Artist Journey: Stephanie Laberis
last updated 31 August 2021
A familiar face joins us for August’s Artist Journey as we continue to learn more about what makes Bright Artists the wonderful creatives they are! From playing in the woods to watching cartoons and playing video games, Stephanie Laberis’ childhood consistently inspires her whimsical artistic style. Her books allow readers, young and old alike, to see the world through a refreshing lens and reminds us that growing up is overrated. Please enjoy getting to know more about Stephanie!
Artwork from T. Rexes Can’t Tie Their Shoes (Doubleday Books for Young Readers) illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Where are you from? How did your upbringing influence you choosing to pursue a career in art?
I am from a town just north of Boston & right next to Salem! I will always be a New Englander at heart. I spent my childhood playing in the woods around my house, watching cartoons, and playing video games. These things influenced both my artistic style & the types of industries I’ve worked in. I love drawing animals & natural subject matter, and I split my time professionally between illustration & designing for animation. My parents were always supportive of me pursuing a career in the arts as well, no one tried to talk me into a more “sensible” career.
What character from a book you’ve illustrated do you resonate with most?
What a great question! I think it’s a tie between two of them - the old man from Pretty Kitty and Cliff from Frockodile. Though the old man character was somewhat inspired by my father, I relate very much to his hesitancy to open his heart to ten wonderful kitties, after having suffered the loss of his own beloved cat. I have kept rats (yes, rats!) as pets for many years, & their life spans are criminally short, only about two to three years. I have loved and said goodbye to 23 rats in my lifetime, and it doesn’t get easier with each passing. I positively adore them as companions, and I struggle with my grief each time I open my heart to a new rat.
In terms of Cliff from Frockodile, I struggled with bullying and the fear that my loved ones could not accept me for who I was as a child. Cliff can both be true to himself while finding the unconditionally loving family he’s always wanted, whether they are related by blood or not. I would have loved to have read such a reassuring story when I felt so alienated as a kid.
During the mundane day-to-day, what part of being an artist keeps you on your toes and happy to be in the career you’re in? If you could describe your artistic style in one word, what would it be?
Right now, I think it’s the promise of the downtime that keeps me going; this may seem counterintuitive, but it’s during periods of rest that my brain really breaks down experiences, ideas, and new techniques in a meaningful way. I find that some of my best work and biggest leaps of progress follow these rest periods. I’m looking forward to one such break this fall, after having worked both a full time job in animation while illustrating several children’s books. It’s been one of the most productive but mentally challenging periods of my career. I know in my gut I’ve picked up a lot of new techniques along the way, but they’re sort of in a suspended state in my mind right now. Once I can put the pen down and take that step back, I will be very excited to revisit and execute my new ideas! I would describe my artistic style as whimsical!
What titles have you worked on in your time with Bright that you are proud of? Tell us a little bit about the process in creating the art for these titles.
So hard to choose! I’ve been fortunate enough during my time with Bright to have illustrated nearly 40 books & I could go on forever about what I like about each one. But to keep it short, I think T.Rexes Can’t Tie their Shoes and Poo Dunnit? A Forest Floor Mystery! are standouts for me. T.Rexes was one of those books where everything just seemed to fit naturally; from the first time I read the script to turning in the final illustration, it was a hilariously fun, natural process where I synced so well with both the editor and the author. We all seemed to have the same sense of humor and I found I had a lot in common with the author, from our taste in ice cream to our preference in bicycles.
For Poo Dunnit?, this was something of a dream project for me; remember how I mentioned I was an outcast as a kid? Well, part of that was because I had a very (crude) sense of humor! I was the kid constantly making poop jokes. This book combines all the gross poop humor that I love (seriously, I got to illustrate a pooping moose obliterating a pile of bear poo, much to the bear’s horror) but also presents it in an educational context, informing the reader how each animal’s poo differs in appearance. Let’s be real, some kids are always going to find poop funny, much to their parent’s chagrin, and this book embraces that. Also, the main protagonist is a mouse and I’ve already talked about my affinity for rodents! What a great fit!
Do you have any projects on the horizon we can look forward to?
I do, but I can’t go into details! All I can say is I have three books in progress with some very beloved characters from the happiest place on earth.
What is one thing on your desk you cannot live without as an artist?
My shiatsu shoulder massager. This is a recent addition to my workspace, but I have no idea how I’ve lived without it. My shoulders are where I store my tension, and this gizmo valiantly makes a dent in my daily stresses.
Stephanie is represented by Anne Moore Armstrong at The Bright Agency.
Miss last month’s Artist Journey blog? Click here to learn all about Andrés Landazabal! Check back each month to learn more about the featured artist, and how they came to shine so Bright!