Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 25, 2016

Illustrator Saturday – Laura Wood

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Laura Wood was born and raised in Italy and after completing a Bachelor of Cinema and Multimedia, moved to Australia in search of new experiences. Once in Australia, she completed a diploma of Illustration and hasn’t stopped drawing ever since.

Laura Wood is an independent illustrator living between Australia and UK and proudly represented by the lovely people at Good Illustration Agency.

She grew up devouring books, drawing on the kitchen walls of her parents house and imagining animals could talked to her and became friends.

She spends her days creating visual worlds for written thoughts and truly enjoying every minute.

In particular, her favourite part of the illustration process is the moment she stumbles upon things in a text that weren’t there before (or maybe they were just hiding between a comma and an exclamation mark). Or the minute she runs into the right colour palette for a story. That’s when the world begins to really come to life. Oh, and did I mention bumping into funny (and furry!) characters in amusing stories?  That really makes her day.

She’s had the pleasure to work with amazing clients creating work for picture books, educational publications, digital apps as well as editorial work.

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Here is Laura discussing her process:

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So first thing I do is drawing onto paper.

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When I have my sketch ready, I trace the final drawing using a light box.

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Then I scan my artwork and open it in Photoshop.

I adjust contrast using the levels (image > adjustment > levels) in order to get rid of the  paper texture and eventual dirty pencil bits.

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Then I separate the white background from the lines, so that I can treat them separately afterwards.

There’s lots of different ways to do this. The easiest way for me is to to Channels, click on the level named Gray while pressing the CMD key at the same time (that’s for Mac computers… if you have a PC the key should be CTRL).

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This will let you select all the pixels in the image.

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After the pixels are selected, just press the Delete key on your keyboard and all the white of the paper should vanished. You are left with the lines on a transparent background.

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By the way, in order to do this, make sure to have the image on grayscale mode (image > mode > grayscale). You can always change the mode once this passage is done.

After doing that, I start colouring. I always paint an element at the time. Each element is on a different layer, so it will be easy later on, in case I want to make changes.

I start with adding just a flat colour. After that, I add shadows and highlights. They go on different layers as well. These layers are linked to the corresponding flat colour in a way that a clipping mask is created.

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To do this, it is very easy: press OPTION on a mac keyboard (ALT for PC users) and position the mouse in the middle of the two layers you want to link together.

You will see that an arrow and a white squared will appear. Click and you will see that the upper layers will be magically linked to the first underneath. This means that everything you draw in the top layer will stay between the edges of the first one.

To paint my shadows and highlights over the flat base, I use a textured brush. I like to use a mix of brushes that you can find in the Photoshop presets (or download from the web, or you can create your own!)

I like to keep everything organised (I need to since I can end up having more than 100 layers!) and so I like to create folders to keep all the layers of an element together.

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I also like to use textures, in order to make my piece look more organic.

I really love using watercolour or paper textures because I reckon they spread colours very nicely.

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Once I’ve painted everything, I take care of lines. I like to colour the lines with a similar but slightly darker tone. In order to be able to affect the lines only, you need to select the lines layer and press the little square right above the layers near the word Lock.

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Once the layer is locked, you will be able to paint the lines of your drawing without affecting anything else.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been professionally illustrating since 2012, so it has been 4 years… already!! Time flies🙂

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What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

I had to check my invoice history in order to reply to this one! According to the documents, my first paid commission was for a British quarterly magazine called Mslexia. I remember it being a very easy and enjoyable first commission…

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Where did you study art?

I never really studied any type of figurative art, until I was 26 years old. I finally managed to enrol in an art course when I moved to Melbourne, Australia. The course lasted 2 years and I’m really glad I had the possibility as well as the guts to leave my day job and do it (it was a very difficult and scary decision to take, so much uncertainty!)

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What did you study there?

The course was a Diploma of Illustration and we had the opportunity to study illustration from all sorts of different angles, from advertising to children’s books as well as different medium techniques. I loved it!

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Do you feel College helped develop your style?

It definitely did. Mostly because during my studies I had time to experiment with all sorts of things and techniques. I reckon that’s the key to eventually developing your own style.

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What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

By the time I finished my course, I’ve already started working as an illustrator, even if only part time. This happened mainly thanks to my agent who sent me quite a bit of work. I also started doing illustration for a few magazines, which is something I don’t do that much anymore.

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Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?

Not in a direct sense. I didn’t received any commissions through the school but being immerse in an environment populated by teachers who are working illustrators was very useful to understand how the illustration world worked as well as get in touch with people in the field and get addressed in many directions.

