Interview with Reneé Lawter: Watercolorist and Plushie Creator

>> Friday, October 30

UPDATE 5/27/10: Renee mentioned the interview on her site! :)

Since coming to work for a pond design and installation company, I’ve become slightly obsessed with koi. Their bright colors, fluid movements and friendliness capture my heart. I was heartbroken when we sold “Goldie” from the back greenhouse, a 24” pale orange koi that came to the surface to greet me whenever I poked my head over his pond. Even if I failed to produce food he’d silently gape his hello, blinking as I rubbed his forehead or tickled his fins.

"Koi" by Reneé Lawter

Koi are universally beloved for their beauty, longevity and tameness. Even the word “koi” itself is a synonym for “love” in Japanese. I first came across Reneé Lawter’s beautiful watercolor, “Koi,” while browsing Flickr.

"Koi are favorites of mine,” Reneé said, “and painting the koi piece was an experience. It was like painting silk ribbons.”

Reneé Lawter's delightfully sweet logo, which she baked herself. :)

For inspiration she looked to her two Japanese fighting fish, Fishy Von Fishenburg and Madam Peach, and also her memories of a large koi pond where she used to work.

“From what I understand,” Reneé said, “koi fish mate like crazy and live very, very long lives—250 years for some—so by the end of the summer they would be like water pigs just stuffed under the water. I remember we would drop bread crumbs in (or half a sandwich, whoops!) and it would be gobbled up in seconds. I always wondered what would happen if I fell in. Eeek!"

"Karma Kreatures"

Reneé also painted a koi skateboard for the V Foundation (a cancer research charity) and ESPN XGames.

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“At that time I had a man that was such a huge support in my life as well as my mentor in business who was diagnosed with cancer,” Reneé said. “[And so I] painted a Koi fish. Part of it was because they live very long lives, plus he was very hopeful and was prepared to fight a very hard fight.”

Though her friend passed away within a year, Reneé has continued to paint skateboards for charity.

“Cancer is an evil, evil thing that I hope some day is like the common cold,” she said. “The skate boards were auctioned off and the money was donated to the V foundation. I’m very proud of that.”

"Old Idea"

"New Idea"

Reneé grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has been creating art since she was little. She studied Fine Arts at Keystone College and toy design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, then interned at Tyco Toys, and then moved to California to take a job with Mattel Toys developing plushies for Disney and Pixar.


“[Working for Disney/Pixar] was fun, but restricting,” Reneé commented. “All of these companies have the most amazing people working for them and I have some great memories from working there. I had really great immediate bosses. The downside? I really hate that employee number-not-name mentality. They are giants and not everyone counts and I think that is unfortunate for them to not consider someone’s ideas.”


So within three years Reneé left and got a job in juniors fashion jeans. A year later she and two college friends founded a graphics design company called Eyerus Propaganda, Inc.

The smiling newlyweds

And in 2006, Reneé got married to her sweetheart, Jeff.

"There Goes the Neighborhood"

Reneé’s watercoloring style has been described as “whimsically dark.” Keeping to just two tones, sepia and red, she loves to create fantastical creatures inspired by the books her mom used to read to her as a child, including The Pirates’ Tale by Janet Aitchison and Jill McDonald and Babar Visits Another Planet by Laurent de Brunhoff.


“I really like how it looks at the end of the day and how my characters feel in these colors,” she said. “When I started it, I felt like it was easier and it made painting a lot of fun.

"The Birds and the Bees" [close-up]

“My husband said it would be bad ass to see a whole show like that and so it happened with [one of my first shows] Cupcaketopia,” she said. “It was a big successful show … everything sold aside from maybe one piece. So I thought, ‘Wow, I just need to make sure I am super stoked on the character, having fun, and paint away.’ It’s so relaxing to paint in this color pallet.”

“All of my frames for my artwork are vintage shopped by me all over the states," Reneé added.

"Bunny Hugger"

The hugging bunny watercolor is one of Reneé’s favorite pieces. Not only was it featured in her first solo show, but this piece finally helped her settle on her style, including the muted color palette.

"I didn't want to fight color," she said. "I wanted the subject to create the mood (aka color) of the piece."

For each piece in the show she wrote a short story.

"There is always a story in my head," she said.

"The Bunny Hugger"
The Bunny Hugger passes out hugs relentlessly...
That is as long as you have long and fluffy ears.
He himself is not a bunny, but loves them so much
He’s sewn a pair of bunny ears to his head.
The Bunny Hugger has a deep sadness despite his toothy grin
Because he know he will never really be a bunny.
In Cupcaketopia the bunnies line up for hugs.
The only thing the Bunny Hugger might love more than bunnies ... is a cupcake.

"HEPA [high efficiency particulate air] Smog Eater"

As Renee's artwork and style developed, so did her awareness of the world around her, especially regarding environmental issues.

