By Elizabeth Sturgeon
Photos by Mary Fehr
Lacey Simmons’ black and white Degas ballerinas, dressed and moving in ink, still grace the walls of her parents’ home in Mountain Brook. Since then, the ink and paper style has become her niche, her business, and a source of strength throughout her life and art career.
By Lacey, her business, started with on-paper illustrations and has expanded to larger paintings, framing work, and a range of other projects that are all originally her. “In the beginning, I didn’t know what direction I would take, but I knew everything would be made by me,” she says.
Since her childhood, Lacey has always drawn, painted and broadened her knowledge of art. She dabbled in all different mediums and remembers her mom introducing her to the greats like Renoir, Monet and Degas. Illustration quickly became her favorite artform, which she pursued at Mountain Brook High School and in classes at Alabama Art Supply.
Her high school teacher first introduced her to pen and ink, which led her to explore the loose and flowing style. She used a nib pen to pick up the loose ink, then combined it with water on the page to soften the pigment. “It seemed simple—just black and white—but I loved using water to see the fluidness and gradient of how everything flowed,” Lacey says.
Her high school skill and passion led her to pursue a degree in graphic design from Auburn University, which included more illustration and painting classes along with digital design. For a while though, after getting married, having her first children, and beginning jobs in dermatology offices in Birmingham and Fairhope, Lacey stepped away from art in her life.
Flashforward to 2014 and life looked a little different. Lacey moved back home with her parents, along with her 2-year-old and infant sons, to step away from her own home and a struggling marriage. With the advice from her friends, she sat back down in her childhood basement—what served as her high school art studio—as she picked up the pen once again. “It was all pen and ink on the walls. I was there to figure that out, so that’s what I focused on,” she says.
As she made new work, she soon began selling some of her pieces. Still being in the baby world, she painted a set of four prints of baby animals which sold quickly, and then moved into painting nudes and figures. Eventually, she found herself back at her own home at her kitchen table in the evenings and saw new abstracts come to life.
Little did she know at the time, she was defining her look as an artist. “I prayerfully went into painting, and I just picked up the ink and watercolor I always loved and did two strokes that evolved into this abstract feather,” Lacey says. “I did another and another, and they all looked different with the water flowing in different ways.”
Her feathers started as something that would fit into anyone’s home—light, soft and colored with sepias, blacks and grays. Now, as she’s continued painting, they range in colors, sizes and styles, each one completely different than the other, and they have become central to her collection of work.
Lacey first put some pieces in Trouvé in English Village, fittingly named with the French word “to be found” because her own home and community, plus numerous stores and customers throughout the Southeast, had discovered her. She started her LLC in 2015 and has since watched this adventure grow as she’s leaned in to working as a full-time artist—something she never thought she could do growing up.
Now, since remarrying and seeing her family grow, Lacey has created a studio in her basement, with plans to soon renovate their house and build a new space. In her current work space, plus a sort of gallery with her pieces covering the walls, she rolls out loose canvas, frames her prints and paper work, and invites people over to view her work. The fluid style of her ink work emerges through her other pieces, from large paintings to playful portraits or other new pieces or collaborations with other artists.
Recently, one of Lacey’s favorite projects is her Hebrew letter art. She paints the characters in an abstract way, each as a separate framed piece. “The Hebrew letters can be more personal. I ask someone for words that represents their family or their life, and I paint them to use as a banner on their wall,” she says.
As she takes on new projects, Lacey does quite a few commissions to work with people on specific colors or styles that they have in mind. Sometimes, parents will request feathers that represent each of their children, and Lacey captures their personality from descriptions to blend into her design.
Especially since becoming known for her feathers, she’s seen the power the designs have. “About once a month, I hear from someone about what feathers mean to them. People have so many connections to feathers, and God is speaking to them,” she says, which matches with her own experience.
Lacey, well into the rhythm of her art and the feathers, remembered a day in college, in prayer in her dorm at Auburn. She saw a feather in her mind’s eye and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude, then opened her eyes to see an actual feather fall from her forehead. “After that, every time I saw a feather, I knew the Lord was with me and speaking to me,” she says.
This reminder brought a whole new connection to her work, which has been a source of providence for her and her family for years now. “There I was, 12 years later, trying to provide for my kids, it hit me. This is what I’ve been thanking you for.”
Learn more about Lacey’s art at bylacey.com, @bylacey on Instagram or @bylaceyart on Facebook.
Sweet Home Alabama
Being born and raised in Mountain Brook and now living here with her family, Lacey’s work will always have some connection to Alabama. “I create my own atmosphere, but my landscapes always look very Alabamian,” she says. Her acrylic landscapes, often painted on large, unstretched canvas, depict hazy lake scenes that resonate with many throughout the Southeast.