An essay by Dr. Jennifer Sasser, gerontology program director, was published in the International Journal of Reminiscence and Lifelong Learning in January 2015.
Individualist. Artist. World traveler. Transfer student.
There are many words that describe Bachelor of Fine Arts student Laura Hogan, but not one of them is "ordinary." Born in Boise, Idaho, Laura moved with her mom to Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the South Pacific, when she was 14 years old. She attended high school there, and Saipan was the place where she first started painting. After high school, she returned to the Northwest and attended Portland Community College off and on for five years. She wanted to get her general courses completed, but she still did not know what direction she wanted to take her art.
So she traveled. She took breaks from her studies. She spent six months in Russia visiting her mother.
In 2011, Laura received her Associate of Arts degree from PCC. Her father told her about an art therapy counseling program at Marylhurst University, and something about the program resonated with her.
"I struggled with going into a formal art program for a long time," Laura said. "As an artist you don't need a degree. But I realized a couple years ago what I really wanted to do with my life. I love working with kids and helping people find what they're passionate about. Art therapy is a natural outlet for that."
Laura decided that a four-year degree would offer her the necessary credentials and resources she needed to pursue her goals. And yet, something still held her back. She did not feel ready to transfer into a four-year degree program.
She remembers what her admissions counselor told her: "Marylhurst is always gonna be here. Whatever you decide to do, you'll learn from it. Go travel. It'll be beneficial for you. You'll be back. I know you'll be back."
It was this absence of pressure that gave Laura the space to consider her educational options. She took another year to travel the East Coast. She started the practice of meditation. And she continued developing her artistic style.
"Traveling this past year and having a year to think about it solidified my desire to be here," Laura shared. "This is the next step on the path to accomplish my goals. I have so much more of a hunger to learn now. I have so much more of a drive and a vision of what I want to do and how to accomplish it."
Laura returned to Marylhurst in fall 2012 and went through the transfer process. She decided to start with the Bachelor of Fine Arts program because she is "first and foremost an artist," with the ultimate goal of moving into the art therapy counseling graduate program.
For Laura, Marylhurst is the next natural step in her journey: "I look at how my life has been so far. I didn't have the traditional high school experience. And I didn't get the traditional four-year college experience. At a four-year college you have your clubs and meet everybody and...normal college stuff. And I've never had that. And even coming here, it's not like that either. Even though it's a four-year university, it's a very different feel...When I walked onto the campus I knew that I was supposed to be here. It feels really comfortable and natural."
Experience through art, art through experience
Laura's experiences have not only fostered an appreciation for the different and nontraditional; they have also heavily influenced her artwork. She started with painting, photorealism and portraiture. Lately, however, she has been drawn more to pen and ink.
"I've always been into detail," she noted." I see the detail in normal things, and I like to showcase that."
For a long time, Laura admitted, she was just copying images onto paper. Through meditation, she has been able to examine her own imagination and how she sees the world.
"I didn't really know what was in my head," she said. "Only recently have I been taking what's in my head and putting it on paper and really started defining my style."
The result? Exquisitely detailed drawings, brimming with personality, elegance and fantastical elements. She transposes her travels, memories and life experiences into her artwork. Her carved wood drawings, in particular, are being showcased in February 2013 as part of the "Out of the Woods" exhibition at AFRU Gallery in SE Portland.
"This kind of stuff just comes out," she said of her micro-detailed, imaginative artwork. "It's more of a process of just letting go. Letting whatever come. It's a new process. It's scary. But once it happens, it's a super natural process. So it's exciting at the same time."
The same can be said of her foray into a formal BFA program. Laura knows of the nerves and excitement that come with course objectives, homework and deadlines. With academic programs come structure – something she is not entirely used to. Yet instead of backing away or dismissing these aspects of the academic environment, Laura embraces them.
"I'm better off with deadlines," she said. "This program gives me that drive to succeed and to do more, and it gives me that push."
Eventually Laura wants to open her own community center -- in a non-traditional setting, of course. In the short term, she is focused on her art and coursework. She's using the structure and class material to develop an intentional mindfulness with her art.
"Why am I creating this?" Laura asked. "That question has been very present lately. I think I'm still trying to answer it."
You can be sure that whatever she discovers, it will find its way into her ever-evolving artistic process – and her work.