After moving from Seattle to San Diego, I was faced with the challenge of contributing to Vanguard Seattle in a meaningful way from a city 1,257 miles away. Inspired by members of the San Diego arts community, I decided to feature some of the makers, shop owners, artists and creatives to provide a wider scope of understanding for Southern California.
One such artist, maker and creative is Rachel LaBarre. Her current practice lies heavily in block printing, but her life takes shape around a wide variety of passions and projects. LaBarre studied Anthropology and Studio Art at the University of Colorado at Boulder, with a focus on printmaking, primarily block print and intaglio. She sees block printing as “a really relatable medium, very environmentally friendly,” and since her college days, LaBarre has sought the career of her dreams–a way to convert this practice into wearable and usable art forms.
LaBarre’s block printed works take the shape of tea towels, scarves, and tapestries. Her pieces engage with the various patterns and shapes that take form in the world around, especially in the vibrant environment of Southern California. All of her work, no matter its medium, has an organic and earthy feel to it, speaking to LaBarre’s efforts to connect with the natural world around her: “I’m always trying to engage with patterns and shapes and how things fit together. Certain images and shapes just sort of stick with me…and I just want to make something with that. Ultimately I just have this little storage of shapes and images that I can access.”
LaBarre’s prints and patterns jump out at the viewer and user with their natural rhythm, creating movement and flow across the textiles. Her lexicon of symbols and shapes are transformed and transmuted in each design over and over again, hinting at their origins and inspirations but creating an entirely new language between them. Mixed with the inherent quality of block printing, her pieces take on an organic, textural character. She spoke with me about the merits of her chosen medium:
I love printmaking specifically. With art and painting, or drawing, there’s something so precious about this one copy of it. But with print making there’s this aspect of the multiple, and yet none of those prints is exactly the same. There may be a variation in the way the paint lifts. I kind of liked that juxtaposition, it’s not that precious and yet at the same time it is one of a kind—I love that it is embodied in the same moment.
While printmaking is one of LaBarre’s primary focuses, she has recently embarked on a new and exciting project—a Very Adult Coloring Book. While the adult coloring book trend has been overtaking the markets in almost every bookstore, LaBarre noticed that a very special niche was not being filled. “I thought it was so crazy that people were getting into adult coloring books, and I looked everywhere for a naughty version and there was nothing. To me, the word ‘adult’ means it’s sexy…I couldn’t believe there was nothing like this.”
The artwork LaBarre has created in her Very Adult Coloring Book is quite different from her block printing, but is a true reflection of her personality and taste. The simple line drawings draw the viewer in, inviting him or her to fill the space with color. The images are accompanied by captions–teasers that encourage the viewer to participate and inspire a scenario. “The captions act as a springboard for the narrative,” LaBarre states. “They’re vague enough…they’re the start of a story, now you decide where it goes.”
This sense of engagement has been one of the project’s strongest features. The images themselves are playful, similar to the concept of the book. “It’s evolved into something very reflective of where I’m at, reflective of my world and the things that I like, the aesthetic that I appreciate—cool looking people, creative looking people, quirky looking people.” This aesthetic of the “hipster” has often been trivialized or looked down upon, but here LaBarre celebrates it, finding joy and a renewed energy in her newfound project.
LaBarre’s adult coloring books are evolving very naturally. After launching the first volume of Very Adult Coloring Books, entitled “Hips & Nips,” she set to work on the second edition, “Home and Garden.” This volume features 24 new illustrations “highlighting some of the sexiest and most mundane moments of life at home and in the garden.” The volume is currently available for pre-sale and will ship out on March 24.
Very Adult Coloring Books can be purchased online here and from select retailers. It’s the perfect opportunity to show your true colors.