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5 Questions with Lara Neece

Lara Neece loves being outdoors.

Through her product line, Forest and Fin, Neece creates sustainable, earthy designs that reflect her passion for the environment.

The storefront of Forest and Fin has moved around over the years, eventually settling in Starland on Desoto Avenue. Now, the store moves across the street to a larger location just in time for the July 13 Desoto Street Market.

We talked with Neece last week.

1. How did Forest and Fin get started?

Forest and Fin started probably eight years ago, when I was living in Charleston on a sailboat. My husband and I had plans to travel, and I quit my day job and just started doing artwork on the side. I started screen printing a little bit, started a blog—the blog was called Forest and Fin. It was a line in a poem I wrote in college. It symbolizes everything that inspires me in the natural world. Forest is plant, fin is animal, then forest is land and fin is sea. Everything in the world in these two words.

So I wrote the blog while we were traveling, and before I left I screen printed a bunch of T-shirts to go along with some artwork I was doing for a show. At the time, I was hand-drawing my designs on wood panels and painting them. I took a couple designs directly off the wood panels and put them on T-shirts. I still print some of those designs, too. We loaded up the boat with the box of shirts and I sold them while we were traveling. A couple little shops started carrying them on consignment. That was really exciting, and friends liked them, so when I got done sailing I was kind of like, “What do I do now?” I didn’t want to go back into publishing—that’s what I did before. I was just sitting in a cubicle all day, and it wasn’t for me.

2.Had art always been a part of your life?

It was kind of a new thing. I had taken just a couple art classes when I was in college. All through high school and growing up I studied creative writing, which is why I went into publishing when I got out of school.

So I’ve always been creative, but I hadn’t really gotten too deep into fine art. I took some drawing and painting classes and fell in love. I was like, “Oh, I can totally do this.” When I was working my day job after college, I started doing little practice paintings for myself and did a series of animal portraits that were based off a NatGeo article about photographing endangered species before they go extinct. The person who started [the project] was photographing animals that were intelligent species, so border collies and parrots and sheep and things like that. I did a series of painting like that, which was really neat. It was setting up a difficult task for me and I just got better at it and wanted to keep doing it.

I always tell people, if you can write your name, you can learn how to draw. It’s the same motor skills. You just have to learn how to translate the world into 2D. It’s a new way of looking at the world and what you see and how to translate it.

3. What’s your creative process like?

I haven’t been painting or drawing as much lately because I had a baby and I have a shop and we moved locations. It’s just been a whirlwind couple years. I have to block time off for it. Inspiration comes from being outside, so when I’m outside a lot, I’m very inspired to get back to my work, and usually that’s getting back to drawing or painting, doing little sketches of animals or quick little landscape paintings.

I love working with line and color. I have to free up my brain so I can be in my creative space. Otherwise, the business side and the realist side and all those competing tasks I need to do start to fill in this space. I need a lot of space for the creative juices to flow.

I do best if I segment my creative days so I literally schedule nothing else to do. That way, I can spend time in the morning getting in the right zone, drinking my tea, putting on music, making sure my space is clean, and I can jump in with whatever project I have. But if I start answering emails first, then creative time just disappears.

4. You’ve been right in the middle of the Starland district. What’s it been like seeing its growth?

I love it. I’m a big fan of Asheville and their creative arts district, and I love that Asheville basically has its own little art tourism destinations. I think Savannah could do the same thing. We have so many creative people here. Everyone in Savannah is creative on some level. Start up a conversation with someone new and they’re like, “Oh, I paint out of my garage,” or, “I do these little craft things in my spare time.” I run into so many people like that, and I feel like there could be a concentrated area of artists in Savannah that could be a destination for tourists to come and see what we’re doing, which is what I would love to see happen. The Starland is a great place to start.

5. You just moved across Desoto to a new, bigger shop. What’s the goal for this new space?

The goal is for it to continue to be my creative outlet and have a place to sell my work. The goal is to continue releasing new product designs and continue pushing my art.

We’re setting up a gallery wall in this space; I’m filling it with other artists’ work and I’ll have a section of it, too. I have some smaller pieces I brought over from the old space. Then I’ve reached out to a couple new artists, either that I’ve known through other artist co-ops or that I met recently. We’ll have a mix of landscape, abstract work and nature-inspired work.

I’m partnering with Fete Chalet and she’s going to be serving up healthy, superfood, fun, non-alcoholic beverages. I want to make this a space people could come and hang out. A lot of times, in my old space, people would be like, “This is so cool, I could live here.” I had a really cool loft in there, the vibe and the light was a really nice place to be, and that’s what I wanted to create in this space as well, but with additional seating.

We’re also planning to start offering creative workshops and classes. I’ve always wanted to do screen printing classes, but my old space was too small to do it.