I got a bunch of great portfolio books at Comic Con this year. One of the most charming, Don’t Flash the Octopus, (never enough octopi!) came from emerging concept artist and illustrator Steph Laberis. Her work is funny and cute with just the right amount of sass. Although completely digital, the illusion of cut paper is right on. I love the mix of textures and the attention to the edges.
A few questions for Miss Laberis:
Favorite piece you did in the past year?
I think my favorite piece would be “Tread Lightly”, which is the self-portrait of me balancing on a giant octopus tentacle. It’s my favorite for a few reasons; I was fairly happy with the palette, I took the textured look to my digital “papercuts” up a notch, and it’s also inspired by big events in my life this year.
Lead concept artist on a Pixar film!
Do you remember the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew I liked to make art, even when I was in kindergarten, but it wasn’t until I was 12 that I made the conscious choice to pursue it as a career. Back then I wanted to be an animator for Disney, having just seen The Lion King. Thankfully I’ve figured out that I hate to animate and am enjoying a more illustrative storytelling path.
Do you have to like the book/comic/movie to be excited about the project?
For me, it definitely helps but I think it’s a learned (and essential!) skill to be able to find something to enjoy in every job you get, even something as simple as trying a different palette or pushing a gesture.
What painting do you wish you had painted?
First break in the business?
Internship at Hasbro, designing My Little Ponies. It was a childhood dream job and an ever-giving gift of freelance work!
A career highlight?
I think the My Little Pony gig was really big for me because it really motivated me to set high goals for myself, but there have been little things too. I would say that Comic Con is always a career highlight for me because so many of my peers and idols are all there! Meeting Lauren Faust, Craig McCracken, Colleen Coover, Peter S. Beagle...those all rank pretty highly. I also would say being a front page artist on conceptart.org has been an honor and a gateway to meeting other artists.
How do you balance family/personal time with work?
Poorly! I find that I am happiest when I am working in a group environment, so when I was freelancing in my own house, I became very stressed, irritable and didn’t manage my time well. I would like to work in a film or game studio again, so to compromise I am currently renting out a shared studio with three of my illustrator buddies. Having a reason to put shoes on, leave the house and have other people to talk to has been a big improvement for me and it also helps me to keep my work at the studio and the more zen stuff at home.
What are you working on now?
Character designs for a couple of children’s shows and trying to work out a personal comic for an upcoming anthology. I also want to pad my portfolio with more narrative and well-lit works, in hopes of catching the eye of a certain animation studio.
Your biggest influences?
Anime. It’s a valid art form, guys; deal with it. I also liked the art style in “The Last Unicorn” from an early age and drew the characters from that movie a lot. My most recent influences have been Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, Pascal Campion, Craig McCracken, Brianne Drouhard, Nate Wragg, and Daniela Strijleva.
Do you have a five-year plan or do you just take each job as it comes?
For now I am taking the jobs as they come, since rent needs to be paid and all. I do have a five-year plan, though, which is that I would like to be working in a film/game/cartoon studio as a concept artist or production designer. The trick is getting this plan started!
Do you have a set image in your mind when you first start sketching or do you start out abstractly and let the process of doodling take over?
Until recently, I wouldn’t sketch any roughs for most of my pieces done in Illustrator; I would pull the shapes out of primitives with the pen tool and let that take over. Now I am getting in the habit of doing thumbnails, for nothing else than compositional help and allowing for more content exploration. I really, really need to just doodle more.
What was the hardest part about establishing yourself in the field?
I’m still establishing myself in this field! I’ve been lucky in that the extrovert in me has allowed for good networking, which has been crucial for me but I find my biggest challenge is just believing in myself. I know this sounds like a sappy after-school special, but the negative self-talk in my own head has been more defeating to me than anything an art director has ever said to me.