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Have you seen your work change since you left school?

Oh dear, yes! But in a very organic and natural way, I absolutely didn’t force the chance… it just happened slowly. The method I use to produce my illustrations is still very similar, the biggest chance I think happened to the colour palette. At first, my colours were very muted, pale and a lot darker. Then I started working for the children’s industry, and that played a part. Nowadays, my palette is a lot more bold, vibrant and bright. This allows me to get commissions for very fun books full of humour (my favourites!)

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When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always liked the art in children’s books and I knew I definitely wanted to have a go at that.

The type of illustration I was starting to produce during my course was also quite children’s books like.

Also, I’ve always been interested in narrative form of arts (my first Uni career was Cinema) so in that sense children’s books illustration came very naturally.

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What was your first book you illustrated?

The first book I illustrated was called “Twas the night before Christmas”. I did that in 2012, in the last few months I was finishing my illustration Diploma.

Although quite terrifying, I was lucky it was a very short early reader kind of book (5 spreads and a cover) so that helped me a great deal not to feel overwhelmed by my first professional job.

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How did that contract come about?

It was the very first job my agent proposed me.

I was quite scared to dive into it but since it was a very short book, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to start. And it definitely was! Also having my agent behind my back was definitely helpful since I could solely focused on the job without worrying about the contractual side of things.

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Did you do other types of illustrating before you got the book contract?

At that point I probably did a few private commissions and a couple of jobs for some local businesses. Doing that was incredibly useful in order for me to build up the confidence to step into the professional world of publishing.

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How many picture books have you illustrated?

Oh, I think I lost track! In terms of picture books that have been already published, I think it’s about 9 or 10 of them. There are a couple more that haven’t seen the light of day yet. Also, I’ve illustrated a few other stories for a couple of treasury books, a book for older children, a recipe book for kids and a few educational titles.

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Have you ever written and illustrated you own picture book? 

No, not yet! But that’s on my list of things I would like to achieve at some point in my career…

I find writing and drawing two extremely different activities that require a very different set of skills.

Lots of people assume that an illustrator that works on children’s books might be able to do both, but it’s often not the case.

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How did you get the contract for Eve and Elly?

I was contacted directly by the publisher of the book, Random House Australia, and they told me they had a story for me and asked me if I was interested in working with them on it. I certainly were!

I have been sending promotional materials (postcards, tear sheets, emails, you name it) to Random House Australia since 2011. In the past, they usually got back to me saying they liked my work but they never gave me any projects to work on. When it comes to illustration, I firmly believe constance is the key, and I can get quite stubborn. So for the past 4 years I regularly sent them my promotional material and finally last year they contacted me about Eve and Elly

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How did you get the contract for Echidna Jim Went For A Swim?

Echidna Jim Went For A Swim is the second book I did with Scholastic Australia. When they offered me the title, we already worked together on a previous book called The Cow Tripped Over The Moon. I had found the experience of working with them so enjoyable that I immediately accepted.

And I’m so glad I did because I had such a blast working on Echidna… I had the opportunity to draw all my favourite Australia animals at once!

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What book do you think was your biggest success?  

For now, I can definitely say the book called “The Cow Tripped Over The Moon” written by Tony Wilson and published by Scholastic Australia has been probably my biggest success to date. The book has been recently shortlisted for the CBCA 2016 Award, a national annual book award happening in Australia.

Even just being in the shortlisted, it’s such a great honour for such big Australian award in children literature. Definitely a dream come true from my school days!!

The winners will be announce in August… so I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed till then!

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Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

Yes, I did think about it since English is not my first language. I often thought a wordless book could help me a great deal to produce a story without worrying to much about using the appropriate words.

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Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect?

Yes, I work with an illustration agency called Good Illustration. They’re based in London and we’ve been collaborating for about 4 years now. I really like working with them, they always give me really cool projects and they are very present and helpful.

I was very lucky to find them, but to be fair I should say they were the ones to find me! While I was still studying, they happened to read an article on a popular blog that was featuring my work. They got in contact with me and that’s how our collaboration started.

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Do you illustrate full time?

I do! I’m very lucky to have enough work to be able to illustrate full time.

Since I finished my studies, this was actually my goal and I’m very proud I’ve managed to achieve it.

However, I must admit it’s not easy. Being able to secure myself enough work to have a proper income and, at the same time, trying to not being overwhelmed by having on too many projects, it’s quite challenging. Finding the right life/work balance has become my biggest goal…

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Do you have a favourite medium you use?

