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Contemporary Conversations

Local Artist Feature: Lauren Witvoet

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Lauren Witvoet is a self taught artist born and raised in Grand Rapids. Currently they are working toward learning more about fashion design and refining their abilities as a stylist. Witvoet is fascinated and most inspired by the clothing designs out of those campy teen movies from the 1980’s and early 90’s. Witvoet loves a good bright colored bold print.

How would you describe your work?

At first glance it’s essentially clothing with hands embroidered all over them, and people always ask “why hands??”.

The design holds a number of meanings to me; an exaggeration of the impressions we leave on each other, whether it be a physical touch, a thought hovering in someone’s mind, or even just a passing glance. The impressions we leave on each other feel so important to me and it’s something that is essential to the way we grow.

I also wanted to use a design that I could replicate easily and was something versatile to keep me motivated to create everyday. For now I use vintage/secondhand basics as a base for the design work, but I do aim to learn all that I can about clothing construction so I’m not only embroidering each piece but I’m building it all from the ground up too! It’s exciting because I feel like Im finally doing work that I can grow with and transform easily over time.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

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Definitely my time spent at the vintage clothing stores my mom has run throughout my life. She was a single parent through most of her time running them, so these spaces were the places where I grew up.

I was exposed to the kind of drive and hard work it takes to run a space like that and as a
kid, I remember how amazing it was to watch her transform these ordinary white-wall retail
spaces into the otherworldly spaces that became “Scavenger Hunt” or “Daddy- O’s” )or recently known as “Flashback”). These places were a draw to so many interesting people and growing up there showed me how different people can be and how a creative space can affect them.

Being in these spaces and witnessing it and later being a part of it, I really learned what it meant to have an open mind and how to be accepting/inclusive to others (and how your hard work and attention to detail can pay off).

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

Before I really took the leap into Handmade Impressions, my life was pretty chaotic. Setting
energy aside to do something creative felt really unapproachable and I wasn’t inspired by the
work I had done prior. 

I felt like the work I was doing wasn’t a representation of myself at all and I wanted to push myself to try something new outside of it, and thats when I made the first Handmade Impressions piece. I used a simple, white short-sleeved blouse as a base and applied what is now the “Rise” Handmade Impressions design to it. That blouse became this physical representation of me really pushing myself do more (and to be more).

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What new projects do you have on the horizon?

Recently I’ve been focused on putting together a website/online store while in preparation for the Handmade Impressions Fall/Winter Collection. I’m hoping to take what I’ve learned so far and really put it in effect for this collection. As far as the actual pieces, they rely a lot on what clothing I find out there to use as a base. (So stay tuned, people!!). I aim to start promoting all of it this October am putting together a second pop-up shop in November for the release as well.

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What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

From my experience, a career in the arts sometimes means that you’ve got to do the work of 5 people and sometimes that feels absolutely insane especially when you have what feels like a million different priorities.

If I want to be successful and satisfied with what I’m putting out there, every day is about dedicating the time and energy into my job, my creative work, and my personal life. A career in the arts is a huge investment and it can be pretty draining especially because success (or at least success financially) is so uncertain.

My advice/suggestion/whatever you want to call it is this: when you see/listen to someone’s work, try to at least respect that someone dedicated time and energy to make it and sometimes finding time/energy to do anything is the hardest part.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

For communities to really help artists thrive, I think it would be great for the developers here to keep affordability in mind (but that happening isn’t exactly realistic). Grand Rapids is growing and rent is rising every year. 

As a self-supporting artist, affordability is a huge roadblock and I think it would be exciting for there to be more events geared to support the artists here from all areas so that more people can get out and really see what we all have to offer outside of the crowded days that make up ArtPrize.

These events would help fund our work/work spaces. I’d love to work with people to create transforming spaces that enable people to get their work out there and for us all to be able to profit from it because this shit is hard and it is only getting more expensive.

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What are you passionate about besides your work?

Honestly? I try to keep an open mind every day and pay attention to the people that speak for positive/inclusive change. I keep the people in my life that are constantly growing and working toward being a better person close. These are the people who constantly inspire me to keep growing as a person and they keep me in check.

I think we all need to be humbled once in a while and to be reminded that there is so much more outside of ourselves and I feel very passionate about that. The minute I started to pay attention to someone outside of myself, that's when it all sort of clicked and life just felt more important.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

That it doesn’t hurt to try! The moment I told myself that I was going to go full force with
Handmade Impressions, meant a lot of time spent getting familiar with the being outside of my comfort zone. I had never embroidered and didn't know the first thing about how to start a small self-supported business. I knew it would at least take lots of self-promoting which for me sounded awfully embarrassing, but I really wanted to try to make something out of my work and the second I finally decided to just get over my insecurities, a domino effect started happening and it’s all been so rewarding. I would 1000% encourage anyone to at least try because I’ve learned so much and it has been so much fun.

Looking for more?

More about Lauren Witvoet's Handmade Impressions can be found here.

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