My guest today is Laura Diehl, an American fantasy artist currently living in Germany. Laura illustrates children books. Like many artists, she’s enjoyed drawing since she was very young. She used to paper the walls of her parents’ dining room with her crayon mermaids and unicorns, and her love for such creatures eventually became a career.
Laura, what started you as a fantasy artist and book illustrator?
I first knew I wanted to be a book illustrator in 3rd grade, after our school principle read Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book The Polar Express to us.
Are you a full-time artist? What else do you do?
Yes, I do freelance illustration as my day job: fantasy book covers and interiors for clients. As my art hobby, I’m working on a children fantasy webcomic called StarSpun.
You seem to work mostly as a children fantasy artist. Why children fantasy? Ever tried to branch out into adult fantasy?
Children’s fantasy art is where I’m most happy. I love the bright colors that accompany fantasy subject matter for younger ages. Earlier in my career, I did all sorts of fantasy art but I found I really didn’t like subject matter that was very dark or gritty, which eliminated much of adult mainstream fantasy.
Do you like drawing people or animals? Faces or figures? Or landscape and mood are more important to you?
I like drawing people, especially child characters. Animals are fun too. I tend to prefer figures over just faces. Landscape and mood are extremely important to me in conveying the magic of a scene.
What do you start with: a theme or a story?
It depends if the art in question is personal work or commissioned by a client. For my personal work, I normally start with an intriguing theme or visually striking idea. For client work, I generally take manuscripts that don’t yet have covers and craft something fitting.
For a book cover, what do you need to know about the book? Do you read the book first?
Again it depends. Some clients have very specific cover images in mind already, others want me to skim the manuscript and suggest cover ideas… and sometimes the book isn’t even finished yet, so I am just given a few paragraphs and descriptions to work from.
What is your process from an idea to a book cover? What tools do you use? Do you use stock images or create everything from scratch?
I create everything from scratch for my custom paintings. My process is pretty set at this point. I generally start from either client descriptions or the manuscript itself. From this, I work up a number of small possible covers in a series of thumbnail sketches. The client and I then choose the strongest of these to take to the rough sketch phase. In the rough sketch, I block out the elements more distinctly and clarify the composition. At this point, I gather many reference images and often shoot some of my own as well for the figures. I then use these things to draw a much tighter and cleaner sketch that will be the blueprint of sorts for the cover. This tight sketch then gets colored to show a rough idea of what the color scheme and lighting will be for the cover. Upon client approval of these, I start in on the final painting, which is a good 50% of the project time. At this stage, it is the meticulous matter of combing through the image and lighting and painting each element. The final touch at the end is any lighting or magic effects that the scene warrants.
How important is font for a book cover?
Very important. It needs to work with the image and also be very clear for the reader.
What do you think about pre-made covers?
I guess they work for some authors in a pinch with very limited budgets, but I can’t see them being nearly as satisfying for authors or potential readers as a painting that is made custom for the book.
Do you work exclusively on computer? On paper? Which method do you like best?
My workflow is 99% digital, using Photoshop and a big Wacom Intuos. Sometimes though, I will start an image with some ink-drawn thumbnails in my sketchbook, which I photograph with my phone and bring into Photoshop.
What is your favorite image manipulating software?
Hands-down, it’s Photoshop.
I looked at many artistic portfolios and I noticed an interesting trend: work done on commission is often better than work done from the artist’s imagination. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I disagree. From my experience, it’s the other way around. I’m always drawn to the pieces that are most purely from an artist’s own vision. With commissioned work, this can sometimes get muddied by client and project constraints, which may result in less strong work. The images of mine that have gathered the most acclaim, awards, and attention, have all been personal pieces.
What social media do you like best? Use most?
Facebook at the moment. I have a growing fan following there and l like how I’m not as limited in the images or amount of text I can post.
You write a webcomic StarSpun. Tell me about it.
The genre of the webcomic is children’s fantasy. I’ve been posting it online since June of 2014, so it’s a little over a year old. The idea was originally inspired by a single personal image I painted of two children by a river full of stars. I started asking myself questions about these characters and their world, and the idea grew and evolved into the story I have now, which I’m both writing and illustrating.
I’m not by any means the first one to do a webcomic, though I am a little unusual in the scrolling format and painted style. I’ve got a number of fans who subscribe for updates via an e-mail list but many more who keep up with the comic through social media. I’m releasing the comic one chapter at a time and trying to average about one chapter every two months. They are very time intensive to create. Chapter 7 is just about ready for release.
Do people use your art without permission? For example, on Pinterest? Or on their websites? What do you think of that?
As long as it is properly credited/linked back to my site, the art is not displayed for commercial purposes, and the original image is not altered, I’m happy with social media sharing. It always saddens me, when the artists aren’t credited along with their beautiful art.
Thank you, Laura, for talking to me and sharing your charming paintings.
See more of Laura Diehl’s art here:
Laura’s StarSpun webcomic
Laura’s deviantArt page