Meet Californian artist Lauren Taylor who met her NI firefighter husband in Chile ... and now they've come up with a novel tour idea here

Lauren Taylor has forged a successful career selling gorgeous watercolour illustrations and recently illustrated her first children's book. She tells Linda Stewart how love prompted her to move from the US to Newry, about her new business venture and her famous blogger sister

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Lauren painting at Fairy Glen, Rostrevor

Lauren painting at Fairy Glen, Rostrevor

From left, Blayne Hayes with his girlfriend Samantha (Lauren’s sister), Lauren and husband James, Lauren’s mum Judie Engel, brother George, niece Clementine, sister Julia and Julia’s husband Thomas

From left, Blayne Hayes with his girlfriend Samantha (Lauren’s sister), Lauren and husband James, Lauren’s mum Judie Engel, brother George, niece Clementine, sister Julia and Julia’s husband Thomas

Lauren Taylor with her husband James Patterson

Lauren Taylor with her husband James Patterson

Lauren on her wedding day

Lauren on her wedding day

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Lauren painting at Fairy Glen, Rostrevor

A few years ago, California-born Lauren Taylor was backpacking around the world, forging a successful career as an artist and illustrator while indulging her travel bug.

Working as a freelance artist meant she could tour the world, travelling across Latin America and Europe while running her business out of a suitcase, creating her beautiful whimsical art wherever she could find a table and a Wi-Fi connection.

These days, Lauren's career has gone from strength to strength - but the locations are rather different. Instead of working in coffee shops in Buenos Aires or on a catamaran in Colombia, she's married and putting down roots in her new home of Newry with husband James Patterson (35) and puppy Maya.

The couple met while travelling, then embarked on a long-distance relationship before marrying in 2018 at the gorgeous Arcadia Cafe in Portrush.

And this week they've just announced that they will be running bespoke tours of Northern Ireland and the Republic aimed at artists and other creatives, starting their first tour this May and taking in their beloved north coast.

I love the ruggedness of the coastline up there and all the towns, you know, Portrush and Bushmills and Ballycastle.

"It will be eight days visiting the northern half of Ireland and it's for artists and creatives, so basically painters, writers, photographers of any level," Lauren explains.

"We want it to be inclusive and not just limited to one style. So basically, we're going to spend half the day somewhere really beautiful creating and the other half of the day sightseeing."

While Lauren married and settled in Northern Ireland in 2018, it's clear the travel bug hasn't entirely left her. She got to know the region while the pair were conducting their long-distance romance and made a point of discovering as many places as possible.

"I guess coming back and forth here made it easier - it kind of seemed like a transition period. I got to know the people here and became familiar with the area, and I was able to explore and do my own thing as well.

"I've always been pretty adaptable, moving around and going to new places, and I've always made it a point to try and find new places to explore. But especially being from California, big drives are normal and don't bother me. I travel to Belfast once a week, doing a life drawing group at the Crescent Arts Centre and I used to go down to Dublin once a week for life drawing and people thought I was crazy! Like when we got our puppy in Kilkenny and I said, 'oh, let's go down and check her out' - James said, 'It's a five-hour round trip', and I said 'that's okay'!

"We've done quite a bit of exploring around here. I think travel is still a big part of both our lives - I guess now we just have a bit more of a base."

Lauren, who has a brother and two sisters, and grew up in the agricultural Central Valley in California, two hours east of San Francisco. She studied International Business at Hawaii Pacific University and admits she longed to travel from an early age.

"When I was in college, I studied abroad for a year in Spain, and did a bit of travelling around Europe while I was there," she says.

"It was actually the first time I visited Ireland as well, for just a few days in 2010. But when I graduated from college in Hawaii, I stayed there for a couple of years and started working for a news station as a morning show producer.

"I enjoyed it, but my day started at 3am and I got a bit burned out. I feel that to stay in that sort of industry, you have to just be totally passionate about it - but news wasn't my passion."

At the same time, Lauren says, she was dabbling in art on the side and was keen to travel while she was young and didn't have any commitments - so she decided to combine the two.

"I decided to move back home to California and save up and then go and travel a bit. So I went back home and got a job with Apple, and was working and painting around it and started selling prints of my art.

"And I thought 'This is kind of cool, I could do this while I'm travelling'. I had a printer that I was using in the States that would ship the prints for me so I didn't have to ship them myself."

It was about a year later that the fateful meeting with James took place when Lauren was travelling in Chile, South America.

"We were in a town called Valparaiso and that's actually where I met my husband, James," she says. "He was also travelling and we were staying in the same hostel - we started chatting and just hit it off immediately and spent four days together. But then after that, we had plans to go separate directions.

"So we said, I think we'll both be in Columbia about the same time, so we'll try and meet up. About two months later, we did meet up and then we travelled for a few months together.

"And that was just kind of it! We did long distance for a couple of years, and I came here in the summer and he would get time off in the winter and come to visit me."

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Brush strokes: Lauren Taylor

Brush strokes: Lauren Taylor

Brush strokes: Lauren Taylor

During that time, Lauren's business, Lauren Taylor Creates, was going from strength to strength, branching out from painting delicate watercolours into illustration work for products and packaging, branding and social media.

"I was painting full time and creating - I do mostly watercolour work and some oil as well," she says.

