LAKELAND — Her house is small, but that doesn't bother artist Lauren Hardy Clark.
As long as she can see the sugar cane through her front window, she knows she'll have stories to paint.
Stories of the small towns of Pointe Coupee Parish and areas inching into West Baton Rouge Parish. Stories of the houses, churches and old buildings, all with their own personalities. Stories of the woods and waterways. Stories that are part of her history.
Clark lives with husband Alex and 3-year-old son George on an acre bordering the property of her childhood home in Lakeland. Her house is a work in progress with windows looking out on the wooded area where she and her eight siblings once built tree houses.
She also has a full view of the surrounding fields, where the daily sunsets are something to behold.
"Oh, we have the greatest sunsets here," said Clark, pointing to one of her paintings.
The scene shows the sky at the moment when the oranges and pinks give way to the purple-blue of dusk. A small house stands to the right, rows of sugar cane to the left.
The painting is dream-like, painted in an impressionistic style Clark developed after a long time away from her paints and brushes.
"I'm an alcoholic," said the 29-year-old.
Clark said she started drinking early in life and it developed into a problem. She has since recovered.
But painting once reminded her of that time in her life, and she was afraid that picking up a brush would transport her back to that mindset.
But, as an artist, painting wasn't so much a choice as a need, one that unexpectedly began when she was 16.
Clark's parents, Jerald and Sarah Hardy, homeschooled their children, sometimes enrolling them in outside extracurricular classes. They signed up Clark's older sister for classes taught by artist Andrea Phillips in Baton Rouge. Clark would sometimes tag along.
"Ms. Phillips said, 'You're not going to be in here and not paint,'" Clark recalled. "So, she put a paintbrush in my hand."
One of Clark's first paintings showed the old entryway to her family's Lakeland property, a road surrounded by sugar cane. Even now, when Clark shows a photo of the painting, the scene comes to life, telling the story of a place she loves.
Phillips immediately saw potential in Clark's work and encouraged her to paint more. Clark later studied studio painting at Baton Rouge Community College, then enrolled in art classes at LSU but didn't graduate.
Now she's back and well-entrenched in the local art scene as a member of Mid City Rising artists group in Baton Rouge that stages monthly exhibits. One of her paintings will be featured in the "Stabbed in the Art" exhibit at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge's Firehouse Gallery in February, and she teaches art classes at the LaCour House Assisted Living Facility and the Arts Council of Pointe Coupee, both in New Roads.
Clark also is a regular exhibitor in Market at the Mill, New Roads' spring and Christmas antiques, art and collectible shows.
It was at the Market at the Mill that tourists asked if she had any New Orleans scenes among her paintings.
She was painting lots of chickens and utilitarian pieces at the time, but that single question changed the direction of her work.
"I started thinking about it," Clark says. "I realized New Orleans has its own artists painting the city, and there are a lot of them."
And while she has nothing against New Orleans, in fact, loves it, "I wanted to show the part of Louisiana I know, the place where I grew up."
Chickens still play a big part in Clark's artwork; the story of the rural Pointe Coupee wouldn't be complete without them.
And Louisiana's story needs to includes its dirt roads and fields.
"It's not just the landscape but a way of life," Clark says. "People here don't just go to work, they live it. If you drive through Pointe Coupee on Sundays or even Christmas, you'll see the farmers harvesting sugar cane. This is the Louisiana I know, and it's the one I paint."