Laura Jacobsen went to art school at The Columbus College of Art and Design, and acquired a B.F.A. in illustration. She uses pastel pencils, watercolors and her computer to create her illustrations. Below are clients she has worked with:
Publishers: Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press, Harcourt Educational, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Rigby, Rourke, Scholastic Educational, Scott Foresman, Steck-Vaughn, Zaner-Bloser, Houghton Mifflin Educational, Pauline Books, and Media.
Magazines: Spider, Cricket, Ladybug, Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Appleseeds!, Odyssey, Ask My Friend, On the Line.
Here is Laura explaining her process:
The steps I take for my illustration work are pretty straightforward.
I start with thumbnails, these are usually decipherable only too me, and sometimes even I forget what I meant by the scribbles and blobs.
I know lots of illustrators who do tight little renderings for their thumbnails, that’s not me. once i get the idea and composition loosely down, I want to jump right to the finished drawing. My drawings are done by hand on parchment and I layer sheet after sheet on top of a larger version of my thumbnail, tightening the drawing step by step.
Sometimes i feel a piece of the drawing needs re-working so I can just draw that little piece, scan it in and layer it over the finished piece in Painter and color that. (see hand redo.)
Once I’m happy with the drawing, I scan it into Photoshop and clean it up, maybe tone the line, sometimes add a background color.
I then open it in Corel Painter and use mostly the Watercolor and real Pastel tool to finish it.
Finished illustration below with gas bubbles.
I rarely print anything anymore, art usually gets sent as a digital file directly to the client.
Close-up of finished illustration.
Couple Book Covers
How long have you been illustrating?
I have been freelancing for fifteen years, but it seems, much, much longer.
How did you decide to attend Columbus College of Art and Design, and get a B.F.A. in illustration?
My high school art teacher suggested I go check out the school, so my mom and I went down and took the tour. I can vividly remember saying on our way out the door afterwards, ” I HAVE to learn how to do this, I just have to.” I originally started at CCAD in Retail Advertising, but at the end of sophomore year realized I was bored to death in all of the classes in my major so I switched to illustration.
Can you tell us a little bit about that school?
It has been quite a while since I was there (sigh) but, CCAD is a four and a half year program in several art majors. All students take a freshman foundation year before deciding on a major. It is very rigorous and not for the faint hearted. Since I attended, they have added a Master’s program which I wish they would also offer ONLINE (hint, hint CCAD) and have many new buildings, gallery spaces and upperclassmen apartments.
What were you favorite classes?
My favorites were Illustration and Figure Drawing. Lettering not so much.
Did the School help you get work?
What did you do right after you graduated?
Right after graduating, no really, about two weeks after, I got married and then moved to Arizona for hubby’s graduate school. I worked at a fake stained glass shop for several years, drawing patterns and constructing aforementioned fake stained glass windows. It was really hard work, a lot of heavy lifting of glass etc., and really sucked the creativity out of me. One can only draw a howling coyote so many times before one dies a little inside, and if I had to do it again today, I would get a nice sit down job answering phones.
Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced you style?
Not at all. my biggest style influences were my favorite childhood illustrators like Leo and Diane Dillon and Trina Schart Hyman. Of course, I went to art school BEFORE the internet. I am so envious of students today and the vast amounts of inspiration and knowledge at their fingertips.
What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
We were dirt poor, but we went out to dinner to celebrate.
What was the first illustration work you did for children?
The very first freelance project I had was for Highlights for Children Magazine. At the time they had these special inserts kid’s could subscribe to with the magazine, Mysteries or Adventure etc. I did a couple of those to start.
How did that come about?
As I recall, it was just from a mailing I did of samples.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?
I’ve always wanted to do books, since I chose Illustration as a major. I grew up in a house filled with books, where trips to the library were a weekly outing. I never really gave any thought to anything else.
How many picture books have you illustrated and what was the first picture book you did?
I have illustrated five trade books and about a zillion educational readers. My first picture book was My Brother Loved Snowflakes for Boyds Mills Press.
How did you that opportunity come about?
I met Tim Gillner, the Art Director at an SCBWI conference. he was judging the portfolio show, which was a much smaller deal than it is now, and i won one of the categories. He contacted me a few months later about a possible book.
You have a pretty long list of publisher that you have worked with. Did you do book jackets for some of them?
Most of my work has been educational publishing. The covers are usually included with the project.
What type of things did you do for the educational publishers on your list?
I’ve done readers and workbooks and even flashcards.
How did you get those jobs?
Any more, those come from my website and the relationships I’ve built with design firms and publishers.
What was your first big success?
I’m still waiting for that.
Do you think you will ever try to write and illustrate a picture book?
I am working on it right now!
Were the illustration work you did for children’s magazines one of your first successes?
Yes. I did a bunch of covers early on for a Mennonite publication called On the Line. I got fifty bucks per cover and a lot of experience. I still remember finally landing work with Spider magazine. that was a major goal for me, as I had grown up with Cricket and loved the publication.
Do you have an artist rep or an agent? Could you tell us how the two of you connected?
I don’t currently have a rep.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
Mail out postcards and keep my website updated. I have work on a few other sites, but usually find word of mouth and postcards are the best bet.
What is your favorite medium to use?
I use digital watercolor and pastel pencil for my color, but my favorite medium is still the old fashioned pencil.
Has that changed over time?
I used to work in traditional media, swearing I would NEVER go digital. Then some of my work got smeared in transit, so I bought a Wacom Cintiq, went digital and have never looked back.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
My computer. Which seems strange given my initial resistance to it!
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I spend almost all of my time doing SOMETHING related to my work. if I’m not on a deadline, the I am creating promo pieces or now, writing (I’m working on a middle grade novel) or doing some sort of administrative work, mailing lists, website, blogging etc.
Are you open to working with self-published authors?
I am if they are members of SCBWI, have done their homework on what it takes to self-publish, have a solid story and the money to pay me.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Absolutely, without a doubt.
Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?
Some. I scan my drawings, which i still do by hand, into Photoshop and make any adjustments and clean them up there, then I use Corel Painter to color.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Yes, the Wacom Cintiq.
Do you think your style has changed over the years?
Definitely. I think my drawing has improved a lot, and I’ve gotten better about letting go of outlining.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I’d like to be published as a writer and perhaps as a writer/illustrator of a picture book or six.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a middle grade novel and a picture book dummy for my own manuscript, in addition to some educational work.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
I just love my Cintiq. i always had trouble with the regular Wacom tablet, my brain couldn’t adjust to drawing in my lap, but seeing it on the screen. With the Cintiq you are drawing right on the screen just like a piece of paper. I am saving up for one of the new wireless ones!
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Network as much as you can. Get out and attend conferences and local events, learn, learn, learn and don’t stop drawing!
Had to show off a few of Laura’s Black & White Sketches with a splash of color.
Thank you Laura for sharing your process, journey, and expertise with us. I hope you will keep us up-to-date with all your future successes.