Making a Living as an Artist: An Interview with Laura Heck

During one of my recent explorations of Denver’s Santa Fe Drive Art District, I stopped in a store called ReCreative.  If you’re an artist in the Denver area, you will want to stop in–regularly!  ReCreative is basically a thrift store for artists, and they have everything from minimally used paints to yarn, to beads at insanely low prices. You never know quite what (or who) you’re going to find at ReCreative as the stock is determined by the donations they receive–and they receive a lot of donations!

It was here I found visual artist Laura Heck. We started having an engaging conversation about working in the arts and continued the conversation over e-mail a few days later.  I recognized some of my own traits in her responses–maybe you will, too.

Neville: It seems like a lot of artists have to kind of cobble a living together from various sources–in essence they have to think of making a living as a creative act in itself! Besides working at ReCreative, what else do you do?

Laura: It’s funny you ask that because if you would’ve told me during college or post college graduation that rather than using my degree, one in which I paid and am continuing to pay lots of money for, I would instead be piecing together three different part time jobs to receive hourly pay rather than a full time, salaried position, with benefits— I would not have believed you. I teach elementary art three days a week in a public school district.  And after sharing a pet portrait I painted of our dog on social media, I found myself receiving many orders of friends’ dogs— and somehow, I have yet to be without a commissioned painting or pet portrait since the move. This has also allowed me to pursue my own creative art endeavors and have been able to profit from those sales as well. I teach children’s art classes at ReCreative and I work the retail side of things too. I have found this balance of teaching art, making art, and surrounding myself with artists and others that value art and recycling makes me so incredibly happy. It never gets boring!

Neville: Speaking of dogs and kids, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about the importance of play in one’s life. It’s good for us to find meaningful work, and it’s important to have some sense of play in your life as well. Dogs often bring that to some people’s lives, and kids sometimes do, too.  What is one thing you notice when you’re teaching kids?

Laura: One thing I notice with teaching and creating with children is they don’t have the preconceived notion of what art already is. They haven’t (typically) been told that they are not “good” at art, or they are not creative enough, or the idea they had isn’t good enough. They have fewer concerns about their classmates judging them or their ability and they are so quick to lend a hand or tip to the “artist” sitting next to them. They never cease to amaze me with their ideas and their enthusiasm! Picasso puts it a lot simpler, “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”

Neville: ReCreative is a great place to find materials to play with, or that can be ‘re-purposed.” Tell me how you came to use the concept of re-purposing in your “Palette Cleanse Painting” series–to me, it’s a sign of true creativity when you can look at something you’re about to throw away and make an art process out of it!

Laura: Being both a teacher and an artist, I have always been a hoarder of things that “we could maybe use this for something!” In the studio, I noticed how scraping off dry paint from my glass palette onto paper towels was both time and material consuming. I started to look at what I was wiping on the paper towels as beautiful and was inspired to reapply it back to recycled paper. I found the colors, the textures, and the way water mixed with dried paint reacted to an assortment of discarded papers (both in my studio and at ReCreative) so incredibly intriguing, inspiring, and unique that I couldn’t stop. The experimenting from this series, the Palette Cleanse Paintings, has developed in materials, such as fine line drawings in ink, embellished with colored pencils, paint pens, graphite and most recently embroidery. I have even played around with reapplying the leftover paint to wood, tile and fabric (some more successfully than others).


Neville: How do you feel when you’re making art? Is it a solitary activity for you?

Laura: When I create, it can be a real time suck as I forget about human necessities: eating, drinking, using the restroom. It can be a bad thing sometimes as I forget to take care of myself and become wholly consumed and transported when I’m creating. Although, when my mind is racing with ideas, inspired by the mark I’ve just made, this is when I make my best work.

Neville: I know that feeling! I remember working on recording a songs on an old four-track recorder–the process would often take all day, and yes, I’d forget about those human necessities as well!

Neville: One of the things I like to write about on my blog is how people use their creativity to get through hard times and personal struggles. Can you tell me about a time you used creativity to overcome a personal challenge or issue?

Laura: Growing up with a rare disease was always something I tried to hide. If I could avoid wearing shorts, maybe I could avoid the wandering eyes. The wandering eyes always turned into staring at the large port wine stain (birthmark) that ran on the right side of my body, from my back to my ankle. This birthmark is only one aspect of Klippel Trenaunay (KT) Syndrome, a vascular disorder that I was born with. In my college printmaking class, a friend mentioned how my shirt complimented my birthmark. I was flummoxed because I had never thought of my KT as anything other than something to hide. From there, my series, “Port Wine Stain Isles,” flourished. I explored layers of lines, colors, and shapes inspired by the physical attributes surrounding my KT, as well as my emotions dealing with this disorder that made me different. I explored whether I should try to “erase it” or “embrace it,” and in the end, I learned that it is so much easier (and interesting) to embrace what makes each of us different. I fell in love with printmaking and my KT.

Neville: Is there anything you’d like to tell me (and readers) about your work or your process? Any advice for other artists?

Laura: I would tell artists, no matter what level, to pursue any kind of art that makes them happy. Any form of expression is important to one’s mental health. I’m not so great with words, but when I create I feel as if I’ve said everything I needed to say or I got everything I needed to get out, without knowing I had anything to say or emotions I was feeling in the first place (if that makes sense?) Thanks for taking interest in my work!

Neville: Thank you for taking the time to talk about it!

ReCreative is located at 765 Santa Fe Drive in Denver.

Laura Heck’s work can be seen at