Enchanted Creators: Lauren Mills by Molly Ellson
Today's interviewee for our Enchanted Creators series is a true powerhouse of creative ability. She paints, she illustrates, she writes, she sculpts and she’s won awards for all four.
You may recognize Lauren Mills’ beautifully illustrated versions of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘At the Back of the North Wind’. Or maybe ‘The Rag Coat’ and ‘Fairy Wings’ - original tales that she wrote and illustrated herself (the latter co-illustrated with husband, Denis Nolan).
One thing you should know above all else is that Lauren’s work sparkles with magic, and a lifelong adoration of fairy tales resonates through every piece she creates. Browsing through her extensive gallery is like taking an idyllic wander through The Secret Garden - every glance reveals fantasy, delicacy and wonder. You too can immerse yourself, right here.
Our favorite of course has to be the poem: ‘The Hedge Witch and the Fairies’, which Lauren penned and illustrated especially for Enchanted Conversation - but you’ll hear more about that, later.
It was an absolute honor to interview Lauren; she’s kind, thoughtful and beholds a unique talent. Please don’t hesitate to read on, you won’t be disappointed...
First of all, Lauren, thank you so much for agreeing to chat with Enchanted Conversation; we are so excited to learn more about you and your incredible work! I’m going to jump straight in with the big question: which fairytale is your favorite and why?
Ha! That’s a tough one! As far as images I love Snow White… her black hair, rose cheeks and snow white face and mostly because of all the little dwarves. I love painting crinkly, old character faces and I loved playing with trolls as a child - my mother used to make Tomtens. Little old people (elves, gnomes) are adorable to me. That is one reason I chose to retell “Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins”. I also love that story - the mysterious birth, the love between two very different sisters and the spunkiness of Tatterhood. And like Tatterhood, I had goats and ate with a wooden spoon when I was a student in California. That picture book (story) I did also seems to have meant the most to many young girls who felt different and have told me it helped them get through their childhood. I also love Beauty and the Beast because I think it’s so romantic.
You mentioned in a previous interview (https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/illustrator-saturday-lauren-mills/) that, as a young teen, you were greatly inspired by Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s ‘Snow White’. What was it about Burket’s illustrations that affected you so? Do you have an affinity for Snow White?
I absolutely love the delicate technique Burkert used - I especially love the cover - She painted with colored inks, applied in tiny lines. Her Snow White cover also looks like my late sister who owned the book when I first saw it and it also looks like my daughter. It’s still my favorite book cover and I have the poster hanging in my studio.
You’ve written and illustrated countless tales and painted and sculpted beautiful works of art, but do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? If so, why is it your favorite?
Oh, I couldn’t choose… and that’s my problem. It’s usually my recent work. I’ve recently sculpted a little girl from Sandy Hook who wanted to grow up to have an animal sanctuary and used to tell butterflies, “Tell all your friends that I am kind.” I also wrote a picture book about her, which I just submitted to a publisher and am crossing my fingers. I’m crossing my fingers that we can sell 10 editions of the small sculpture to fund the life size sculpture that will be installed at the animal sanctuary named after the little girl: “The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary”. I’m also enjoying painting in oil using gold or silver leaf in a 19th century PreRaphaelite style. I’d like to be as good as my heroes but the idea of doing a painting just to hang in a gallery and hope someone will buy it isn’t as enticing as doing paintings that tell a story and go together in a book that reaches many people - so that is why I’m excited about venues like Enchanted Conversation. There hasn’t been a market in years for fairy tales in the children’s picture book world, but maybe there will be for people like us!
Your sculptures range from life-like portraits, such as ‘Appalachian Woman’ to more whimsical figures, like ‘Legacy’. How do you capture that sense of magic in the latter?
That’s interesting that you picked up on that. “Legacy” was originally a young fairy girl dancing with a little boy and it was illustrating Yeats’ poem, “The Stolen Child”. I submitted it for consideration for the Winona Lake Park in Indiana that needed sculptures for various themes. They wanted to use that sculpture for the “Legacy” theme and asked if I’d change the girl to a grandma. So, I sculpted another that way. Even in my sculpture I’m illustrating fairy stories.
When you’re not writing/painting/sculpting/illustrating, how do you relax or unwind?
I read fairy tales… from Enchanted Conversation and books about witches. And I spend a lot of time with my three Italian Greyhounds - two are puppies. My partner, Dennis Nolan, and I like to take walks in the woods; we are surrounded by hundreds of wooded acres and see a lot of wildlife. And I garden and make herbal concoctions. I especially like to make fairy mists and ointments with Sandalwood essential oil.
You wrote and illustrated the stunning poem, ‘The Hedge Witch and the Fairies’, for Enchanted Conversation, which we and our readership absolutely loved! What was your inspiration for writing the poem?
I had originally written it in first person from a child’s point of view, but when I changed it to a hedge witch, and [wrote in] third person, it really became a much better story. I liked the idea that she helped so many people (and probably animals) with little thanks but then thought there was no one who would come help her when she was ill, but the fairies had been watching and came to miraculously cure her… or I imagined that mothers and children came and helped her and she dreamt it was the fairies. I think someday I will be alone and people will gossip about that crazy witch in the woods who feeds all the chipmunks and the chickadees that eat out of her hand and the bear sometimes secretly watches from the woods and comes and steals the seeds.
As a self-proclaimed hedge witch, can you tell us a little more about the practice and how it is incorporated into your day-to-day life?
I grow roses, chamomile, echinacea, and lots of other herbs and make teas, tinctures, oils, creams, etc… But as I mentioned, I’m most attracted to the scented mists and body care. I also love to paint flowers. I would like to do a Grimoire - some sort of illustrated, calligraphed Faerie Botanica Notebook. Lots of plans and dreams and not enough time in the day. However, living like hermits now here at “Faun Hollow” in the woods - during a pandemic with my favorite places to go closed - does tend to slow down time a bit and helps me feel more creative. I like that no one will come inside the house which means I can leave messes and projects and herbs and puppy stuff about and not brush my hair if I’m too busy.
You’ve been on quite a journey to get where you are today, do you have any advice for budding creatives hoping to make it - especially in this digital age?
Yes - I would give the same advice I give to my daughter, students, and to myself: create every day because you can and because you love it. Making a living from your creativity has nothing to do with being a successful artist (writer or whatever). It doesn’t matter how you make money to pay your bills… just make sure you don’t stop being creative and someday your love for it will attract others to your work. I like the quote by John Burton, “It is the love of the process that pulls one through the discipline necessary to master that craft.” I also would advise people in this digital age to make sure you are giving your senses nutrition by walking in the woods and through gardens, reading good books, looking at paintings… No matter how down I might be I’m always lifted when I walk in the woods and still get that magical child-like feeling there which inspires me and stirs my creative juices.
Check out more about Lauren:
Molly Ellson is EC’s assistant editor.
All images are by Lauren Mills