Lauren Sweeney’s close observation of the natural forms that populate her watercolor paintings is the artistic extension of her career as a scientific illustrator and biologist. To Sweeney, detailed observation is the beginning of an understanding of the subject she seeks to capture. She choses subjects for their exuberantly abstract shapes, patterns, and coloration that draw the viewer in to contemplate the larger intent of the work. Her compositions are usually sparsely populated to create a serene and uncluttered visual world that can become the center of the viewer’s experience of these richly detailed subjects.
Sweeney works in watercolor for the freedom it gives her to bring a work to life gradually with multiple layers of transparent washes. This allows her to create complex color patterns, shadows and reflections in stages. To many, watercolor seems confining or limiting, but to Sweeney, watercolor’s transparency allows choices to be made by this gradual building of broad patterns of light, shadow, or reflections, allowing her to change the emphasis on those features as the painting takes shape. Sometimes those details do call out for dashes of emphasis with pencil, pastel or gouache.
Her focus ranges from still life portraits of nature’s “bounty,” to seascapes and cityscapes as well as interior scenes. In her still life compositions, she focuses on close observation of the organic forms of budding flowers, heirloom tomatoes, seashells or exotic birds, to name a few. These are often juxtaposed with the rich textures and patterns of man-made textiles, pottery, or glasswork. In her scenic paintings, she creates compositions that usually provide glimpses that capture the essence of the larger scene. Domestic interiors, scenes of the sea, hillsides, or city streetscapes are often deliberately framed views through open windows or doorways.