Interviewing Lorraine Loots from 365 Paintings for Ants
Early morning I wait for Lorraine Loots at Arnold’s in Kloof Street. I’m highly excited to interview the artist and designer whom I had followed throughout 2013 with her inspiring miniature watercolour painting project 365 Paintings for Ants.
When she arrives we order coffee and I ask her questions regarding her work, recent exhibition, life and thoughts on Cape Town World Design Capital 2014.
Where did 365 Paintings and Postcards for Ants start?
Ironically, it’s a project that I started because I didn’t want to be an artist anymore.
In order to remain productive as an artist I planned on spending an hour a day in my normal life just being creative and the only thing I could finish in that space of time was a miniature painting. Everything just stemmed from that idea. It started out as a very personal challenge, which soon snowballed from there.
What exactly are you painting?
In the first year of 365 Paintings for Ants I was just painting things from my everyday life. Soon people wanted to book dates for birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions and with that they wanted to know whether they could suggest the subject matter.
I always asked that they give me a number of suggestions, to avoid the paintings becoming purely commission-based. In the case that someone had a very specific idea of what they wanted, and it was too personal for the scope of the project, I would do it outside the series as a commission.
I ended up doing about 40 commissions last year on top of the 365 miniatures for the project.
Postcards for Ants was something that I wanted to do in correlation with Cape Town being named the World Design Capital this year. I wanted to embrace and celebrate that fact as well as all the other positive things that have been happening in and around Cape Town.
Tell us about the journey up to 365 Paintings and Postcards for Ants?
It’s a long journey [Lorraine laughs].
I quit my job two years ago and threw myself into as many things as possible. Still, I wasn’t really generating a good income and I was hardly getting by. So one of my friends suggested doing a business course at UCT graduate school of business. The course is specifically for artists, musicians and creative people and it teaches you all the things you need to know about turning your art into a business. It taught us about taxes and invoicing and negotiating and all the boring things to do with business.
By the end of the course I had actually decided that I didn’t want to be an artist anymore.
However, my lecturer still encouraged me to do the final pitch needed in order to get my diploma. That final pitch is how 365 Paintings for Ants came about.
Tell us about your recent solo-exhibition.
The whole concept of 365 Paintings for Ants started as an exhibition. In my mind I needed to have a big end goal and a long time building up towards it. It was actually more of a fantasy to have a solo exhibition as it normally takes years to achieve that.
Yet I started with the idea of having a solo exhibition and thought that if I did something consistently for a year I would surely be able to produce a body of work that would be substantial.
By much luck and good fortune, I was able to find an amazing gallery that was willing to exhibit a sold-out show just so that people could see what it looked like. It didn’t need to be up for a month, it only needed a week.
How was it received?
Incredibly well. I initially thought that only the people who had bought paintings would come to see their own paintings in the context of the project, but then people brought their friends and curiosity lured others in to see what was going on. On First Thursdays I had my closing night and there were just hundreds of people coming through and finding the project for the first time.
So it was very successful and also highly overwhelming [Lorraine beams].
So how does it make you feel knowing that every painting was sold out before your exhibition?
Do you have a favourite?
That’s the worst question I get asked. Yes, but I have a few. I really liked the super moon that I did… and the earth… and the galaxy. But I am keeping two other ones. The 1st of May, which is a portrait of Mark in Thailand painted on the day we started dating 4 years ago. The 2nd is of Steenbras dam, or Alaska as we call it. Let’s just say it represents what is to come.
What have you learned through your experience?
That you can pretty much come up with any crazy idea that you want to, and if you break it up into manageable pieces and you’re consistent about your productivity then you will achieve it.
I believe it happens by default.
Why watercolour paint?
I had a cheap little set of watercolour paint that I would always just pack into my bag. We were in the Cederberg Mountains for New Years and it was completely remote, with no electricity or anything. So I just threw a whole lot of things in a bag in case I wanted to start the project because up until the 1st of January 2013 I still wasn’t sure whether I was going to do it, yet I found some time and did the first painting with what I had.
When was your very first watercolour painting?
It must have been at Varsity.
How did you get into miniature painting?
A jewellery designer friend asked me to paint images for some of her pendants.
Has this now become a full time venture?
Yes. I actually need to start employing people to help me with all my admin!
What does a normal Lorraine Loots day look like?
I wake up at 07:00 and start work at about 08:00.
That would be me at my laptop responding to clients and followers on all the different platforms I use, namely emails, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even Whatsapp.
This takes a lot of time.
