During the course of being interviewed, local artist Lois Songster, an environmentalist and a true plant-person, helped me water and care for my plants. In the process she discovered a little “Hello” sign and a pair of sunglasses, neither of which I’d ever seen before. Either she’s so good with plants that she coaxed them into giving up their treasures or she’s just magical. Maybe both.
“I grew up in Athens. My parents were high school sweethearts who both went to UGA and they just settled here. I went through school here. I graduated from the Lamar Dodd Interdisciplinary Illustration Program. Growing up in Athens you get to see the whole city, not just the university. So, I’m from here, but not from a long-time Old Athens family. Once, when I was talking to the guy who owns the plot where the Iron Horse is, he asked me what my family name was. Even back then, I knew to shut that down.”
“Growing up here you see the rich and the poor. Athenians kind of forget it’s a college town. But it is a college town, and a small town, and it’s all mixed together. I remember when I was six and we lived across the street from a fraternity house. They had a party one Thursday night. My parents waited and watched and when 2 a.m. rolled around my mom went over to shut it down. She didn’t want to call the cops so she just walked up to college girls and started asking them for their ID. They all said something like, ‘Uh, hold on I’ll go get it’ and then promptly ran away. One of the guys said, ‘Hey lady, you can’t do that.’ She could. She did.”
“I’m left-handed. So are my mother and my sister. My father is the only one in the immediate family who’s right-handed. My mom always told me that the nuns made her pick a hand.”
“Songster is a reference to a male songstress. My dad’s family is Scottish. There are Songsters everywhere: California, Mexico, everywhere. I even have a relative who is the official dentist for the president of Mexico. There are also a number of Mormon city-starters in my lineage.” It’s an interesting family.
“I’ve always used water colors. A lot of kids get into art through water colors before they graduate to ‘more mature paint,’ but I still love water colors. Plenty of artists don’t like that once you paint over white space with water colors you can’t go back, but personally it’s the lack of total control that draws me to water colors. Acrylics have too many chemicals. If you work with oils, you get chemicals.”
“The professor who truly led me to become a professional artist was Christopher Pizzino, a Comics & Graphic Design professor at UGA. He made me feel like it was legitimate and important. It’s not the normal path, but it is easier now with the artistic opportunities the Internet has provided. I even made up my own degree. Now I’m doing what I love.” It’s hard to argue with that logic.
“I’m good at drawing animals. Most artists focus on people, animals or architecture. I like animals and I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good at drawing them. It’s just what feels natural to me. It’s funny because my dad’s an architect and is very good at drawing plans freehand.”
Rabbits. Rabbits play a big role in the life of Lois Songster. She has two rabbits as pets and enough bunny-wisdom (bundom?) that she could teach a course on Indoor Rabbit Rearing. “If you have just one rabbit, and you raise him by hand, he’s going to be cuddly. If you have more than one, then it’s just like you’ve got some quiet roommates.”
“As a poor college student I couldn’t have a dog or a cat, so I watched a YouTube video about rabbits one day and they’re really cute. Even though it’s like having a farm animal in your house, they’re pretty great pets.”
“My two are Chance the Rabbit and Mister Waffles. Mister Waffles is a retired elementary school mascot, but after that he was left in isolation for a year. Rescue rabbits are the way to go.”
“I try to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. Using cast-off materials, leftover cuttings from my dad’s construction sites, wood, anything. My parents are environmentalists, too. They live as off-the-grid as possible in a Tiny House. Even for shipping my work out I make sure that all the packing materials are zero-waste, recyclable choices, and I try to make or use discarded material whenever I can. If we make it easier for people to change their behavior, it will work. Framing environmentalism as simple empathy feels more natural and less threatening. I made a choice that I didn’t want to contribute to the waste, but I also like to say, ‘Just because it’s environmental doesn’t mean it has to look like it.’”
Art can and should be more accessible to everyone. “It doesn’t just have to be an investment opportunity for wealthy people. The relative lack of art education makes it feel like art isn’t a real career choice, but it is. I get to pose Mister Waffles for portraits, do commissioned work, and my college roommates even got me to match the paint that they’d destroyed in their rooms before they moved out.” In the Classic City, artistic opportunities abound. Take advantage of them. Get yourself a rescue rabbit for a pet. There should be plenty to choose from since, apparently, elementary schools just kick them out onto the streets after a year or so.
– – Bowen Crag