I’m in love with dry media, especially coloured pencils. I like the free, sketchy look you can achieve with those. I wish I would use more of those in my illustrations… that’s definitely something on my long-term to do list.

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Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I do sometimes, but not always. I usually research visual references for specific things I need to draw, like the shape of an animal, or the position of a hand in a specific position.

However, sometimes at the beginning of a project I tent to start planning the layout of the book and getting ideas for each of the spreads. Doing this, I don’t necessarily research pictures at first, instead I let my imagination work it through to see what it comes out of it.

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Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Yes, I use Photoshop in ALL of my work. I hand drawn all my illustrations and then I colour them digitally using Photoshop. I have a lot of personal and custom brushes in it which I’ve found and created over the years.

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Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes, I do have a graphic table (actually I’ve got two!). I use it everyday to paint my illustrations digitally. It’s a Wacom Intous4 and it’s one of my favourite tools ever!

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Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?

I usually don’t work with self publishing authors. I definitely prefer to work with publishing houses since it’s much easier and safer for me, and to be completely honest, they have bigger budgets.

However, not long ago I worked with a self-publishing author on the cover of his book.

In that case, I was happy to make an exception and work with him since I really liked the story he had written and more over he was incredibly passionated about the project. Two things I couldn’t really say no to…! I had a really good experience and, with the right project, I would be happy to do it again.

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Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Yes, in the last few years I had the opportunity to do some illustrations for a few editorial publications- Nature and Health magazine, Child magazine, Thriving Family, Green Parent, to name a few. I love doing editorial pieces, it requires a different mindset than books, and I find them to be a nice break from the narrative work of books.

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Do you have a studio in your house?

No, I don’t work from home… I tried a while ago and found out it’s not really for me. Being at home all day drives me a bit crazy so I’d rather have a studio elsewhere.

At the moment, I have a desk in a really amazing studio near the centre of Bristol. It’s an open space studio that I share with other talented illustrators and designers. Very productive and inspirational place!

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Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

Actually, I have nor paint or brushes in my studio! I have those at home for when I want to experiment in my spare time. I guess the really essential things in my studio are my computer, my tablet, my scanner and my printer. Without those, it would be difficult for me to produce the kind of work I do. Paper and pencils are quite essential too tho!

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Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

I like to get up early-ish in the morning, go to my studio and have a 9-5 kind of routine. I think that’s the best way for me to stay productive, not end up procrastinating too much and stay sane!

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Any exciting projects on the horizon?

At the moment, I’m illustrating a game board for an American company. It’s something quite exciting since I’ve never done that before! I’m also in the process of signing some contracts for a few new books with Scholastic Australia… Really excited to be working with them again soon!

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Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Oh gosh, absolutely! I don’t think I would have ever become an illustrator without the internet.

Thanks to it, I was able to find have my portfolio on display for the world to see (my website), find an agent and eventually find work.

More importantly, through the internet I was able to reach all sorts of clients (big or small, local or international). Other than passion and motivation, that’s basically all I’ve ever needed to start my illustration business.

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What are your career goals?

I think my career goals are constantly changing. A few years ago my goal was to become a full time working children’s book illustrator. Now that I finally got there, I’m setting myself other goals, such as writing my own books and working with specific authors I admire, and as I mentioned before, find a good life/work balance… the toughest one of all!

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Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

I don’t use any particular paper or art material, so unfortunately I don’t have anything to recommend in that sense. All my paintings are done on the computer, which is really handy when it comes to commercial jobs.

My main tip for a digital painting would be to keep everything in layers, no matter what program you’re using. The possibility of going back and change things is just a massive lifesaver every single time!

There’s no such thing as too many layers!

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Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career? 

I think the best piece of advice I received and that I would like to give back is that you can be the best illustrator on Earth but unless people know you exist, you will never get work your way.

So even if you think your portfolio is not perfect yet, or if you have never done a professional job, or you believe you’re not good enough, go out there anyway: you’re get a website, contact people, clients, businesses, send out your promo packages… Someone will like it enough to give you work and that’s how you begin and move forward.

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Thank you Laura for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Laura’s work, you can visit her at website at: http://www.laurawoodillustration.com/

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Laura. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Your pictures are whimsical and delightful, Laura!
    Thanks for sharing your process and your story.

  2. Love your work Laura – so appealing! Best of luck on your future projects.

  3. I love your work, Laura. I need an illustrator like you to illustrate my book.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Patricia

  4. Great work, Laura!

  5. Wonderfully whimsical work!

  6. What a great insight into the work of Laura Wood


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