The Artist’s Lab | Lauren Reed
‘Slowing down helps us notice the small things around us that we can only see once we stop to really look and listen to our surroundings and ourselves.’
Lauren is an embroidery artist living in Doncaster, Yorkshire with her partner and cat Hope. She creates embroidery patterns and kits, and her specialty is making pet portraits. She’s inspired by the natural world, especially the beautiful animals that live in it.
We talked to Lauren about how she got started with her craft and how it led to starting her own business. She shares with us what she loves most about leading a creative life and how embroidery helped her with her mental health struggles. It’s her firm belief that everyone’s an artist and she wants to encourage others to start their own creative journey.
words by Marjolyn Poutsma and Lauren Reed / images by Lauren Reed
It’s lovely to talk to you! Can you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to start your business The Artist’s Lab?
‘I’ve always dreamed of starting a creative business, so when I finished university, that became my goal. I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but back in 2018 I began to really struggle with my mental health and needed a slight change.
I saw the most beautiful, embroidered pet portrait and thought ‘that’d make an amazing gift for someone I know’, so I got some embroidery supplies, a photo of their dog and dove straight into making one as a Christmas gift. And I loved every moment I spent making it! I carried on practicing for a while, and it all just clicked. This is what I wanted to do for my business.
After a year of pet portraits, I wanted to share with others about how much embroidery has helped me, to slow down my thoughts and feel less anxious, but also show them that they can give it a go too! So I put out my first embroidery pattern (the floral bouquet) and it’s slowly grown from there.’
It’s obvious that you have a passion for pets! Do you have pets of your own?
‘I do! My boyfriend’s cat, Hope, loves assisting (or distracting) me with my work. She’s usually plonking herself in front of my laptop, underneath my seat or helping me to move my supplies off the table and onto the floor. Hope is always very curious about what I’m doing!’
You make pet portraits, but also offer embroidery kits. Where do you get inspiration for your designs from?
‘I create embroidery designs that start with the idea of exploring the world we live in as well as showing the beautiful animals that live in it. Most of my inspiration is drawn from photos, and lately I’ve been taking a look at the nature we can see all around us. Whether that’s the plants and flowers in our gardens or the small creatures living among it, I usually piece together the different elements to create something that we can bring into our homes. I’m always seeing things and thinking how amazing it’d look embroidered and wondering which stitch I would use to create it.’
What’s your favourite season in the year?
‘It’s definitely autumn! I love the colours, the cosy nights in with a hot cuppa tea in my hands and the rainy days looking out my window (as long as I’m inside of course). It’s a season that feels like a fresh start and reminds me of new beginnings.’
Do you use any specific techniques?
‘My favourite technique is needle painting, also known as the long and short stitch. It’s a really great embroidery stitch for making something look much more realistic. Although it can take some practice to get the hang of, it can be an amazing stitch that can be used for almost anything.’
Is there anything you particularly enjoy making and why?
‘I love embroidering the outline pet portraits the most as they’re so relaxing to make! It’s nice having a break from the more complicated stitches and not needing to learn or think about how to do a stitch.
I embroider them using a simple back stitch, and once you know how to do the stitch, it’s really easy going from there. I’ve found that using such a simple stitch is the most therapeutic way to embroider, and it gives you a chance to switch off for a while.’
When you make a pet portrait, what does your creative process look like from start to finished piece?
‘I always start with creating an outline drawing, that includes the most important lines and features from the photos I’m given, then I transfer it onto fabric ready to start embroidering.
Next, I go through all my embroidery threads and pick out the colours to use. I like laying out the threads in groups (eyes, ears, nose, main fur colours and in order of light to dark) on a tray so I can see them all.
When it comes to the embroidery, I always begin with their eyes. I find it easier to work on the areas that sit further back first and gradually work my way forwards. So things like their eyes, forehead, cheeks and neck are done first, and their nose, brows and upper mouth are done last. I like to see it as creating layer upon layer, it’s a slow process!
