest in the class. I had my background in sewing, thanks to my Grandma, but I didn’t know a lot about fiber arts beyond sewing and stitching. Therefore, whenever I didn’t know how to teach something, I would observe Ms. Shake and then teach the same lesson to my students the following class period.
She had already stretched a crisp white silk scarf onto a frame and was talking about how dye bleeds, spreading on the silk fibers. At the time, I was only somewhat paying attention. Then I swear magic happened. I watched as she touched the brush to the silk and then the most vibrant, beautiful magenta flowed out onto the silk. I was hooked. The following week I made my first silk scarf alongside my students. Within just a few months, I walked away from clay forever and then started painting on silk.
My background in watercolor allowed me to transition into silk painting very easily. That’s when all those lessons in my Gramma’s kitchen came flooding back. Silk painting is like watercolor in so many ways but also very different. The sheen of the silk, the depth of the fibers, and the ability to blend unlike watercolor creates an elegance that paper cannot reproduce. For me, my skills on silk are a marriage of watercolor techniques and silk techniques.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Moments in nature have always inspired me. I spent my childhood outside in nature, so a lot of my memories are connected to natural symbols or environments. I have recurring themes of flowers, water and foliage in my work in an attempt to capture fleeting moments or memories.
To me, elements in nature are constantly changing. Flowers bud, bloom and die off in a matter of days or hours creating this striking cycle of birth and death. Weather changes from bright and sunny to gray and cloudy, affecting the intensity and feel of the colors and textures in the environment. Winds move and shift, creating this real time kaleidoscope of compositions. So my work is all about capturing these moments, sometimes realistically and sometimes abstractly. The organic colors, textures, and forms draw me in and challenge me to share that same emotion with my viewer.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
It is very hard to put into words how inspiration comes to me. It is not a physical appearance, rather an emotional experience. As stated, nature draws me in because I connect emotional memories to different subjects. My last collection was a series of images of cast shadows I had collected over the years. I can’t explain why I took those images, but a cast shadow would stop me in my tracks. Their form, the shapes as well as the subtle movement of light crossing into dark attracted me. They captured my attention, but I didn’t really know why.
2021 was transformative for me, as each day was a tension of peace and struggle, easy and deep, focused and lost, light and dark. It is funny how after years of admiring the dark and the shadows I found myself lost in them, sometimes struggling to find the light. I realized life is a delicate, beautiful dance of embracing the beauty the dark brings, because without it, you don’t appreciate the light.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a small bedroom in my house where I work. It is often messy and cluttered, which is funny because outside of my studio I am a very neat and organized person. I do have an unwritten rule: after every project I have to clean and put the studio back together. I feel this gives me a fresh start on the next project. This room is where I create all of my art, record and edit online classes and complete all of the not so fun office work. It is truly a sacred space to me.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
My years of teaching taught me to invest in tubs, containers and bins! I organize my studio the same way I organized my classroom. I sort everything by media (silk supplies, watercolor supplies, drawing supplies, packaging supplies, etc.). Then, as my mother says, I give everything a home. I find a storage container for the items and organize the materials together in a cabinet, on a shelf, or on a rolling cart. The tools and media I use most are easily accessible. I make sure everything has a dedicated home so I can find everything quickly and also put it away effortlessly. Having to manage an average of 36 students creating and using materials taught me quickly to have systems in place, otherwise everything was always everywhere!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
The week before the pandemic hit I was in Seattle taking a workshop from Karen Sistek, an internationally recognized silk painter. She has developed a method using Magic Sizing fabric spray to suspend the flow of dye on silk. For years, I used resist which created an outline on every shape in the composition. Learning the sizing method from Karen allowed me to be able to create very realistic silk paintings without lines. It elevated my work in ways I didn’t think was possible. Two years later, I was back in her studio learning more from her years of expertise.
How do you keep your skills fresh? How do you get better at what you do?
I love to learn from artists I admire, like Karen. I take full advantage of any opportunity I can to take their workshops, read their books, watch a tutorial, or attend a lecture. So many tips and tricks are learned when artists value community over competition. Hearing about new ideas, processes, techniques, tools, and materials gets me excited to create. A huge part of learning is playing, so after I learn or observe new things I will stretch a silk and experiment. It creates a space where I can really focus on progress over perfection, allowing me to create and learn without fear of failure. These moments are when an artist’s best work develops. The most important part is knowing the difference between inspiration and copying. What can you take and apply to explore your own ideas without recreating another’s work?
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think Bob Ross said it best, “Talent is just pursued interest.” A lot of times the idea of “creativity” is limited to art making. In reality creativity is so much more. Anytime you are making connections, experimenting, asking questions, or using your imagination to problem solve you are creating. It can come in the form of building, writing, art making and even cooking. You put effort into your desired interests, thus creating in your own way.
For example, my husband is an engineer. We are the perfect example of right brain/left brain personalities. One would assume because he isn’t interested in creating art, he isn’t a creative person. However, I have found that he is actually very creative in a different way. He is very analytical and logical in his creative process. I am very intuitive and exploratory in my process, which makes him crazy. Just because his process isn’t whimsy and he is typically creating something that is very functional, it doesn’t mean he isn’t creative. He just has a different “pursued interest” than I do. So I don’t think people need to learn to be creative, I think they just need to explore what they love.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Rooted Expressions Studio is a place where I hope to inspire people to add beauty to their homes or explore art making with me through classes. My website shares all my current art and information about the online classes I offer. I hope people get excited about art and the creative process in this space.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Throughout the pandemic, I started creating self-paced online courses to teach silk painting. One is Silk Painting 101: The Marker Resist Technique. This is a great course for beginners to learn silk painting without a lot of costly supplies. The other course is Beyond the Line: The Silk Sizing Technique. This is a great course for silk painters who want to learn to paint without resist lines using Karen Sistek’s technique. Students can purchase the courses and work through them at their own pace in the comfort of their own homes. I am there in the background if they have questions or need help. I also teach in-person silk painting workshops here in Austin. You can find out about new workshops and online courses along with studio updates by joining my email newsletter.
Learn more about Laura:
Facebook Page: Rooted Expressions by Laura Fox-Wallis
Link to join my email newsletter: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/61c8ae4814ec6db2d2b53bf6
Interview posted May 2022
Browse through more inspiring artists and their work on Create Whimsy.