Before I know it, it’s lunchtime. I then have to get out of the house and look at the printing of postcards, going to my suppliers, organizing frames and consistently dropping things off at framers. Also scanning each painting and posting it onto all the different platforms. Then I still have emails from August 2013 that I haven’t replied to because I literally have to sometimes leave everything and just say: NOW I have to paint.
So normally around 18:00 when my flat has cooled down after the day’s sun I go into my studio and start painting; I’ll be in there until 22:00 or 23:00 with a quick dinner squeezed in between.
What has been of your biggest challenge?
Scheduling my day in such a way that I still have time left to breathe and relax. If I don’t stop, there will always be another thing that I still need to do. Another email to write, another message to respond to. I’ve even had to stop accepting commissions and requests for now as this commitment forces me to lock down another 4 hours somewhere in my daily routine.
As an artist it’s terrible, because you fight for people to want your work and then when someone does, you literally can’t meet those needs. It’s the most frustrating thing.
Any future projects?
I would like to see 365 Paintings for Ants turn into an annual project somehow. I’ve got some sneaky ideas up my sleeve that I would like to roll out at some point, but the dream was always to combine travel and documentation and somehow have people involved in that process. I’m still not sure, but I know that it will reveal itself to me as it goes along [Lorraine giggles excitedly].
Have you taken out any insurance on your hands?
No. But I will. And on my eyes! [We laugh].
How do you feel about Cape Town being World Design Capital 2014?
Obviously very proud. I think it is well deserved. There is a lot of talent and fresh ideas coming out of Cape Town and I think it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
So it is a city promotion project that celebrates the merits of design, do you see your project as a tool to improve the social, cultural or economic life of the city?
Well, when I first saw that they had an open call for submissions, I wondered if my project would be able to fit into that paradigm. The positive reaction people have had to my project and the way that they waited for the picture everyday did make me think a lot.
I thought that if I could take that positivity and link it to the city, making people think about the city and interact with it in a different format, I could definitely enhance the passion that people feel for Cape Town through art and design.
In a year with so much focus on design, how do you feel with your exhibition having been in 2013 and 365 Postcards for Ants this year?
The first exhibition was always going to happen in the year after the first year. I had to paint all the paintings first, so it just happened to fall in this time.
And for this year’s project I would actually like to have the exhibition in December and finish the paintings in the gallery. So I’ll have everything up until November and then put December up as I finish them. I think it would be unusual and interactive. People could come in and watch me paint and make suggestions for subject matter.
So about yourself, where were you born and where did you grow up?
Born in Bloemfontein, lived in Somerset West for the majority of my life and after I finished school I went to Stellenbosch where I studied for 5 years and then finally moved to Cape Town where I always wanted to be. Studied at UCT for two years and that’s it!
What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Wow [Lorraine pauses]. Wow [Lorraine laughs].
First one that pops up…
The first one that pops into my mind. Well my aunt used to send us what she called ‘pakkies’ when I was still a kid, a ‘pakkie’ was just a normal box that she would fill with fun things. Homemade cookies and pictures and cards and toys and little stupid things, but together they formed this super exciting moment for us to rip open this package and see what’s for who. I really liked that.
What did you do just before 365 Paintings for Ants started?
For the first three months of 365 Paintings for Ants I was managing productions. Managing entire teams of photographers and models and stylists doing photo library shoots. This was very hard because it’s a 06:00 to midnight job and then you get home and still need to paint. That was one of the things that overlapped with 365 Paintings for Ants.
But just before that I was proofreading and copywriting for a wedding magazine, subtitling videos, customizing bicycles, designing CD covers, going to castings and doing ads and location scouting, casting coordinating, production management, waitressing, managing, interior design, … just like a million different things.
How do you feel being in a position where you can now live out your passion?
It’s overwhelming and it’s also hard to try and keep it in the realm of being a passion and not just a job.
I do remind myself that this is a good thing and I need to not stress about it. I need to be happy and calm and grateful all the time, and that’s kind of hard when it becomes something where people are expecting you to produce and they’ve already paid for it and now they’re waiting for this thing to appear. There are a lot of different volumes to the pressure. But it’s still all good.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
1. Selective Perfectionist. Ammm, they’re probably going to be two words each [Lorraine laughs].
2. A Lover of People
and…. 5. Futuristic.
What’s your life motto?
I guess it’s just the constant pursuit of happiness and at the same time knowing that you can have it at any point, any where in any situation. Balance.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to still be painting miniatures in some form, and have someone managing all my admin for me [laughs], and travelling always as much as possible. Happy and fulfilled with enough of the private, home and family life that I’ve always wanted.
Content: Ed Beukes
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