Tara Lee Bennett is a paper artist and one of the co-founders of THRIVE Art Studio, a worldwide community of female, gender non-binary and gender fluid visual artists, which has its home base in downtown Vancouver.
With her personal practice, Tara hones in on the beautiful and non-trivial minutiae of life by assembling elaborate paper artworks of miniature proportions. Her current Taking Flight series expands on familiar themes with mostly monochromatic yet high soaring twists.
Your paper artworks are so meticulous – you must have an excellent eye for detail, a steady hand and be incredibly patient!
People will often comment on how patient I must be to create the work I do! Funnily enough I don’t find it a test of my patience but it does require good eye sight, attention to detail and focus.
Okay, so how much of what you do comes naturally and how much of it is a result of training? And speaking of which, how does one learn to create paper art, anyways?
I studied Illustration and Design at the Enmore Design Centre in Sydney and it was there that I first got a taste of paper art. I also did a lot of life drawing, digital illustration, puppet building, collage, editorial illustration… you name it, we tried it. I think the drawing experience, working with so many different styles of illustration and the way the program pushed my creative problem solving skills was the exact training I needed to do the work I do today.
I think strong artists need to have that natural talent and skill that can’t be taught coupled with some form of training. It doesn’t need to be formal but practice, trial and error, and learning from artists who came before you as well as contemporary artists is essential. Training and learning will never be done for me.
What are the unique skills and challenges of making paper art?
Some practical challenges of working monochromatically are making sure my hands are clean and there are no marks or gluey messes anywhere on the work. I want it to be obviously made by human hands but also to have no trace of them. Other challenges include not losing any of my tiny pieces of paper. The bird I am currently working on has a wing with one hundred small pieces. Some of the pieces are only a few millimetres wide and all are essential so I can’t lose any of them. My challenge to myself over the next year is for my work to get more intricate, more detailed and more complex. I really want to push myself and my skills.
Let’s talk size! What initially sparked your interest in miniature things? Why are you so interested in working within such a small scale?
I just love them! Tiny, fiddly details and objects really appeal to me and I wonder if maybe in another life I should have been a dentist. I think for me paper also asks to be a smaller scale to keep its magic and before it looks like, well, just a sheet of paper.
Plants and flying things have been the focus of your recent practice – tell me about these “obsessions” of yours! What new subjects and/or ideas have recently caught your attention that you’d like to explore in the future?
My current series, Taking Flight, pivots away from my older, plant-based body of work yet still embraces the theme of growth. When I started with this series I said I wanted to make one hundred birds. I’m not sure if or when I’ll get there, but I like to set these kinds of challenges. In the last year and a half I’ve had a lot of personal changes and transformation that are informing this series and I am really excited to see where it goes.
I’ve read in your bio that you’re interested in exploring people and their personal spaces from the perspective of their plants. Imagine that you are one of your own houseplants – what insights do they offer about you, personally?
I’ve been a bit of a serial plant killer over the years but since I moved in with my girlfriend she cares for them and they’ve never been happier! I don’t want to be sappy but life really has gotten better for me and my plants since she came into the picture.
If you were magically capable of facilitating a conversation with any living species or inanimate object, what would you choose? What questions would you most like to ask them?
Oh I’d have to talk to our cat Bijou! I am pretty sure I know what our dog Frida would have to say, but cats are full of mystery and I suspect a lot of wisdom. She has known me a long time and I think I’d ask her for life advice as she really seems to have it all figured out.
Alternately, if you could, for just one day, inhabit any space incognito as some unassuming plant, where/what would you choose and why?
This may be a very boring answer but I am really craving some peace and silence right now. What better way to just chill than be a happy little house plant somewhere pretty and quiet? I’m thinking a spa in Iceland with a little waterfall might be just perfect for a day.
Your artwork exudes positivity, playfulness and good humour. How do you stay curious and motivated? Do you ever have moments of self-doubt or frustration with your chosen art form, and – if so – how do you deal with those feelings?
I don’t feel self-doubt or frustration with my chosen art form but I certainly have my challenges along the way. I’ve had to make peace with the time consuming nature of my art work, my commitments to my work with THRIVE Art Studio and having a personal life. I’ve needed to extend my timelines around my goals and be realistic about what is humanly possible in a day, week, month or year. Also, surrounding myself as much as possible with people who are curious and motivated helps me stay on track. Ultimately it’s fun to be able to do the things I do and lead the life I do, so keeping that in perspective helps too!
Besides your artistic practice, you are a mentor to other women artists. What advice do you give to others but struggle the most to apply to your own life and/or work? What has been the greatest or most influential piece of advice that you’ve received yourself?
Be gentle and kind with yourself! I am really good at spotting that need in other people but often the artists I work with have to tell me this too. I’ve struggled with perfectionism my whole life and while it sounds like that’s a way of saying I have high standards, it really comes from a belief that I may not be enough. That plays out with things like pushing too hard, putting myself and my well being last, playing small when I shouldn’t and being terribly harsh and self critical. These things are not a recipe for a flourishing creative practice or happy life so I’ve really had to work on it and I feel grateful for those people around me who remind me of this just when I need it.