How A Graphite Pencil Led To These Mixed-Media Works

ART + CULTURE | BY | June 29, 2019
Mixed-media artist Lauren Seiden in front of two of her graphite-shaded pieces.
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f there’s one thing Lauren Seiden’s artistic process requires in spades, it’s patience. The final touch on most of her mixed-media sculptures–materials range from paper to marble to ordinary household objects–can take months at a time, as she painstakingly shades each of them by hand with a 6B pencil until every pore, grain and crevice is layered in graphite.

Seiden always had a thing for graphite pencils, but after art school, she first took up painting–only to realize that it wasn’t her medium. “I couldn’t get the hand action that I wanted,” she says. “But somehow with pencil I found the confidence to trust my hand. The more I used it, the more limitless it felt.” She began to experiment with intricate line drawings, manipulating and blurring the lines on different materials like Mylar and paper. That eventually evolved to sculptural works coated in meticulously penciled-in graphite. The slowness of it, Seiden says, is equally frustrating, peaceful and exciting: “It’s really laborious, but at a certain point the mindlessness of it can be very meditative.”

For her abstract paper sculptures, Seiden dampens rolls of thick white paper to create a malleable medium that she then staples to the wall and molds into peaks and folds using her hands. “The points and the structure come from the paper finding its own support system as I’m going,” she explains. “I do a dance with the material–a push-and-pull to create a form that has tension and finds its own stability.” To immortalize the final shape once the paper has dried–what she refers to as “capturing a moment”–she applies multiple layers of hardeners before beginning her detailed pencil work.

Seiden’s marble-and-textile works are more narrative-laden. Her “Hang Onto Your Ego” series features various clothing items–frozen with hardeners and coated with graphite–draped across traditional marble frames. “I create different personalities for each of them,” she explains.

Another recent series considers women’s work and the “invisible actions” of labor left on ordinary cleaning objects like mops and brooms. “These mundane rituals are invisible, in the sense that we choose to not see them or the people that provide these services,” Seiden says. “The act itself is to ‘clean up’ the scene in order for society to exist without the acknowledgment of the individuality of these people.” To memorialize such moments, Seiden replaced the handles with marble poles and hardened the strands and bristles of the tools before drawing on them with pencil.

The themes of Seiden’s work may be varied, but what is consistent throughout all of it is that she lets the material serve as her guide. “I have an idea in mind, but I do my best to allow it to change and inform my actions as I go,” she explains. “I like the work to teach me. That is a freedom that is often scary, but I try to be brave every day.”

PHOTOS: KYLE KNODELL

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