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Drawing Out the Details

Local landmarks are featured in Lauren Thistle’s complex pieces 

The median amount of time visitors spend viewing a work of art and reading its wall label is 21 seconds, according to a 2017 study by Montclair State University. But to appreciate Lauren Thistle’s complex pieces, which blend drawing and painting, the average art-viewer will have to slow down.

“I just get lost in the detail,” Thistle said. “Super, super detailed, that’s basically what I am known for.”

Thistle, who splits her time working at Sturgeon Bay restaurants A’Boat Time and Door County Fire Company, has been making art since she was a child.

“My parents called me the Crayola artist,” Thistle said. “All I ever wanted for Christmas was art stuff.”

Now, she buys her own supplies from Artists Guild, where manager Ernest Beutel, an artist himself, recommends materials and tools. Thistle has learned that the paper alone makes a major difference, while specialized pens, markers and water brushes (used for blending) help too.

Art by Lauren Thistle. Submitted.
Art by Lauren Thistle. Submitted.

Thistle hasn’t studied art formally since she was in high school, but her senior year consisted entirely of art classes, as she had already met her other requirements. Though she was accepted into the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, it was too expensive for her to attend, she said.

“Your supplies alone can be $20,000,” Thistle said. “This is not a poor man’s sport.”

Expenses aside, art remains a priority for Thistle. She doesn’t set aside time to make art; more accurately, she has to set aside time to not make art.

“I can’t just watch TV, so I’m drawing at the same time,” she said. 

But according to Claudia Scimeca, who owns ARTicipation Gallery, Thistle never thought of herself as an artist. Scimeca thought otherwise when Thistle came into the gallery asking for help matting a piece.

“She brought the piece in and I’m like, ‘Holy cow!’” Scimeca said. “And then she started sharing different pieces and I said to her, ‘You are an artist.’ She denied it, but I said ‘Yes, you are.’”

Scimeca immediately hung some of Thistle’s work on her gallery walls and placed her in a September group show. She likes how Thistle jumbles bits and pieces of Door County into her works, bending geography to her brush and creating impressionistic maps that take time to figure out. 

The Door County Fire Company makes its way into several of her works. Some combine activities that took place decades apart, like a fireman sliding down a pole alongside a waiter delivering drinks.

“It’s old and new coming together,” Thistle said.

In recent work, the artist incorporates iconic Sturgeon Bay landmarks like the Michigan Street Bridge (the “Steel Bridge”), Stone Harbor Resort, the Red Room and the Old Bell Tower. One piece depicts Renard’s Cheese and parts of Egg Harbor, while another heads south to Florida, showing people having fun on a beach and at a bar. Other images, like a concert carved into a Colorado mountain at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, come from Thistle’s past lives in Colorado and California.

She’s also working on writing and illustrating a children’s book.

“It’s about a frog and a lizard and they become best friends,” Thistle said. “Then the lizard gets sick, and the frog and the dragons have to go over to a faraway land and collect all these ingredients for the potion.”

When asked if she had an active imagination, Thistle’s response was emphatic. 

“Obviously,” she said.