Laura Zarrin has been a professional artist and illustrator for nearly 22 years. While raising her children, she put her commercial projects on hiatus, but of course she never stopped drawing or creating. Whenever inspiration struck, Laura pulled out her art journal and filled it with magazine clippings, colors, art, illustrations, sketches, quotes and scribbles.
Today, Laura uses her art to send messages of hope and inspiration to children and adults, alike.
Alyice: How did you get into illustrating children’s books?
Laura: My style has always had a “cute” aspect to it which makes it perfect for children’s books. It also helps that I really love children’s books. I’m an illustrator because I enjoy the collaboration with the art director. A really good art director can push me farther in my art than I can by myself. I like the interaction and the bouncing ideas off of each other. I was never cut out to be a fine artist. I prefer being handed a problem to solve which I get to see in print or on a product later on. It’s exciting
Alyice: Who, or what, has been your biggest influence?
Laura: I received Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder from my aunt for Christmas when I was seven. I fell in love with that book! The art mesmerized me. I spent a lot of time looking at the pictures by illustrator, Garth Williams. His illustrations are so soft and appealing. I strive for that look in my own art.
Alyice: We know that illustrating a book is about visual stimulation, but what role do the illustrations really play for the reader?
Laura: The main audience for children’s books either can’t read yet or are new to reading. They are being read to while they scan the pictures for information and extra details. The pictures tell the story when they go through the book on their own. My kid’s favorite books always had a side story told only in pictures. They had so much fun searching for those.
Alyice: Does that mean that when you are given a children’s book with text, you can adlib on the scenery, backdrops, and visual stimulation if none is provided in the text?
Laura: To a large extent. It depends on the project. Something that is educational or based in history require adhering to the facts, but many stories leave room for lots of freedom. The author and the illustrator each bring their own ideas and contributions to the work.
Alyice: It would seem to me that illustrating a book is a huge collaboration between the author, the publisher, and the illustrator. What is the process like?
Laura: I have only worked directly with the art director. I think the separation of the author and the illustrator helps create something bigger and more wonderful in the end. They each have their own points of view which add to the end product. I’m thankful for the art director acting as ringmaster. Before I even receive a project it’s already gone through quite a bit of collaboration at the publisher’s. Sales, marketing, editors, art directors, and the publisher have already been working on the project with the author before I’m brought on board.
Alyice: Aside from illustrating children’s book, you also create artwork for greeting cards and puzzles. How does illustrating these products differ from illustrating children’s books?
Laura: Illustrating a book is a very long process. It takes up to a year to complete the whole book. Greeting cards and other projects are often made up of just one piece of art, though some require many more elements. I enjoy having different kinds of projects to keep things fun.
Alyice: Once you create your initial draft in pencil, what mediums do you use to finish your illustrations?
Laura: Most often I use toned paper in an amber color with Caran d’ache watercolor pencils, which I use dry. I’m experimenting a lot lately with matte acrylic paint under the color pencil to speed things up and add richer color. I’ve also used watercolor underneath on hot press watercolor paper.
Alyice: What is your ultimate goal when you create your illustrations?
Laura: I want my work to be a soft place to land. That’s what I feel when looking at the work of Garth Williams. I strive to create lovable characters in cozy settings. I think my work is very happy. I feel a need to inspire people-to show them the lighter side of life and the possibilities out there.
I’m a big believer that we all create our own luck for the most part. You can’t wait for life to happen, you have to create it for yourself.
Life is what you make of it. I’m inspired by people who survive the worst, but still thrive and I hope my work can inspire others.