They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but when you enter the three dimensional world of Lane Walkup, her illustrative style truly bends the rules. Her simple, yet highly expressive work is both playful and moving. On a cool, but long-awaited sunny morning, I paid a visit to Lane in her new Portland studio. We got into all the details from pioneering her way through the boys club of southern metal smithing, her goal to empower young girls through working with their hands, and the enchanting smell of old books. Join us for the story behind Lane's creative world. (Plus check out the song that gets her going, below)
Nativen: Where are you from?
Lane: I'm from Texasoriginally. Born there, moved to North Carolina when I was eight, and then, lived there most of my life. I moved here four years ago.
Nativen: All right. So, you're like fresh into Portland.
Do you think, where you grew up influenced your creative work?
Lane: For sure. I started with welding and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing has a rich history in North Carolina, and, my dad had a friend who’s German, but he moved from Germany decades before. He started a blacksmith shop. I hung out with him for a little bit. I don't know if I honestly would have gotten into metal working had I not lived in the south, because I think I had something to prove a little.
Yeah. Out here I feel like people would be like, "Oh, yeah.” You know, “doesn't matter." But a girl doing it [there]? I was the only girl at these meetings. I would go to with my dad. I just felt like I had something I had to prove, that I could do it too, and better probably.
Nativen: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's a powerful motivator to sort of feel like you're pioneering your way in a field.
Was there a moment in your life where you realized you wanted to pursue metal work?
Lane: Yeah for sure. As soon as I started doing it something clicked in my body and I was like, "this is it." This is my thing. It was harmonious, I don't know how to explain it. I’d never had anything like that in my life…
I started a sewing club in high school and made my prom dress. I was very into sewing and textiles. In fact I went to college initially for textile design.
It just didn't feel right. The more I was doing it, I was like, "I don't think this is for me. I don't really want to sew all day." I was doing more of the science background behind textile design. The school I went to, they designed Kevlar, the textile, so that was cool, but it just wasn't as inspiring for some reason. Then I started trying to paint.
Actually, my degree is in nutrition and public health. So I have a heavy science background. I thought I would do that. I went to school five years because it takes a long time to do nutrition. I got out and I did a little bit with it, and I was like, "I can't do this!"
It was really depressing. And the health care industry's so f-ed I as a person need something lighter in my life because I have a tendency to really feel the weight of the world. I need to do something that's adding lightness and even though I'd be helping people it was just kind of crushing me.
[With] my dad one day I was like, "teach me how to weld," and he was like, "okay," so I did it. And I was like, "this is it. Metal work. This is it."
Nativen: That's great. That's a good evolution. It sounds like you're on the right path. What do you love most about Portland? And do you think it's integral to the work that you're doing in any way?
Lane: That is a good question. Well, I'm going to have to say that moving across the country, Portland was probably the best city for me. Especially from the south. Because people are pretty nice in the south, and friendly. And it's really similar here. And I felt like that made it a lot easier for me to meet people.
As soon as I visited here, it didn't really feel like a city, it felt more like a town. I feel like that aspect of it I fell in love with, that it was like a warm, small city.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Portland?
Lane: Luc Lac
Nativen: How about a favorite clothing store?
Lane: I love BackTalk because she's awesome. And she kind of took me and my stuff when I was just starting out. I have wire stuff all over her store. I just liked her, I always liked her aesthetic and her vibe a lot. I was like, "Man, I would really make it if I got in there."
It's really awesome. I still don't feel like made it all, but at least I accomplished one goal... And then my friend has a shop called Johan, which is really awesome too. It's really Scandinavian, but she has a really good minimalistic eye.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space in or around Portland?
Lane: Around Portland… The Washington side of the gorge. 100 percent. Which is not Portland, but it's very close. I guess, in Portland, I really, really love Peninsula Park, when the roses are in bloom.
Nativen: Cool. Do you have a hidden gem in Portland?
Lane: Yeah, the downtown library is really cool. I don't know if it's a hidden gem but it's a cool spot.
Nativen: I think it is, libraries are one of those things that are really fascinating too because obviously living in a techie world, they're less of a destination maybe than they used to be. It's kind of fun to wander into those little worlds. And that smell that occurs when you're in a library, that old book smell.
Lane: I know. I wonder if that's going to go away when ... decades from now. People are not going to know what that is.
Nativen: I know. I feel like somebody should make a candle that smells like that.
What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?
