Grand Haven-Inspired

What’s on the horizon for this artist? Lots of water-themed works.
"Cresting Waves" by Laura Whitesides Host

Artist Laura Whitesides Host has Lake Michigan running through her veins, and she says that particular Great Lake will forever be a source for her paintings. In fact, sunsets, beach strolls, and collecting shoreline keepsakes were (and still are!) as much a part of this Grand Haven native’s being as sand is to the lake’s makeup.

In 2001, Host and her husband purchased a cottage just around the corner from her parents’ home. The cedar-frame house tucked in the woods, down the street from the beach, is the perfect getaway for the couple. “Seeing the horizon — that lake and that sky — seems to center everything,” Host says. “It calms me down. That line is always there.  I always feel I have the best of the neighborhood, as we’re just a short walk to the water and yet nestled in the woods.”

In a recent conversation, she spoke about everything from the gelatin plates she uses for her art to her night-owl habits.

BLUE: Water is an important element in your life. Can you expand on how it affects your art?
Laura Whitesides Host: Water’s been important to me my whole life. I think I swam before I walked. I was at the beach all the time. I learned to sail when I was a Girl Scout in Grand Haven. I actually taught my dad how to sail, and he bought a sailboat. I’m intrigued with water patterns, and that shows up in my art.

"The Wave" by Laura Whitesides Host
“The Wave” by Laura Whitesides Host

BLUE: Water certainly inspired “The Wave,” a piece of artwork that you created, right?

LH: Yes! I used some rice paper that has swirls in it, so it created like a wave feel. I inked the paper and had fun with it.

BLUE: You talk about the horizon a lot. Does it appear often in your works?

LH: Oh, yes. It’s there often, and often subconsciously. It settles me. I like to divide spaces up. When I was in college (in the University of Michigan’s Architecture and Design College), I’d often draw something like a TV outline on my canvas before beginning to draw, so (I had) something to enter into.

BLUE: What medium do you work in?

LH: Watercolor, fluid acrylics, and I use gelatin plates for my monotypes. I usually use an etching press to make the prints that feature printing inks, but I also use watercolor.

BLUE: You use gelatin plates for your print-making pieces. Tell us about them.

LH: I make my own. An artist friend gave me several gallons of gelatin (he was also in the food business) years ago, and that’s what I still use today. You add water to the gelatin, cook it, throw it into a pan, and cure it. Then you put paint on it and put the paper on top. So there’s no rolling, just print-making.

BLUE: We understand you also teach. What and where do you teach?

LH: I teach at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) in Birmingham. It’s going on 30 years! I teach three classes: Unique Techniques, Painterly Printmaking, and Wet and Wild.  I use lots of different techniques, etching presses, you name it. Most of it is experimental.

Laura Whitesides Host
Laura Whitesides Host

BLUE: An art center can become a home for many artists. Do you find that to be true in your relationship with the BBAC?

LH: Oh, yes, I love that place. I started taking classes there in 1980. It was a Thursday night watercolor class. Then, when my kids started to go to school, I’d take classes during the day, hoping they wouldn’t get sick! Today, I’m a teacher. I love teaching there because students are taking classes because they want to be there. People are excited about making neat things.

BLUE: Many of your pieces are multidimensional or multimedia, with many layers. Do you have an end in mind when you start on these intricate works?

LH: I see something somewhere — like on Pinterest, for example — that catches my fancy. I’ll think about it a bit. In printmaking, I might cut paper into strips or into different shapes and then ink them and put them down and play with them, and add to it. I do something, and then I react. I’m influenced by each mark as it happens.

BLUE: What shapes and colors do you like?

LH: I like contrasting geometric lines and shapes. Everything seems to have turquoise in it, but I’ve been trying to do different color schemes.

"Water Patterns 5" by Laura Whitesides Host
“Water Patterns 5” by Laura Whitesides Host

BLUE: Tell us about your affiliate with the Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale.

LH: It’s an artist-run gallery that shows wonderful art and has fascinating exhibits. I was one of their first members  in 1987, and now I’m the president.

BLUE: When do you create a lot of your art?

LH: I’m definitely more alert at night. In fact, I started teaching at night. I guess you could say I’m a night owl! I think my parents were night owls, so that might have been instilled in me from the get-go! The morning is my planning time, and then I start to really create in the afternoon and later.

"Beware the Cyprinus Carpio" by Laura Whitesides Host
“Beware the Cyprinus Carpio” by Laura Whitesides Host

BLUE: You paint watercolor paintings, as well as monotypes and monoprints. What’s the difference between the latter two?

LH: A monoprint is done on a Plexiglas plate, using a printing ink or watercolor.  The paper is damp, so it reactivates the ink/watercolors. The gelatin plate allows one to use acrylics. The difference between monotypes and monoprints is that the monotype starts with a blank plate. The monoprint plate has something in it that will appear in every print, such as lines scratched in the plate or textures glued to a plate.  Each print is inked differently, but the extra element will be present in all of them. So they’re one-of-a-kind, but there’s a common element. That’s why it’s so much fun to see how many versions you can create with those common elements. The monotype and monoprint are both hand-pulled prints.

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