NEVER TOO LATE TO PAINT
Lue Svendson leaves her brushmark on the Acadiana art scene
Growing up, Lue Svendson was the kid who never wanted to come inside. It didn’t matter if the summer sun had punched the clock an hour ago, to Svendson the day didn’t have to end. It wasn’t too dark or too “buggy.” And despite the demands of her mother or grandmother, or her friends’ parents echoing the same thing, it was never too late.
As many residents of Acadiana know, considering she’s one of the most in-demand professionals in her field, Svendson grew up to be a top-notch landscape architect, bringing to life literally thousands of pieces of property, she guesstimates, both here and abroad during an ongoing four-decade career. However, that never-too-late mindset from childhood never left Svendson. At a stage in life when most people are beginning to plan for the final chapters, Svendson went the opposite route, adding a few more pages to her story.
“I’ve never regretted making that choice,” Svendson says, of becoming a landscape architect. “And let’s face it: You’re working, you’re married, you have kids — there’s not a whole lot of time to do much else. At 30 and 40, it never bothered me, but 50 you really see the end of the road. And you ask yourself, and look back, ‘What haven’t I done that I really want to do?’ And the answer was paint. So I jumped into it big time.”
Make no mistake, whether planting a bush or painting with a brush, Svendson is an artist. After a brief flirtation with watercolors, Svendson has painted exclusively in oils the past 16 years, claiming that particular paint choice “is so rich and deep. It grabbed me. There’s so much more passion.”
Inside her studio — Svendson Studios — on East Vermilion, which is right on the monthly ArtWalk path, complexly layered paintings of the Bayou Teche hang above work stations containing T-squares and a mug fill of sharp pencils. Blueprints, precise to the tiniest measurement, rest near brilliant artistic adaptations of a dying sun dipping closer toward the horizon of the Cajun prairie, as Svendson’s two worlds coexist within this 100-year-old house.
“It’s basically the same thing — it’s the elements of design. Think about it: line, color, form, composition…all of that is the same in a landscape plan as it is in a painting,” Svendson says. “Of course, I didn’t realize that until I started painting. And it dawned on me — my landscape work complements my painting work and my painting work complements my landscape work.”
The parallels don’t end there, either. One of the selling points for pursuing a career in landscape architecture was it afforded Svendson the opportunity to not only create, but to construct. She enjoys the feeling of soil caked under her fingernails, the satisfying discomfort of lifting and bending (as weird as it sounds), the literal sweat labor the job demands. At the end of the project, the brain is spent and so is the body.
Though it’s a little unorthodox, Svendson paints the same way — which is to say, she paints like a landscape architect.
“Painting is a whole-body experience,” Svendson says. “I’m constantly up and down, up and down. Standing up. Standing back. Walking forward. You put your whole self into it. Trust me, you can wear yourself out painting.”
Finding inspiration in her own surroundings, the majority of Svendson’s paintings capture the within-reach splendor of South Louisiana. The source of her content doesn’t hasn’t strayed much in her 16 years in front of a blank canvas. Her style certainly has, though.
In the beginning, Svendson took a very literal approach to painting — treating it like a landscape architect, which makes sense. Dimensions were rigid. Lines were tight and pronounced. Little was left for interpretation, because that’s not the job of an architect. Slowly, Svendson let go of that, becoming, in her own words, “Less rigid…painting with more emotion, more feeling.” No longer confined to exact measures and scales, Svendson says she paints without fear now, embracing “accidents” that occur on canvas because at times it can make a painting more interesting.
“I had a landscape client in Baton Rouge one time who was a painter,” Svendson says. “I did the plan, and we put it out for bid and found a contractor. And I went out the day we were laying out all the plants, a whole backyard. And the client is sitting on the back patio watching this. And afterward she said, ‘It was like watching someone do a painting.’
“That was the neatest thing to say! It really was a compliment. From one painter to another, all I said was, ‘Well, thank you!’”
Who were your earliest artistic influences? “Art has always been a part of my life, and that’s because of my grandmother and mother. My grandmother was more of a painter and my mother was more of a craftsman. If you got bored at my house, one of them would hand you a drawing tablet and a pencil. ‘Don’t tell me you’re bored, we just got you the best coloring book.’ That’s how it was growing up.”
Take us through the thought process of pursuing a career in landscape architecture. ”I love art. I love to create beautiful places and beautiful things. I love to be around pleasing lines and compositions, and colors. And I love being outside. LOVE being outside. So I put the two together and chose landscape architecture, and I never looked back.”