Lane: Honestly ... the shops are really cool here. They have really good massive warehouses where I can get stuff for pretty good prices. As cheesy as this sounds, just being able to not be in a city and go somewhere where it's quiet and feels very vast is really good for flipping the script. Just clearing out the general anxiety and stressors of living in a busy place.
Nativen: So this is the like asking you to pick your favorite child question. Do you have a favorite piece that you've made?
Lane: I don't know if I have one favorite piece. I feel like that would mean that I wasn't still… you know, I'm kind of glad that I don't because I feel I wouldn't keep trying to do more.
I have things that I really loved making, and tipping points kind of, when I first did Hangers, I started making some hangers for my friend Lars who has a clothing company. And that just changed the game for me a little bit. These mouth hangers I was doing. That kind of put me in a position where I was like, "Okay, I have a little more focus and I know a little bit more what my interest and aesthetic is." So those are near and dear.
I also really love making these masks that I've been making. They're just wire masks that are kind of weird.
Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy.
Lane: Honestly, just coming to a studio space and just being alone with my thoughts and not, having something in my head and being able to hold it a couple of hours later is the one of the best feelings ever.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest struggle for you?
Lane: Oh. Trying to make money. It's one of those things where if you really love it, you almost don't want to do things that you have to do to make money. I'm kind of figuring that out. It's becoming easier and easier but it's a really long process to go from loving something. And making it ... clearing a path, evolving as someone who makes art and also someone who makes money. So I think getting the business side of it down is difficult. And I think most people who make things would agree with that.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?
Lane: Honestly, travel somewhere where I don't know the language and I'm totally alone.
Nativen: Ooh, that's good.
Lane: I guess I've done it, but in Europe. I feel like if I was somewhere with a bigger culture shock where I didn't know the language, I didn't know anything about the culture really, and I was just alone. Because I think it would be horrifying but I think it would be really amazing to see how I did it.
Nativen: Is there somebody or a song that you've been listening to a lot lately? To get your creative mojo on.
Lane: I mainly eat up podcasts when I'm working. But if I'm not listening to a podcast, or I need a break from them, I love listening to hip hop but I also like new wave a lot. One of my favorite bands to listen to while I'm working is Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.
Nativen: They're the best. What are three words that sum up your work for you.
Lane: I think, there's a sense of humor to a lot of my work. It's kind of a little weird or a little whimsical. I'd just say ... illustrative.
Nativen: That's a great word, and seems very fitting. Is there anything that you do to specifically connect with your community here?
Lane: I want to do workshops in Portland in general because I feel like there's a lot of people here who like using their hands but they don't really have access to tools like metal working. I want to be able to incorporate that into my life and be able to hang out with people… I want it to be more a hang ... where we just make things. People are so excited to do something different with their hands and walk away with something they made and designed.
My long term goal is I really want to write a grant to work with teenage girls in the foster care system. Because I found metal work to be the most empowering thing I've ever done. I feel like being able to connect that with people who might not always feel really empowered and really need that outlet but don't have access. Or they're just not able… they're not supported in that way.
Nativen: Definitely. It's nice to be able to inspire people. And when you feel like you can do that, especially with young ladies.
What's the most helpful advice you've received, or maybe some advice that you'd give to someone who's looking to pursue their creative endeavors?
Lane: One of my good friends who has always been right there with me, trying to pursue odd goals, a little bit. He was like, the hardest point is the point where people give up and the people who keep going are the ones who become successful, [if] only because of the fact that they kept going, weeded out all the people who stopped. So not even if you're the best thing ever, it's just that you stuck with it.
I think about that every time. I just gotta keep with it because statistically speaking ... something will come from it.
It's an endurance race, is what it is.
Nativen: Definitely is. The tortoise always wins. Do you have a hero or maybe somebody who's really helped influence your work in a major way?
Lane: I didn't know of him when I first started working. It wasn't until I started making wire things that people were likening my work to his that I was like, "He's my spirit guide." Alexander Calder is amazing. It was just this amazing connection I felt.
Also, I really like the sculptural work of Heikki Seppa. He is amazing.
Nativen: Final question. Three things you can't live without.
Lane: Duct tape. My car. Not because I don't love biking, but because it affords me this sense of freedom that I get really stifled. Having a car just makes me feel like I could literally just drive to the beach right now if I wanted to. That gives me some sort of mental clarity.
And ... my cat.
Nativen: Ahh. What's your cat's name?
Lane: She's the best. Scoot. I took her from North Carolina.
I hope… I mean I'm going to have to live without her one day … but if the odds are in my favor. She is the best.
Interview and Photos by: Lily Hetzler
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen