A studio visit with Lauren Levato

“This Saturday, 14 unsuspecting souls will be coming to visit my studio
…dunh, dunh, duuuuunnnnnhhhhhh!”
~ Lauren Levato


This was the warning posted on Lauren Levato’s Facebook page, incidentally the  day after my sister-in-law announced it was Health Care Decisions day and urged everyone to get their living will in order.

Now if I were an insect, my testament would read “I donate my body to Lauren Levato to be memorialized by her.”

drawing copyright Lauren Levato

The unsuspecting souls are members of the Chicago Painters and Artists’ Group, and we were invited to visit Lauren’s studio and discuss the artistic life with her.

Lauren started ‘trending’ in my life a few months ago when I saw her title of Moth Wrangler on a Facebook group. I was in the midst of researching Maria Sybilla Merian, so seeing a contemporary butterfly artist in Chicago felt quite fortuitous. I clicked all the links Lauren so conveniently made available on her subscription-enabled Facebook page, and I enjoyed learning more about her through those articles and interviews.

copyright Lauren Levato

There are connections: a writing background and the inherent joy of linguistics, a fascination with butterflies (for Lauren insects in general), a great sense of humor through online banter, her perceptive and intelligent insights, the interest in linking (hi)stories we create to make sense of the world, a Dutch cultural link through her fiance, and the exploration and support of the Chicago artistic community (for figurative art in particular).

So I was thrilled when Jennifer Yang organized a studio visit with Lauren, and I was willing to risk my life to meet her (I am not a poser)!

“Scientists and artists are very similar,
you have to prove that what you do matters
and fight for funding.”
~ Lauren Levato

Lauren was always fascinated with insects, capturing lightning bugs (fireflies) in Indiana to make glow rings of them. While pursuing her English degree she almost traded it in for entomology, but is glad that she didn’t. After being a journalist and poet post-university, the visual started to take over.

vignette copyright Lauren Levato

Lauren started etching and had her first “proper” exhibit in 2003. Then she apprenticed intaglio. Career fluctuations led her to creating dimensional shadow box art with natural objects, pushing the “creep factor” with items such as a moving abacus made of beetles.

Lauren enjoys exploring the links between phobias, religion, spiritual beliefs and the occult.

“My passion has grown
and it is fueled by people being terrified of insects.”

~ Lauren Levato 

Not satisfied with the fragility of her assemblage work, “I didn’t want to become a widget maker of insects,” she said, Lauren discovered drawing with a book by Gail Potocki.

Now represented by Aron Packer Schopf, Lauren was initially rejected when she presented her dimensional art. After establishing a sales record over the past year, Lauren presented her pencil-drawn work with more of a business angle, and her solo show is slated for January 2013.

“I’m an overnight success ten years in the making.

I feel like I am doing what is authentically mine
and not copying mentors.”
~ Lauren Levato

Lauren said that you need to submit your work to galleries that display the type of work you do (although you need to have a unique aspect to it) and also take commissions into account when pricing your work. One lesson is to build it in when you sell on your own, so that you don’t have to take a price cut when a gallery starts representing you. However, she also cautions against letting your ego get too involved in the pricing process.

While Lauren advocates creating art that is genuinely and uniquely you, she also says you have to know where to market your art. “You have to think strategically, where is the place where people are interested (in your subject matter)?,” Lauren said.

Her aim is to have a show in Tokyo where people are “obsessed” with insects.

Lauren also mentioned that discussing her work with others will give her nudges to take ideas to a new level. She cited her fiance Rory Coyne (a figurative painter) in connecting some ideas, and also in influencing both the archiving of work (rather than Lauren’s impulse to destroy it) as well as being more willing to share works in progress.

Art work by Rory Coyne

When Lauren gave herself permission not to paint–which she had identified as a pinnacle of artistic success–she began working with colored pencils. Pencils give her more control over her work than painting does.

drawing copyright Lauren Levato

Inspirational artists include Marco Marzotti and Jeremy Bartion.

drawing copyright Lauren Levato

We discussed the concern of being known for a certain artistic style or medium, and then branching out into other forms or artmaking. While one must be cognizant of one’s brand (or personality), Lauren promotes following that inspiration, and incrementally adding elements to help coinnoisseurs adjust to your new direction.

“My career is not in doing
a single image of a bug over and over again.”
~ Lauren Levato

Her single-insect drawings have evolved to incorporating parts of the human anatomy, such as the heart in one of her most-promoted images. Recently, ribbons are part of Lauren’s exploration.

She is also exploring porcelain work, which has her striving to draw faster so she can devote time to both. Like many artists, she has a day job and draws on the train to make the most use of her time.

copyright Lauren Levato

Drawn mostly while in transit

“There are an infinite number of stories about insects
that are really about humans.”
~ Lauren Levato

Her drawing is also becoming more large scale, with a sketch covering her studio wall for the latest project she is working on.

Lauren’s work in progress,
working title: A Girl with Wings for Lungs

There was a brief discussion about the blackest pencils, ebony pencils, graphite and other pencil technicalities I wasn’t aware of. The discussion of 5H to 8B pencils was a foreign language to me, but does help me appreciate that each artist has a go-to set of tools.


Lauren shops at Genesis Art Supplies. Her desk is from there. She also recommends visiting New York Central Art Supply  in New York City.

We discussed the need to find mentors who inspire rather than stifle, and to ensure that passion, instinct and spirit override technicality in creating. Lauren is eagerly anticipating a course at Ox-Bow School of Arts on Insectology this summer. She also teaches at Klein Artist Works.

It was a pleasure to peruse Lauren’s cabinet of curiosities, pick her brain about the artistic career, and learn that she is an even more kindred spirit in person than online. I look forward to following her work and attending her exhibit next year.

Places Lauren studied:


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