“Well over two years ago I started to watch a lot more documentaries on the environment,” she said, “and I started to wake up and pay attention a little bit to what was going on.” The 11th Hour, An Inconvenient Truth, and Michael Moore’s films are among many that have shaped her thinking.

"Everything Comes In Plastic"

It was the BBC series Planet Earth that finally hit home for her.

“It was just one of those series that sprung up right in the nick of time for me and where I was at mentally,” she explained. “I grew up with a father who was an outdoorsman, picking popinki mushrooms with him or eating a root from a birch tree. My dad was real knowledgeable on stuff like that. I thought, ‘How could we take this most beautiful place and its creative creatures and just completely disregard them?’ It makes me almost cry. I mean honestly.”

"Colony Collapse" [close-up]

Her latest art show, "Sea No Evil," helped raise money to fight illegal whaling.

"Shed Some Light"

“All of the pieces for the Sea No Evil show were donated,” she said, “and all of them sold, making The Sea Shepherd Foundation a nice click of money to continue fighting illegal whaling. That is so horrific that they are killed so brutally; it really bothers me.”

Reneé doesn’t just stick to 2D mediums, however. Her delightful “Cupcaketopia” series includes not only watercolor paintings, but also plushies.

"Icing Lickers" plushies

Reneé adjusting one of her Icing Lickers

“These guys are big,” Reneé said of her Icing Lickers, who live “in the world of ‘Cupcaketopia,’ which was … full of really weird creatures that just existed to eat cupcakes.”

The Messy Gang: Scardy Pie with Octocup and Vampcake

The Messy Gang, BWAK and the Can O Crud were inspired by her husband’s doodles.

“My husband is a graphic designer and comic book artist,” Reneé explained. “He draws circles around me. Sometimes if I leave my sketchbook open in my studio he will come in and re-sketch my character so much cooler on a blank space. I love it! Some people might be bugged by that but it’s cool to see how clean and precise he is. It’s made me grow a lot in the way I draw, sharpen my technical skills.


"We decided to create a bunch of characters called Karma Kreatures and these three [The Messy Gang, BWAK, and Can O Crud] he drew and I made. It was fun to see how excited he was to see his stuff in 3D! It was a lot of fun for both of us.

"Can O Crud"

"They honestly make me giggle when I make them!"

Bunny and Fish iPod Pets

Reneé’s iPod pets were inspired by the flip books she read as kid where you could mix-and-match animal bodies.

“I wanted to do something fun so I made fish and bunnies etc. to cover your iPods,” she said, “and if you had more than one you could mix their bodies up and have a fish-bunny.”

"Behind the Velvet Curtain"

Another of Reneé’s 3D projects are decorated recycling bins for Global Inheritance's TRASHed::Art of Recycling program. Along with 100 or so other artists in the program, Reneé’s goal is to get people to take notice of what happens when you throw something away or recycle it.

“I love that it makes people stop and think about recycling,” Reneé said. “It's a clever ploy to make you think about something that you might not think about when you’re looking at artwork.”

"Behind the Velvet Curtain" (work in progress)

Reneé used real papyrus paper as a base for her watercolor artwork as a tribute to her love of history. Hence “working in papyrus was right up my alley," she said.

"The Wall"

“Global Inheritance is an amazing organization,” Reneé said, “… any spare time I have I donate to GI. It’s such a great concept to make a non profit hip.”

(Interested? If you're an artist and want to help out, sign up here to get involved!)


Reneé is currently creating some new 3D characters for her business, and is anxious to begin some more paintings.

"I'm ready to dive back in," she said, "actually anxious. I have some sketches I think are cool--got a little fascinated with horns and antlers."

When she's not creating, she loves going on a haunted hayride with her husband or visiting art shows. She often thinks about where she'll be in ten years, though she tries not to overthink it.

"I think about [my future] a lot," she mused. "Sometimes I wish I didn't because we get so focused on what could have had (the past) and what could be (the future) that we forget about the right now. I'm trying to focus on the now and I want to be right where I am: Happy, focused, energized and loving life."

"Me and Schmoo"

You can see more of Reneé’s amazing art at her Flicker gallery and also on her website, www.Reneé

~with many, many thanks to Reneé for sharing her beautiful art with us.

4 comments. Leave a comment.:

Anonymous,  Oct 31, 2009, 3:19:00 AM  

I love Renee's work! It's always so cool to see an artist who has a sense of humor, and knows how to use it! The crazy things populating her mind must keep her hands so busy, she has world's of imagination! Keep up the great work! Thanks for sharing her with us, Emily! xox

Anonymous,  Nov 1, 2009, 6:19:00 PM  

I love the whimsy in Renee's work. She is so talented!

Renee Lawter Nov 1, 2009, 6:26:00 PM  

Thanks for the interview Emily. You Rock!!

Caleb and Emily Designs Nov 3, 2009, 9:30:00 AM  

You're welcome, Renee. YOU rock! :)

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