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- author Jackie French

Thursday 13 April 2023

Meet The Illustrator: Laurel Aylesworth

Laurel Aylesworth

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Story-driven, atmospheric, painterly, sensitive, thoughtful.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
Natural light, sketchpads, #6B pencils, picture books for inspiration, and green tea.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I begin all my work with pencil and paper before bringing it into Photoshop. There’s something about that hand to paper connection that is so essential for me. If I try to take a shortcut and head right to the computer, the piece tends to feel a bit lifeless. 
I like seeing smudges and eraser marks in work, so I try and keep that sensibility when I move it into Photoshop.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Michael Sowa (his work is hysterical and yet melancholic at times) Arthur Rackham (the artist’s gateway drug to illustration) Eliza Wheeler (master of watercolor and dip pen).

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
If I could just hang out with Arthur Rackham for an afternoon of sketching and tea drinking, that would be just swell.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
It didn’t even cross my mind that children’s book illustration was a possibility until I met a well-known picture book illustrator and writer couple. While watching our kids play at pickup I learned the wife was a children’s book writer and her husband was an illustrator and I remember my reaction to that was “You can DO that?!” Ever since then I saw it as a possibility, so I started where everyone tells you to start: I joined SCBWI, attended conferences, and took part in a critique group. The most influential and essential thing was to take classes at SVS Learn where I learned the fundamentals of narrative art making. At SVS there’s an online forum where you can post your work for critiques and advice. It’s there that I met four other illustrators who formed our own critique group. I couldn’t do this without their support and extra eyes.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
Honestly, my workspace reflects my overall journey to illustration where, as a mom of two little kids, I had to carve time and table space wherever and whenever I could. Now that I have more time while the kids are in school, I still like to start with my sketchpad at the dining room table for ideation. I wish I had a Pinterest-worthy space, but I want to keep it real for all the moms out there - LOL When I’m ready to bring my work into Photoshop, I work in the basement near the laundry room, which is obviously super glamorous. I snap a pic of my artwork with my phone, and then bring it into Photoshop on my laptop and plug away on the Cintiq.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
My favourite is working out composition, and seeing where I can add details kids can pick up on. I also like the last 1% of the illustration process, putting in little touches of magic here and there. Another fun part is combining traditional media with digital, so some days I’ll make a mess with water colours or charcoal dust on watercoulor paper so I can have some traditional textures to bring into Photoshop. Also, that rare event when you get the perspective right the first try - magic!

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Stay true to what makes YOU happy, not with making art other people are making because it’s trending at the time. Stay away from social media as much as you can. There’s a place for everyone at the table. Take classes (I cannot say enough good things about SVS Learn). Surround yourself with the art you want to create, listen to podcasts so you feel less isolated. The SVS team has a great one called 3 Point Perspective, and I also listen to Giuseppe Castellano’s podcast at the Illustration Department. Most importantly, join a critique group of talented artists who are at or above your level. They will go beyond the “Oh, that looks nice” commentary you always get from your friends. They’ll help you keep on track and give you the support only illustrators understand we need.

As an introverted kid growing up in Vermont, drawing came naturally to Laurel. Instead of going to the mall like most teenagers, you would find her in her room drawing scenes from Lord of the Rings or copying her favourite characters from Elf Quest comics or Arthur Rackham prints. Later, her career path naturally led to graphic design, but something was missing (namely, Elves and magic). Laurel found her calling as an illustrator after becoming a mother and hence, wading knee-deep in picture books from the library. She is inspired by the books crafted by Eliza Wheeler, Guojing, The Fan Brothers, Kelly Murphy, Lee White, and other incredibly talented illustrators. Laurel strives to bring a sense of mystery, magic, and tenderness to her visual storytelling. Today, you can find Laurel still surrounded by picture books, sketch pads and pencils, her daughters, and a cup of jasmine tea at her side. Laurel is looking to partner with publishers to bring to life authors' children book manuscripts, Middle Grade book covers and black and white interiors. Her background includes 15 years as a graphic designer in print and digital media, so she thrives on deadlines, the creative process, and art direction. Laurel finds inspiration in her children, because they are slightly insane and provide endless facial expression reference. Laurel also makes a mean form of vegan bacon.

For more information please visit her website or follow her on instagram.