Laura Wood (lorawood) has had a busy career so far. She’s been splitting her life between working in Melbourne, Australia and London in the United Kingdom after growing up in a house in Italy filed with animals. Laura has a studio in London, and she was kind enough to give us a sneak peek behind the scenes of her life as a freelance illustrator and to discuss her process, her love of drawing animals, and painting digitally.
"...my advice is to start now, immediately, do not wait to actively start behaving like an illustrator. Look for work, commissions and possible clients to contact."
Your palette and charming illustrations are really wonderful. Could you please tell us about the evolution of your style? Has it changed over the years?
First of all, thanks for the lovely words about my illustrations and my colours! I really do like a well thought out colour palette. I think more often than not, colours have the power to decide the success of an illustration, so I usually like to take my time during the rendering process. Since I started my illustration career three years ago, I think my style has slowly, naturally evolved. I’ve always been into earthy colours but I think I used to have a much more brighter palette at first. Now I’d rather chose more limited and muted colours, or at least that’s where I’m heading!
We notice you have a number of works that look like they’re aimed at children or could easily appear in children’s story books. What’s your favourite thing about illustrating for children?
When I draw, I never think I’m drawing for children… I’m just drawing! The style I use is what mostly comes natural to me. However, drawing stories that are aimed for children is a lot of fun since the text is usually quite short and that leaves me a lot of room for imagination. This means I usually have a lot of freedom to decide what the characters and the world they live in looks like.
We love the artwork “Astronaut Astray.” Can you please tell us about how it went from an idea to being uploaded on Redbubble?
I can positively say the “Astronaut Astray” is one of my most successful illustrations so far, I’ve received so much positive feedback for it. I did that illustration while I was still attending my illustration studies at NMIT, in Melbourne.
I wanted to draw something with a very narrative feel to it, something that looked part of a story. I tend to repeat the same process for all the illustrations I make. In the future, I would like to make my process a bit more varied and explore different routes, but for now this is how I usually do it. Once I have the idea in mind, I draw a few small sketches trying to figure out the general design of the image. When I feel like I have my final design, I make a bigger and more defined sketch of it. I tend to work on quite a small scale, not bigger than A4 usually.
I scan my final sketch and make adjustments on the computer (i.e. move things around, re-draw little bits and pieces, etc…). Then, I trace it with a light box, making it into a final line. After, I scan the final line and paint over it in Photoshop. I like to use textured brushes and scanned textures to keep an organic and hand-made feel in my illustrations. I think they match quite well with the textured lines of the drawings, giving an overall hand-made feeling to the whole thing.
What do you think of artists using only tablets or digital medium to create work? Do you feel something is lost?
I always hand-draw all my illustrations. From the very first sketch to the final line, I really like the hand-drawn look of lines done by hand. However, I paint everything on the computer… I never touch a real brush!
I find it a lot easier to paint digitally, especially if I’m doing a commercial job. This way, I know I can be very flexible and make changes very quickly. I’ve always been a big fan of computers and digital mediums. I don’t think the medium someone uses identifies the quality of the work. A medium is just a medium! Creativity and commitment is what makes the real difference, in my opinion. The only thing that gets a bit lost with digital, it’s that “one-of-a-kind” quality that a hand-painted piece has.
We love the work “School Trip” and the way you’ve anthropomorphized the bear and owl. What do you enjoy about animating animals in this way, and why do you think viewers enjoy them so much?
Animals are my favourite thing to draw. Maybe because I really like them in real life! I really enjoy drawing anthropomorphised animals, they are so cute and funny. There is a universal appeal to them and that’s why they make such good characters in children stories. Also, I think children like them so much because it’s a lot easier to identify with them instead of a specific boy or girl.
Do you find there is an escapist or therapeutic aspect to making the illustrations you do? Could you tell us about your relationship to art-making and why you love it so much?
Working on an illustration, drawing, and painting are things I find extremely pleasant and relaxing. Instead of escapism, I would call it introspection, because it gives me a lot of time to spend in my own company and look what’s inside my own head.
People often ask me if I get bored working by myself and not having colleagues to work with. I find it’s a perfect combination: spending time in my own head during the day, and socialising with my friends and the people I love at night. An absolute winner!
"Working on an illustration, drawing and painting are things I find extremely pleasant and relaxing. Instead of escapism, I would call it introspection, because it gives me a lot of time to spend in my own company and look what's inside my own head."
What advice would you give to new artists and illustrators? What do you wish you had known 5 or 10 years ago about making a living off your illustrations?
Regarding starting out, my first tip for someone that is about to get out of college is to not wait until you’ve finished college to promote yourself or find the first commissions. An art degree doesn’t make any difference in the illustration world, so my advice is to start now, immediately, do not wait to actively start behaving like an illustrator. Look for work, commissions, and possible clients to contact.
I would highly recommend wannabe illustrators to get a proper professional website (Behance is good to share stuff with other peers, but not so much as a professional window for your work to show to a client). Having one helped me enormously. Then you could start emailing clients you would like to work with. A nice brief email introducing yourself with a link to your new shiny website will do. Most of them might not reply, but some will! And those might become your first clients… Also, please don’t give up. Just don’t. Because that’s the key to success.
If you could only use three art tools for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I would probably chose pencils, paper, and the drawing tablet, which are exactly the ones I’m already currently using!