In my ongoing search for more artists to join the flock, I often encounter a number whose works I admire, yet for every dozen of those there are one or two artists whose work resonates with me on another level.
Often times the reason for that resonance is difficult to discern, if not an outright mystery. Something about the work speaks to a deep down part of me.
It’s these latter artists that I tend to invite.
I certainly continue to admire the work of the others, but these are the artists who inspire me in some way, who connect with me beyond my mere appreciation.
I recently wrote a blog post and alluded to my Other Cool Birds project and a writer friend replied “Sometimes the words create a work of art in our minds and sometimes a work of art encourages the words to pour forth. Either way, beautiful things happen . . .”
And she’s right.
Sometimes I look at a work of art – a sculpture, a painting, an illustration – and the story it tells, the emotions it conveys, as well as the emotions it evokes within me, all lend themselves to my writing. Mornings after I have spent some time the previous day reading poetry or looking at paintings are often days when I find my mind open to unlimited possibilities.
Those days the sparks fly even more than usual.
When I came across the work of illustrator, Laura Diehl, her illustrations struck me.
Maybe it’s because of my affinity for fantasy and magical realism. Maybe it’s that Laura works in Middle Grade stories and that’s one area to which I’m drawn as a writer. I have a feeling it’s all these things and much more.
I love that her protagonists are children and that they all seem to posses a certain inherent magic themselves. The first books I ever read on my own were fantasy stories. I have always been drawn to those stories, those characters . . . and to fairytales.
I love the way Laura plays with colors and light. The way she makes her images so luminous, as if each contains an energy force finding its way out. The way she masterfully uses those colors so that the light seems to emanate from within each image, as if that magic mentioned earlier is simply an indelible part of the worlds she creates. As if the characters themselves are imbued with it.
I love how those elements add to the “sense of wonder” she is able to capture in the scenes, the situations and the characters.
Q&A WITH LAURA DIEHL:
OTHER COOL BIRDS: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in our lives we’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to visual artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
LAURA DIEHL: For my personal work it’s hard to say, as most of my imagery is very fantasy in nature. If there are personally symbolic elements present they are not a conscious addition. As to the stories that draw me: I tend to find myself very happy in the realm of middle grade fantasy because I love the sense of wonder that is still present at this age.
OCB: How long have you been interested in art?
LAURA: Well, I’ve been drawing since I was a very young child. My parents still have stacks of my elementary school crayon drawings of mermaids and unicorns stored away somewhere.
I decided that I wanted to be a book illustrator in 3rd grade, when our school principle came to our classroom and read us The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.
I was so transfixed by how “real” the images felt and very moved by how one person could tell a story like that.
OCB: What are you illustrating/creating art for (as in, of all the things there are to do what’s the deep down driving force behind your choice to illustrate/be a visual artist in the first place . . . what is your intention when you create your art)?
LAURA: I create art because I love fantasy and the fantastical and I’m endlessly fascinated that I can transport other people to worlds that don’t exist with only marks on a page.
OCB: What is it about the process that you like most? Least?
LAURA: My favorite parts of the process are dreaming up the idea, creating the color sketch (I love playing with color), and putting those finishing glowing touches on things at the end.
My least favorite bit is that long slog painting through the image bit-by-bit after the clean color sketch is nailed down – which is where the brunt of the hard work lies.
OCB: What sort of subjects do you prefer creating/exploring and why?
LAURA: Fantasy, but more of the whimsical or magical realism variety. Though I enjoy more medieval based sword & sorcery stuff and elves, dwarves, etc, I find that, when I’m deciding on a personal piece, those are never my first choice.
OCB: What is your relationship with color (many of your pieces are quite vibrant)?
LAURA: My relationship with color is that I love it. Can’t get enough of it. I especially love when beautiful vibrant colors are used in harmony together. The Brothers Hildebrandt were and are a big color inspiration for me.
OCB: What sort of background do you have (formal training, apprenticeship, workshops, self-taught, etc)?
LAURA: I’m 100% self-taught when it comes to digital art (my preferred medium), but I did go to collage for art, graduating with a BFA in Painting – as my college had no illustration degree. I feel like both routes were valuable, but for very different reasons: the self-taught portion because it allowed me to develop my own unique style and the schooling as it gave me an opportunity to try out different mediums and draw from life.
OCB: What is one thing about art (or illustrating) you think people might not understand?
LAURA: Well, I do aim to be clear in my illustrations, as that’s part of my job. I think the biggest misunderstanding comes in the form of potential clients who don’t realize that I don’t paint darker grittier ‘older’ fantasy scenes.
OCB: If you could work on any art project (developing a personal idea, working on an historical piece) what might it be and why?
LAURA: Well, at present I am doing this and it’s taking the form of my all-ages fantasy webcomic called StarSpun. I chose this for a passion project because it allows me to tell my own story (as my illustration day job is creating art for other people’s stories) with my artwork . . . and I really enjoy getting to paint things like sparkling stars, billowing clouds, giant owls, ancient turtles, enormous moons, etc.
OCB: In what way, if any, would you say your work reflects your personality?
LAURA: I’d say that my art is a pretty close match with my childlike and whimsical personality.
OCB: Aside from your main website, are there any specific websites with your work that you’d like me to link back to?
LAURA: The aforementioned ongoing webcomic – Star Spun Comic.
OCB: What technique(s) do you use to create your wonderful illustrations?
LAURA: I use the latest version of Photoshop and a huge Intuos 4 XL to digitally paint my art from scratch.
If you’re like me, you’ll feel something when you spend time with Laura’s work from her color illustrations, to her grayscale pieces, to reimagined illustrations for famous books like the cover she did for A Wrinkle in Time.
To learn more about Laura Diehl and her art, visit her website or follow her on Facebook. You can also find her work on Pinterest. Oh, and be sure to click on the “Frost Princess” which appears at the bottom of this page.