Artist Laura Bethmann Focuses on Flowers

By PAT JOHNSON | Aug 31, 2016
Photo by: Pat Johnson Artist Laura Bethmann at work in her Tuckerton studio.

Artist Laura Bethmann is best known for her workshops and books on nature printing. The most recent, Hand Printing From Nature (2011 from Storey Publishing), presents step-by-step instructions on how to print using natural materials to create artworks and fabrics for home decor. But her stunning, large watercolors of flowers have never been shown locally; they were last shown in a one-woman artist show at the Monmouth Museum in 2014 as part of the museum’s Emerging Artist series.

“I’ve emerged now, I’m here,” she declared.

A number of her watercolors are framed throughout her house. Nature, especially flowers, still form the basis of her art explorations. “After choosing my subject I prepare a detailed drawing from both live plants and photographic references that I take in my own garden or other gardens,” she writes on her web page. “I follow traditional watercolor techniques by applying many layers of fluid paint. As the painting evolves, it undergoes changes as if, in a way, it grows and lives of itself.”

A new series she has started work on this summer includes fruits, vegetables and dining accoutrements as seen from a diner’s perspective. She calls the playful works “tablescapes.”

“I love the floating aspects of the perspective,” she said. One painting, called “A Morning Like This,” includes a sunny-side up egg, toast and coffee. “I had the yolk of the egg, so I added the sun and moon to the table. My favorite shape is the circle.”

The tablescapes combine nature printing and watercolor. For a “Square Meal” painting, she used the palm of her hand to print the steak, then nature-printed with real carrots and mushrooms and a cabbage leaf plus a vinca vine. For a “Pear Mandala,” she printed using halved pears and added the design elements in watercolor.

“The painting evolves. Since it’s of a table, I can add a tablecloth design, and I might decide, ‘Oh, I need little squares of color,’” said Bethmann.

Just how to share and sell art is one of the common dilemmas for most artists. Bethmann’s enjoyable workshops on nature printing were well attended at the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville, but that venue has closed. “I’ve traveled all over with the workshops, but now I want to focus on painting and an occasional workshop.”

Bethmann is in the process of turning her large paintings into smaller prints, a process that involves paying to have the artworks digitally scanned, selecting the best “proofs’ (the print that has the truest colors to the original) and then ordering the prints on-demand from the art publishing company. She found one she trusts in Chestnut Hill outside Philadelphia. The business part of being an artist is time consuming and expensive and that goes against her free-spirit grain, she admitted.

She has also been chosen to appear in a gallery started by the online art platform Artsy Shark’s owner Carolyn Edlund. “I’ve been a featured artist on the site before, but I was one of 50 out of 800 chosen for the art gallery. I have to decide what to offer.” That’s one of the reasons she has started to make prints of her originals.

“Online art galleries are a pretty new area for artists,” she added.

Bethmann has her own website, laurabethmann.com, hosted by a web developer in Brooklyn, where she exhibits her artwork and tries to keep her blog up to date. This summer, she is involved with helping one daughter prepare for a September wedding and also watching her other daughter’s grandson twice a week, which is a joy. “You have to live and paint and do the art business,” said Bethmann.

One quote to live by: “Any idiot can live through a crisis, it’s the day to day living that is the real struggle” is a saying she has hanging over her drawing table.

Bethmann’s attic studio was recently refurbished when she and her husband had the roof replaced on their circa-1902 large, refinished farmhouse in Tuckerton. “I have (full-spectrum) daylight pot lights in the new ceiling.” After extolling the virtues of her Mitsubishi air conditioning and heating wall unit, she explained, “I used to have heat by leaving the door open. I had to really put on layers in the winter to come up here, but now I can work anytime.”

The studio is also furnished with a giant architectural drawing table she purchased off Craig’s list, plus a metal cabinet that she found in a surplus store that has dozens of drawers perfect for holding drawings and papers. Paintings and frames hide in alcoves. There’s a quiet corner of the attic by the brick chimney with a chaise and pillows and shelves of art books nearby.

Like many other artists, she has collected snippets of inspiration from magazines and trips to museums, as well as a favorite drawing of Peter Rabbit done by her daughter many years ago. “Cara is finishing her art degree in art history from Stockton,” Bethmann commented

From the attic windows, the extensive gardens are spread out below. The garden is where she finds inspiration for her nature printing and paintings. “It’s August and not the best time for gardens, but the humidity has made the herbs more fragrant than ever.”

A garden path leads off through Russian sage, oregano and mint ,and when the gate is opened, the pickets brush against lemony tarragon, offering a scented welcome – or in this case, departure. patjohnson@thesandpaper.net 

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