I usually finish the portrait by making small tweaks in shape and colour wherever is needed.
And after all the hard work is done, I find it so satisfying embroidering the pet’s name last before gluing the fabric to the embroidery hoop to create a neat finish at the back.’
What’s your favourite place to work from?
‘I love sitting at my desk while I embroider. I’ve got a nice big window to look out of (that also brings in lots of natural light) and almost everything I could possibly need to hand – except tea making facilities unfortunately.’
Do you have any work in progress that you’d like to tell us about?
‘I’ve recently brought out 2 new embroidery kits that are now available to order – one is a gorgeous yellow sunflower, and the other is of the quote ‘one day at a time’ surrounded by leaves and little flowers.
I find nature is so peaceful! There’s so much beauty in the little things we may not notice straight away unless we stop to look closer. I wanted to create a beautiful collection of floral patterns for people to be able to choose from, so they can spend some creative time admiring how beautiful our world is and end up with a snippet of that to display inside their homes.
My very first embroidery pattern was the floral bouquet (and it’s consistently been my bestseller). I wanted to create a selection of patterns that would look good with it. The collection has now grown into 5 embroidery kits for those who want to bring a piece of nature into their home.’
What do you like most about what you do?
‘I like that I can spend a lot of my days being creative. Making something from nothing, and impacting people’s lives with my art, is so fulfilling! I love that what I’m doing is either, helping creative people to slow down and feel calmer, or bringing smiles and happy memories to pet owners. Making that impact is a huge motivator for me and is why I love what I do.’
Is there anything you struggle with in your small creative business?
‘Definitely thinking and planning ahead! I love being inspired by the current season and thinking about autumn in spring, or summer when we’re in winter doesn’t quite feel natural. And spending all my days working alone can feel lonely at times. I’m a huge introvert, but I do miss meeting new people. Making friends feels nearly impossible when you work for yourself.’
What are your other passions or interests?
‘I’ve always loved to draw and paint. It’s something I’ve grown up doing in my free time. I also love photography and taking photos of things around me. Even the seemingly mundane parts of life are interesting to me!’
What does slow living mean to you?
‘To me, slow living means being present and in the moment. There are so many things we miss because we’re all so busy. Sometimes slowing down helps us notice the small things around us that we can only see once we stop to really look and listen to our surroundings and ourselves.’
THE TOOL BOX
What materials/resources do you use?
~Elbesee embroidery hoops
~Kona cotton fabric
~John James Needles
~DMC embroidery thread
~An Elbesee embroidery stand
How do you get in the mood to work?
I take my mornings slowly. I always spend some quiet time sipping a cuppa tea, feeling the warmth of the cup in my hands, and looking outside my window. It really clears my mind ready for the day ahead.
Which makers inspires you?
I’d have to say Emily at Millicent Makes who is an amazing watercolour artist! I love how detailed and delicate her paintings are and I’m so happy that I have one for myself.’
What’s in your mug beside you:
‘Tea. Always tea. Milky with a teaspoon of sugar… and an occasional extra bit of sugar when I fancy a treat!’
How do you relax after work:
‘I find it difficult to switch off from work in my spare time sometimes. I tend to watch a lot of tv shows, listen to music, and sometimes play a few easy-going computer games.‘
LAUREN’S TRADE SECRET
Always keep your fabric taut in the embroidery hoop
‘The fabric needs to be ‘drum tight’. This means there shouldn’t be any slack, and it should sound a little like a drum when you tap on it. Tighten your fabric by pulling evenly around the edges and gradually tighten the screw.
I’ve seen too many hoops where the fabric hasn’t been taut enough. Leaving it loose not only leaves an uneven finish, but it can sometimes cause some puckering around your stitches too. That really doesn’t show your hard work in the best way!
Your fabric can come a little loose while you embroider as well, so it’s good to keep an eye on the tension of your fabric and keep pulling it tight. This is such an important step when starting embroidery!’