Reflect, Reset, Emerge: Mia Laing on Unprecedented Times
Since joining Bluethumb in 2016, Mia Laing has become an artist celebrated for her unfailing ability to create stylised, narrative twists to everyday life. Whether her subject matter is still-life, animals or people, the playful spirit in which she captures that subject’s personality and tells their story remains undulating. Her oil paintings frequently offer a warming touch to paradigmatic scenes of the Australian lifestyle. We recently spoke with Mia to discuss the techniques and concept behind her narratives, as well as the inevitable process this year has required her to encounter – and its exciting outcomes.
Creating has always been part and parcel of Mia’s memories. “Age 6, I remember my primary school headmaster giving me a coloured pencil after I was sent to his office for some innocent misdemeanour – probably talking too much!” Mia recalls. “His pot of brand new pencils was so tantalising that I made it my mission to keep being sent back so I could collect all 12 colours.” In her 20s, Mia discovered a passion for children’s illustration. “I was working as a nanny in London and spent my evenings drawing and writing, inspired by the many children’s books that I was reading to my young charges. I attended art college for one year, prior to having my first daughter. I pursued illustration in watercolour and gouache when my children were young and before oil painting became my focus around ten years ago.”
Mia’s embrace to the eccentric side of subject matter is most prolific in her animal portraits. A human-like persona shines through these paintings, and sets a viewer’s imagination alight with questions about the story of the piece. “I was totally obsessed with my Richard Scarry books as a child; I still have my childhood copies and have always enjoyed the notion of anthropomorphic animals,” Mia explains further. “Pets have become incredibly humanised by their pet parents over millennia, with pets often classed as family or fur kids. My whimsy series plays on the ‘secret lives of pets’ notion. It started with me painting our first Golden retriever, who we often nicknamed Marilyn, as she was every bit as blonde and beautiful as the original Marilyn Monroe! The series has many ‘almost famous’ identities, such as Frida Kahlo, Wonder Woman, James Bond and The Queen and some particularly beautiful Australian birds with ornate head dressings. I’ve so enjoyed the imaginary work that has gone into this series and have been lucky to see many of these paintings licensed into greeting cards across Australia.”
“I don’t just paint whimsy animals though. I paint widely across most genres, and have won awards for a number of my traditional realism paintings. I paint highly detailed and colourful still-life, landscape, wildlife, underwater and narrative figurative work and I’ve recently incorporated abstracts into some backgrounds! I am definitely a multi-potentialite, and feel happiest when I follow one genre of painting with a completely different one next.”
While she may return to dabble with watercolour every now and then, much of Mia’s work is created through fine detailing and glazing in oil paint. Through her choice of media, the creative process begins. “I start with many sleepless nights coming up with incredible ideas that I’ve mostly forgotten by the morning! The bits I salvage I play with further as sketches to form an idea. I love photography so I mostly use my own photos as reference, either using photographs I’ve already taken or photographing specifically for a concept. I enjoy the process of setting up a still-life using much loved items from around my home, or walking the dog, carrying my camera in the hope of capturing some bird life, flowers or a stunning landscape. My dog understands the command ‘photo!’ And sits quietly and patiently whilst I click away.
“My two daughters have been perfect models over the years; I have painted them more times than I can remember. They used to pose for the cost of an ice cream, but now they are adults, they get a small cash payment when their painting sells. I have spent many hours in the waters off Rottnest Island and on overseas holidays capturing them underwater. These have been some of my most successful paintings and luckily I’ve still got hundreds of photos to paint. Utilising the latest advancements in mediums and materials, I work with premium quality, professional art materials throughout my paintings. I have my stretchers made for me, using premium canvas and I use Australian made Art Spectrum paints.”
The deliverance of events this year so far has left us universally affected. Within these months of change, Mia Laing found a time to grieve, to consolidate and to rest. “I work from a studio specifically built in my garden. My days are usually quiet, with just me and my dog going about our day in mutual companionship. Then Covid 19 hit and I found myself with a husband working from home, one daughter (safely) home from studying in Italy and another daughter doing her university studies at the kitchen table. The house got noisy, interruptions were many and my head space from the craziness of what we were hearing on the news each night stifled my usual mojo. So I took the time to play with new materials and ideas that I have been mulling over for a while. I basically allowed myself some time to grieve for our precious world and its people.
“I’m so grateful for this enforced rest. My ideas and working process have had a complete reset and I am so excited to have begun a new series juxtaposing moody landscapes with still-life, botanicals and wildlife, creating oil paintings filled with symbolism and mystery. Follow along to see them on Bluethumb soon!
“Bluethumb has been an integral part of my business for the last 4 and a half years. I had my first sale, a large scale figurative work within a week of joining BT, and with this sale, the knowledge that Bluethumb had clientele and resources far more wide reaching than I could manage on my own. As an artist, I just want to paint; but as a professional artist, I know there is a certain amount of time and energy that I need to put back into marketing my work. Bluethumb works in partnership with me to do this. It’s a win-win.”
Coming to the other side of her time for rest and re-emergence, we can certainly expect more work by Mia Laing that reflects this time of worldwide isolation. Stay up-to-date with her profile here.