Artist Journey: Stephanie Laberis
last updated 15 January 2018
Stephanie Laberis’s artwork beautifully captures the humor, playfulness and warmth of animals.
Her style is alive with bold, vibrant colors and it might actually look familiar to you if you’re a fan of Little Golden Books. In her own words, Stephanie discusses her career before creating children’s picture books, her pet rats (she has two!) and what she’d like to professionally and creatively achieve next.
I’ve worn many hats before getting into publishing. I went to RISD and majored in illustration, with hopes of becoming a character designer for animation. During the 10 or so years after graduating, I worked as a toy designer, a character designer for animation, and an artist for mobile and independent video games. I burned out on working for the gaming industry after about 8 years, so I took a chance and started freelancing on my own, which is about when I joined with Bright!
Up until then, I had never worked in publishing and wasn’t sure if things would pan out. I never expected to find so much success; you guys helped make so much possible for me and I am ever so grateful!
Can I Join Your Club? By John Kelly and illustrated by Steph Laberis, published in the UK with Little Tiger Press, has been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal.
Your Instagram feed is full of photographs of your pet rats, an animal not loved by all! But the domesticated rats are extremely far removed from the rats you find in cities. Where did your love for these smart and cheeky rodents come from?
Great question! One of my childhood friends had a pet rat named Rufus. I already loved animals as a kid and had my share of dogs, hamsters and fish as pets, but there was something about Rufus that utterly charmed me.
Unlike hamsters or gerbils, I found that rats were more calm, clever, social, and affectionate; they behaved more like dogs than prey animals, and I was a born dog lover! It wasn’t until my third year of college that I decided to get one of my own, since I wanted a pet and a dog was out of the question while in school.
I got a beautiful cream-coloured rat named Butterball. She was my little buddy who loved to sit on my shoulder, share a snack while playing video games, and sometimes I even snuck her into the computer labs to keep me company at school!
I’ve known and loved twenty two wonderful rats since Butterball passed away (their lifespans are criminally short, only two to three years) and right now I have my two squishy boys, Dash & Otter.
I love the movement in your work; it’s so beautiful. Is there anyone in particular you have been inspired by in terms of how you developed your style?
Thank you! In terms of the sense of movement in my work, this all comes from my interest in animation from a young age. There was a time when I wanted to be a 2D animator for Disney (didn’t we all?), so I took a LOT of life drawing courses, with my focus being on the gesture, quick poses and exaggerated movement, rather than rendering volumes and working on longer poses.
Once that sensibility had been ingrained, I found ways to carry it into my characters. Movement and silhouette are often my top priorities when drawing a character in any situation.
From Can I Join Your Club
In terms of individual artists, I’d say I found the works of Glenn Vilppu to be immensely helpful with gesture drawing and capturing motion. I tend to be drawn to graphic styles, so Eyvind Earle, Mary Blair and Charlie Harper are in regular rotation on my book shelf. There are countless artists at the major feature animation studios I look to as well. I own nearly every “Art Of” book from Pixar, Sony Feature, DreamWorks, etc.
I find that film concept art books have a variety of styles, explorations and areas of expertise to draw from, ranging from characters, to props, to colour keys. Concept design for film is just another form of visual storytelling and I’ve found there to be a lot of overlap there with illustration and kid lit.
What would be your dream project in terms of illustration?
This is such a tough question! I feel sheepish, but I still haven’t nailed down a big idea or set an ultimate goal for myself with illustration. I know that there are many illustrators out there who are working hard towards lifelong goals, but I’ve been working hard in a different way, taking opportunities as they’ve come and finding out what I like and don’t like about illustration. I think I need to spend a little more time playing and doing before I can start to see a grand plan. In general though, I love illustrating stories about animals, relationships and in general working with fiction – the more expression, exaggeration and emotion I can pack into a character, the happier I am!
Other books illustrated by Steph: Prudence the Part-time Cow, by Jody Jensen Shaffer, published by Henry Holt; And as part of the Little Golden Books series published by Random House, The Little Grumpy Cat That Wouldn’t and My Little Golden Book of Sharks.