"It was nice because it was a career that I could do while I was moving around so it kind of made it possible for us to be together and for me to come here. And then I moved here just over two years ago. We just got married in June and now we're living in Northern Ireland."

Lauren describes her firefighter husband James as passionate and hard-working.

"He went back to school a few years ago and got a law degree as well. He's just really the type of person that if he puts his mind to something he does it, which I love," she says.

"And I guess both of us love travelling and you get to know a person pretty well when you're travelling with them. We spent a few months together in Colombia and we just totally clicked. I mean, he just makes me laugh so hard, I remember my face hurt at first - I couldn't stop smiling. I'm very, very lucky!"

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Lauren Taylor with her husband James Patterson

Lauren Taylor with her husband James Patterson

Lauren Taylor with her husband James Patterson

Lauren has made a point of exploring her adopted country as much as she can and loves the north coast.

"I love the ruggedness of the coastline up there and all the towns, you know, Portrush and Bushmills and Ballycastle. And that drive, going up past Larne and Carnlough - it's just so beautiful," she says.

"There's the Fairy Glen in Rostrevor - there's a little trail next to Kilbroney along the river and it's so peaceful and beautiful for walks. We love Murlough beach and the sand dunes. Even the towpath is so nice - I could go and jump in on so many different spots along it. I love being outside and there are so many places to go for a walk or hike."

One particularly memorable spot was Downhill Beach, overlooked by the Mussenden Temple, where their spectacular wedding photographs were taken.

"We drove over from Portrush before we got married to get some photos and we got so lucky because the summer wasn't great weather-wise, but the day we got married was absolutely beautiful," Lauren says.

"But when we were on the beach, the sky turned really dark and dramatic and it made these really wild kind of photos, which was really cool."

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Lauren on her wedding day

Lauren on her wedding day

paula ohara

Lauren on her wedding day

The setting was the perfect place to show off Lauren's unusual emerald green wedding dress, designed by Una Rodden.

She explains why she chose a non-traditional dress: "I went dress shopping a few places in the States and then one or two places here - and I just didn't love how I looked or felt in white. I had this idea of wearing green and it stuck in my head - I thought about it for at least six months to a year.

"I knew someone who got married about a year before me - Una had made her dress and it was beautiful, and she couldn't say enough good things about that. So I reached out and she was a dream to work with. We totally clicked immediately and she understood what I wanted and she made the most amazing dress, I felt incredible."

Creativity clearly runs in the family - Lauren's sister Julia Engel is the figure behind the hugely successful Gal Meets Glam fashion collection and lifestyle blog, and has more than one million Instagram followers. Lauren says the family are very proud of her.

"She started her blog when she was in college, and she's just the hardest-working person," she explains. "She's always, always working and she's just so passionate about clothing and fashion and travel."

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From left, Blayne Hayes with his girlfriend Samantha (Lauren’s sister), Lauren and husband James, Lauren’s mum Judie Engel, brother George, niece Clementine, sister Julia and Julia’s husband Thomas

From left, Blayne Hayes with his girlfriend Samantha (Lauren’s sister), Lauren and husband James, Lauren’s mum Judie Engel, brother George, niece Clementine, sister Julia and Julia’s husband Thomas

From left, Blayne Hayes with his girlfriend Samantha (Lauren’s sister), Lauren and husband James, Lauren’s mum Judie Engel, brother George, niece Clementine, sister Julia and Julia’s husband Thomas

Meanwhile, Lauren illustrated her first children's book last year and is about to start her second.

"I worked with the author, Morgan Hunt, in the States, and the book is called Tales of Wonder (left). It's about a little girl who travels in her dreams, and she travels to each of the seven continents," she says.

"And when Morgan reached out to me about illustrating her book, and she told me what it was about, I was like 'Oh my God, that was me as a kid. I read the story and it was so much fun coming up with these concepts of where she was and what she was doing and, doing ballet with animals in the Serengeti and flying over a night sky.

"I'm about to start illustrating my second book, which is really exciting as well.

"I'm also working on a collection of artwork inspired by our honeymoon. We went to South Africa in September, and went on safari, and it was just so beautiful.

"So I'm working on a collection of art right now that that's inspired by that journey too."

But for now, she's looking forward to introducing other creatives to her adopted home, with the first LT Creative Tours event starting on May 19.

The itinerary includes stops in Carlingford, the Mournes, Causeway Coast, as well as Sligo and Galway.

"We wanted to show off the places that we love and that we visit often," Lauren says.

"We really want to have places that are bit unusual and different along the tour to stop and spend a couple of hours painting, or taking photos or sitting and writing and thinking, and giving people space to work on their own style of art and create.

"Instead of it being like a workshop and teaching, we just want people to be able to come and do their own style of art," she adds.

Lauren says she was taken aback by the friendly reception she's had in Ireland.

"It was kind of weird to me first, how people like strangers come up and just talk to you.

"It's just nice, even when you're out for a walk and you're saying hello to everyone. I just find people here to be really helpful and friendly and that was really nice.

"It was a pleasant surprise - and now when I go back to the States and I'm going around saying hello to everyone!"

For more information on Lauren's work, the Tales of Wonder book and upcoming tours, visit www.laurentaylorcreates.com or Instagram @ltcreativetours

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