Yesterday I wrote about the joined cheetah and panda totem that I had made by Laura Johnson, Le Animalé, as a gift for Doug for our four-year wedding anniversary. I decided to learn more about Laura’s totems and her art making process, outlined below! You can also read why Laura chose to call her animals totems here. I hope that you enjoy her totems as much as I do! It was a pleasure working with Laura! Happy Friday!
KATHERINE CARVER: When and how did you being making animal totems?
LAURA JOHNSON: I started officially making totems in May 2011, but made pieces every now and again before that time as gifts for friends. I didn’t have a particular style before I started le animalé, though.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you study art formally?
LAURA JOHNSON: I studied music formally, but not visual art. I play classical saxophone.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin making animal totems?
LAURA JOHNSON: There is a lot of background behind the totems. So much actually that it is a little tough to weed through and write it all out without either writing a short book or being really confusing, haha. So I’ll try to be concise. I’ve always loved animals, collections, and miniatures – especially animal figurines. I started collecting tiny animals several years ago and would rarely come across realistic figurines that weren’t either just plastic toys or statues over 4″ tall. I have a variety of materials in my own mini animal collection: stone, wood, ceramic, bone, pewter, crystal – but I am always a little extra excited to come across more realistically painted pieces. Even better, realistic with a subtle twist of some sort. I figured if I was going to start making animal figurines myself I may as well make them what I’d love to discover as a collector of animal figurines. That’s part of the reason why I don’t add eyes to my animals (that way they are realistic… almost). If you’re curious about why else I don’t add eyes, I wrote about it here. To put the icing on the cake with my figurines, I decided to give them personalities and energies so they could be more than just a figurine, but a totem: a little sidekick or source of inspiration, support, good luck or whatever the totem’s keeper needs.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the process to make the panda and cheetah totem?
LAURA JOHNSON: The panda and cheetah totem was a bit different than anything else I’ve made since they are joined together. But I love new challenges. I typically don’t sketch before sculpting because I work with a very organic process and just sort of jump right in and ‘dance’ with the medium until the piece looks right. There is give and take. I had an idea of what I wanted the panda and cheetah to look like together – even though they are joined at the hip I wanted them to appear stable in their own poses as well. To create some movement and connection between the two animals, I turned their heads in slightly toward one another (a suggestion from Katie, actually) and also wrapped the cheetah’s tail onto the panda’s back. In the final piece they are two strong animals but with clear affection, love, support and stability for one another, shown below.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
LAURA JOHNSON: Right now I am working on so many things. But what else is new? There are two collaborations in the works that are super special and super exciting. They will both be released in time for holiday gifts, and if you’d like to stay connected and hear about them when they launch, please sign up for my newsletter. You won’t want to miss them! I’m also gearing up for the holidays – stocking up on totems and supplies and working on custom orders. Custom orders will only be available for Christmas deadlines until mid November, by the way!
KATHERINE CARVER: Do any artists inspire your work?
LAURA JOHNSON: Not particularly. I am inspired by other artists’ work, but more as a collective idea. If I dig through art sites or go visit a gallery, any art, any gallery, I’ll practically come running out with the NEED to create some sort of art right then, right there. Like a fix. It never fails.
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
LAURA JOHNSON: Create what you love and create it consistently, even if you aren’t feeling particularly inspired. Share what you make with the world so people can find it and enjoy it. Enjoy the process, and don’t get discouraged. I don’t believe that there are things any particular person can’t do. It’s just a matter of putting enough time into it to gain the skill, and asking questions when you don’t know how to do something. And if you are already talented in your area but have fear of putting yourself out there, or fear of failure, or any fear (and we all do), know that “inaction breeds doubt and fear (-Dale Carnegie)”, so move forward, make things happen, and “always do what you’re afraid to do (-Emerson)”. If you do that, soon enough nothing will stop you. I didn’t always believe it, but yes you can absolutely make a career doing what you love… so go for it.
Below are some more examples of Laura Johnson’s work. You can checkout Laura’s website for further examples and reading. Enjoy! We are getting a totem made of our little Biscuit! These totems are darling!
Here is a link to a 360 degree example of a finished dog totem!
Do you see the cheetah and panda totem in the background!
Laura also makes custom necklaces. A few examples are shown below.
This is how your totem will arrive!
Photographs were used with the permission of Laura Johnson, Le Animalé.
You can read additional interviews here.