This Austin Artist Creates Collages That Look Like Paintings


artist laurie carswell creating a collage on the floor

Artist Laurie Carswell often likes to create her collages on the floor.

Sometimes, an artist can pinpoint the precise moment when their creative path careened in a new direction. For Laurie Carswell, inspiration struck during a sunset stroll along Austin’s serene Lady Bird Lake. She looked up at an iconic bronze sculpture of Stevie Ray Vaughan, guitar in hand, poised before the waterfront and the cityscape. “The sky was fading from purple to pink,” Carswell remembers. “The buildings were glowing and reflecting beautiful colors, and I saw it in layers. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can paint this with paper.’ ”

Painting with paper aptly describes Carswell’s collages, which exude a painterly quality that is distinct. “I explore the illusion of depth using paper,” the artist explains. “How much depth I can create is determined by what colors I’m layering.”

framed floral collage by Laurie Carswell

Focusing on color and texture allows the artist to create a sense of depth.

collage of a rose by Laurie Carswell resting on an easel

Carswell’s Texas Rose rests on an easel in her backyard studio.

collage flowers made by Laurie Carswell

Scraps from wallpaper samples and discarded books compose the detailed collages.

geometric collage by Laurie Carswell

For a new series, uniform shapes explore architecture and pattern.

floral collage by Laurie Carswell

Flowers, which she creates from magazine pages, top the list of her favorite subjects.

While magazines and catalogs comprise the bulk of her media, she also gathers discarded books and spare wallpaper samples. “It’s a great sustainable source because there are constantly designs that are being retired,” she says of the latter. She pulls her materials according to color before spreading them around her in a whirlwind of scraps, then manipulates the paper by cutting, ripping, rubbing and even crumpling it to create different textural qualities. “I find that every collage needs to have some tearing in it, because when you tear paper, it softens the transition from piece to piece,” she describes.

This creative approach is also a testament to the artist’s journey, one that has unfolded gradually. Carswell hadn’t initially set out to be a fine artist, let alone a collage maker. She began her career designing theater sets. When personal ties landed her in Austin, she began teaching art before realizing her call to create. “I just felt the pull to be an artist, practice on my own and at least give it a try,” she reminisces.

After building an art studio in her backyard last year, Carswell now feels particularly expansive. “The collage process is very messy—imagine an entire floor covered in paper. It became evident that I needed my own enclosed space,” she says. “Having a studio has allowed me to propel into new artistic directions because I can leave projects in a more delicate state.” The artist has also found that with a room of her own, she can produce larger and more intricate pieces.

Her craft has recently evolved to include a series depicting close-up scenes of figures enjoying Barton Springs—something new for Carswell, who built the bulk of her portfolio on still lifes and landscapes. Hours spent photographing the swimming hole produce reference shots, which she uses as a guide while zooming in on vignettes and emphasizing certain aspects.

She’s also begun to varnish her compositions, so they no longer need to be displayed behind glass. “I can have a bumpy, textured surface that looks more like a painting on a panel,” the artist notes. “There’s no barrier between the viewer and the piece.”