DUNEDIN, FL — At a time when the world is encouraged to be socially distant, a Pinellas County mother and son have found a way to grow closer through wearable art that carries a message of hope and kindness.
“We all need a little more love and hope during this bleak and uncertain time,” said Laureen Austin. “Our mission is to inspire you to feel good and appreciate what’s really important to you. We believe spreading hope can be contagious in a healthy way.”
Laureen Austin, a semi-retired health care manager, and her 27-year-old son, Nathaniel, a full-time multimedia artist, started the Artbond Exchange as a way to strengthen their own bond through their mutual love of art as well as share positive, even humorous messages to chase away fear and anxiety.
“Nathaniel and I have shared a love of art since he was 2 or 3 years old,” said Laureen Austin. “As a child, I liked to sketch and, as an adult, I dabbled in watercolors and acrylics for fun. But I recognized that Nathaniel had a natural talent and I wanted to foster it.”
After graduating from computer design school in Orlando, Nathaniel Austin has worked as a full-time artist in various media ranging from the high-tech digital art to the ancient craft of pottery.
Laureen Austin said she and her son often talked about collaborating on an art project when the family lived in Atlanta and after they moved to Dunedin in 2009, but there never seemed to be enough time.
Then the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt.
For Laureen, who lives in Dunedin, and Nathaniel, who works full time for a pottery studio in St. Petersburg, the pandemic reminded them of the importance of family. They decided to finally launch that business they’d spent years discussing.
Communicating through emails and text messages, the mother and son exchange ideas, designs and rough sketches.
“It’s an unusual process that connects us,” said Laureen Austin. “We literally share an art bond. I think of a concept, and he’ll develop it.”
Underlying the art are positive messages and symbols, like the monarch butterfly, which represents change.
“Our designs are intended to bring strength, hope and a sense of belonging,” said Laureen Austin. “The world is kind of a dark place right now. There’s so much negativity. We want to use art as a vehicle to bring color back to the world.”
The designs are reproduced on T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, mugs, stickers, face masks and towels that the Austins sell through their online store.
They plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from the Artbond Exchange to a nonprofit organization that aids children in need.