As daunting as the leap from the strangely reassuring cacophony of urban existence to the cricket chirp-filled lull of a rolling green mountain town may seem to us city-dwellers, in Laura Evans’ sun-soaked Asheville studio, it’s clear that life’s pleasures do indeed prevail in the South. Laura’s North Carolinian pad is filled with inspiring images of what a home can be: simple, beautiful, and playful. From her Southern roots to her days as a Brooklyn landscaper, Laura finds her art in quiet moments. Now based permanently in Asheville, Laura’s creativity finds its genteel yet contemporary expression in the novel world of her brand, Outra Textiles.
Nativen: First off, where are you from?
Laura: I'm from Georgia and Alabama. My parents are both from Georgia and my mom has an enormous family; she grew up on a farm with 10 kids! When I was five, we moved back to Georgia. I grew up there and went to college there.
Nativen: So you're a real Southern woman?
Laura: It doesn't totally feel like that! But I guess, by definition.
Nativen: How do you think growing up in Georgia influenced your work and your creative life?
Laura: When I was growing up, I was pretty mainstream in a lot of ways. Georgia is a conservative situation, and it doesn't accept people who are very different. I think when I was in high school, and even more in college, the creative part of me started to feel like creativity was a way to resist, a very safe way to break out of that mold.
Nativen: How do you define your work? Would you call yourself a textile artist?
Laura: Yeah. I went to school for landscape architecture. After graduating in Georgia, I moved to Brooklyn and worked for several years doing that. But my excitement for it wore off pretty fast. I realized over time that I'm more interested in patterns and graphic representation of things, as opposed to design spaces. Landscape architecture as a whole is pretty tedious, like an office job for the most part. You're at a computer 95% of the time.
I was majorly questioning whether I wanted to stick with that, and we decided to move to Asheville. When we moved, we didn't have work, but we thought it would be fine. We were moving from a big city and thought that we'd find work, no big deal. But that's not how Asheville is, and I didn't have a job for the first month that we were here. It was really uncomfortable for me. My life in New York was constantly crammed, so it was pretty uncomfortable to not have many friends, not to have anything going on. But, during that time, while it was hard, it gave me space to think about what I was actually really interested in. I started making stuff for our house, and that felt much more satisfying than anything else I had done in a long time. I needed to break myself a little bit and sit with the uncomfortableness in order to get back into my creativity. It's hard, but that's part of my process now.
Nativen: Beautiful things grow from dirty places. It's good to have that. What do you love most about Asheville and do you think it's integral to your work in any way?
Laura: One of the biggest things is that there isn't a big focus on career here. It’s really nice. It’s not that I don’t want to be productive or motivated, but it's nice not to have that pressure. It works well for me. There’s also a big sense of community here and a big crafty community.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Asheville?
Laura: I'm on a funky diet right now so I don't eat out a ton anymore. But there’s this place that looks really cheesy, but the food is actually so good, it's called Posana. It's downtown and they have a really nice outdoor seating area.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?
Laura: The shopping in Asheville is not awesome. When we first moved here, there was just Old North, a men's clothing place. When I stumbled upon it, it felt like a haven. Luckily, they did well, and they expanded to women's and a couple home goods. It's beautiful and well curated.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Laura: There's a ton around here, so it's a little tricky to pick! There is the North Carolina arboretum, which is associated with UNC and is really wonderful. They have pretty Rhododendrons and covered trails, and the gardens are also really gorgeous. Then there's an infinite amount of hiking trails and swimming holes around here.
Nativen: Is there a hidden gem in Asheville?
Laura: There's a park close by that’s not well known called Azalea Park, and there’s a spot there where you can get into the river. There aren't that many places close to town where you can access the water, so that feels pretty special. It gets a little overrun sometimes with some bizarro people, but anyway…
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here in Asheville?
Laura: There is a really awesome craft gallery downtown, The Center for Craft Creativity & Design. It's a pretty contemporary take. The space is really beautiful and it’s a very accessible community. My husband and I are pretty plugged in with them.
Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy?
Laura: Probably that moment when a new design occurs to me. But sometimes, it comes a lot harder. I have to sketch a long time before I can come up with things that feel new and fresh. But the stuff that I end up liking the most usually occurs to me really quick. That excitement is about making something new that I haven't felt before. Novelty. That’s definitely the most alluring and addicting part of the whole thing.
Nativen: What part is the greatest struggle for you?
Laura: Probably the time right before that. Like what I was just saying saying about that feeling—the novelty—like it's not going to happen again. And then there’s just feeling exhausted. Like all right. I'm done. I've had all the ideas I’m going to have and it's not going to come to me again. But the longer I do it, the more I am comfortable sitting in the uncomfortable space. I know that it's only temporary, and there is a whole other side to it. I'm also used to being in a studio environment where I can bounce ideas off of people constantly. For better or worse. That constant feedback (or lack of it) can be a real struggle.
Nativen: If you weren't a textile artist, what do you think you would be?
Laura: Who knows! I like looking at design books and thinking about design. I am also very into interior design, and thought about studying it in college. But when I was picking a major, somehow, I just felt really self-conscious about going in that direction. It felt like such a housewife thing to do. But still, that’s just what I gravitate towards. I've been dancing around it for a while now, but I don't know how much I'll ever get into it.
Nativen: Do you have any tracks you like to listen to while you work? Anything on heavy rotation at the moment?
Laura: For the last couple of years, I've had the really bad habit of listening to podcasts.
Nativen: i think that's a good habit.
Laura: Recently I made a playlist of Erica Badu and Alicia Keys that I feel very into. I think the music is very good but they are both really strong self assured women. It's really good.
Nativen: What are three words that sum up your work for you?
Laura: I'm bad at describing my work. It's such a struggle to describe what I do. It’s this weird edge between something that is really off-putting as well as something that feels classically beautiful. It's weird to call your own stuff weird.
Nativen: There's got to be a word for that in some other language. That's such a great image of describing your work. Is there anything that you do specifically to connect with your community?
Laura: I work a little bit for a non-profit design center that has architects and landscape architects. They do small projects for people who have a blown budget that wouldn't otherwise be able to hire a design firm. I also volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. The first time I went there, there were some really warm women, most are retired, that I started talking with. They gave me giant hugs. They love me! This is the first time that I've really had friends that are a little bit older and it's such a nice experience, because, at least for me, it makes me feel so much less fearful of getting older. They're totally smart. And I have things in common with all of them. They are sharp and edgy and subversive and still really active and involved.
Nativen: What do you think is the most helpful advice you've received or what's some advice you maybe give to the person who is starting to pursue their creative work?
Laura: Expect the struggle to continue! Early on in my career, I read an article in Business Insider that talked about how even entrepreneurs who are really successful constantly doubt. You are always going to feel like you're a phony, like you're losing your creativity no matter how well you do, no matter how much validation you get from the outdoor world.
I also got this really good advice at one point: try to rely less on external validation. When you get an exciting magazine placement or whatever, be excited about it but don't let it define you. That's not the key to satisfaction. Sooner or later, it’ll fade and you might not sell anything for a month and that's a major bummer. Try to sit somewhere in between, easier said than done, but have enough integrity so you are less affected by the external. I do this because I enjoy creating, not because I'm looking for fanfare.
Nativen: That's solid advice. Do you have a hero or maybe someone who has influenced your work in a big way?
Laura: As far as inspiration goes, the women who run Sight Unseen. I am so incredibly inspired by them. It's not a mainstream website, but it's sparked, and people feel excited by it. They're a big one.
Nativen: What are three things you can't live without?
Laura: Sunshine. That's pretty huge for me. I'm bummed about winter coming. I also definitely need those close friendship connections. Newness is also big for me. I'm always craving especially visually new and stimulating weirdness I haven't seen before. Back to the novelty thing.
Interview by: Lily Hetzler
Photos by: Ethan Covey
Edited by: Kristin Knox
all images copyright of Nativen