You may have heard of her as Lara Jean Doodles, but Lara Farley's illustrations are nothing like what most of us scribbled in the margins of our middle school notebooks.
Bursting with whimsy, Farley's nature-themed “doodles” are masterful works of art created mainly with gouache paint, a highly pigmented, yet water-soluble, medium.
Farley recently wrote and self-published a book titled Be Kind to Me about how to take care of even the smallest creatures in our ecosystem.
Why and how did you become an artist?
I feel like I almost didn’t get a choice, not that I’m complaining, but my parents are both architects, so I grew up with art. I have an older brother, and he was into drawing, and I had to copy everything he was doing, so I just kind of fell into it. I’m 29 and was on the cusp of video games and TV and phones being a big thing, but my parents were a little bit old-school, so they kept those back a little bit. Most of my available resources for fun time were paper and pencils, books, and the outdoors.
I joke with people when they ask me how I got so good at art by saying the secret is to not have friends in high school. We moved when I was 11 from Ferndale to a really tiny town in the middle of nowhere, and I had one heck of a time making friends, so I spent a lot of my spare time not hanging out with people. I was just drawing instead.
Tell us why you create the kind of work you make today.
When I started out, I was doing some really hyperrealistic fantasy stuff, a little bit more creepy, and I found myself realizing I wasn’t enjoying it as much because I felt the pressure was really, really high. When you’re doing something that’s hyperrealistic, or as close to realism as you can get, if anything is even slightly off, it’s very, very noticeable.
Over the Garden Wall is a TV series that seriously influenced my decision to change my art style. I got back to where I started basically, because when I was a little kid, I was making kids’ books. I have a couple of stapled together paper books I had written when I was like, I don’t know, seven or slightly older. It just felt right to make the switch.
You wrote, illustrated and self-published a book: Be Kind to Me. What is the message you’re hoping to share through your art?
I’m obviously a product of my generation and care very much about environmental issues, and grew up in the dirt with all the bugs and plants and things. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help educate people, kids, adults, teenagers — you know, all age levels — on little things we can do to help with the planet. I know a lot of the time it can be really overwhelming. You want to change things at the top and you can’t, so I very carefully wrote a list in the back with ideas of the most simple things you can do that are still really helpful.
In the past, art has very much been self-therapy. With my art, I’m always trying to give people that sense of peace and comfort that I was needing so badly in my life for so long. If my work makes you feel happy, then that’s what I was trying to do with it for myself.
Why have you chosen to live in Grand Rapids as an artist?
I just feel at home when I’m here. It’s a bit of a struggle for me too though, because I’ve been in Michigan my whole life. I know I want to end up back here, but I feel like I should get out and see some other things, and this place keeps being too good. I got lucky ending up here. It was something I didn’t realize was going to be this great. I’m trying to get out of it, but I can’t. I always want to come back.
If you had the chance to go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for her. I mostly would just tell her that it’s worth it to stick with art, because there have been so many times in my life where I’ve thought is this even worth bothering with. I would mostly just want to tell her, “Yep keep going,” and no more spoilers. She has to figure it out for herself.
To find Lara’s work, visit larajeandoodles.weebly.com or etsy.com/shop/larajeandoodles.