Laura Garabedian is a professional fantasy artist and illustrator. We love her work and got to ask her a few questions. Enjoy!
Why don’t we start with what you do and what your focus is?
So, I’m a fantasy illustrator specializing in anything that’s alive: Be that walking trees or gryphons or elves or high fantasy. I don’t do as much with urban fantasy, though I enjoy it. And recently I’ve been delving into the world of ceramics, along with my 2d art (which is primarily watercolors with forays into various multimedia, graphite, etc…).
And they’re all so pretty! What’s your favorite medium to work in?
Currently watercolor. I do love the ceramics as well, for a very different reason. I like having functional art. But just for the sheer joy in the media, watercolor has so many happy accidents and silliness that happen that you can never take into account — but trying to incorporate those back into the final piece is a lot of fun.
And what are favorite subjects?
Currently gryphons. And really abstract swirly trees. It varies a lot year by year. I like painting dead things. I like painting bones and skeletal systems. It’s one of the things that’s fun with fantasy work. I like building from the bones up. Anything that’s fantasy and living is a blast, but I do love gryphons and highly stylized swirly trees and critters in weird landscapes.
What what got you into fantastical art?
I’ve kinda always done it. It’s hard to pin down when I wasn’t doing it. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. My mom was constantly putting me in art classes and then she was surprised when I wanted to be an artist. My aunt is a fantasy illustrator. She did a lot of fantasy stuff and also did some realistic vintage style work, Victorian style stuff. So I always grew up and wanted to be my aunt. Because she had this cool Brownstone in Philly and she didn’t have to answer to anyone. Her house was just littered with paintings and cool things. So I always liked that idea.
Probably what geared me towards fantasy is no one could say things don’t look like that. Like: “Oh dragons don’t really look like that.” And I was like: “They do if I want them to!” It stopped a lot of criticism before it could start. So I did gryphons and dragons and unicorns and whatnot and people would say “Unicorns don’t look like that.” and I was like, “Yes, they do.”
“But they’re just horses with horns.” I’m like: “Well, mine aren’t.”
So there was almost a safety net element to it?
There was when I was a kid. Now it’s just that I love it. I love the idea of making windows into another world, that seem like they could be believable. I don’t want them to be hyper realistic because that means the viewer doesn’t get to engage as much. I’d rather let the viewer get to fill in the details, than for me to put every single detail in. It feels jarring to me. So if you are doing fantasy and leave some of it for the viewer to fill in themselves. I think they get a more immersive experience.
So… Writers sometimes don’t get along with with their creations. Have you run into that with your work?
I’ve noticed that in the illustrated novel that I am working on. Some of the characters don’t like me. And I’m just like “Well, I’m sorry.”
I have a weird relationship with my paintings. Because I like them for the point and time they are in, but I don’t like them on my walls, because I like to be pushing past that.
But with ceramics — so I made these Christmas plates and… I want to put cookies on them and have them in my house — which has never happened with me before. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. Maybe in a couple months I won’t like them in the house and it’ll be back to how I am normally with art. It’s an odd relationship that I’m actually okay having them around.
Maybe it helps that it’s collaborative. Because I do tend to like having collaborations around me more because there is so much of other people in there as well. These plates were thrown by a friend. And I finished them. I did all the painting and glazing, but she did the form. The form is very elegant, which is what I am trying to set off with my art. So maybe that’s what helps.
Going in a bit of a different direction, what’s something you wish people knew about being a working artist today?
I think part of it’s the same thing that any freelancer would say, that generally we’re working 12 hour days or more. There’s the assumption, especially living in Boulder, that everyone is hippy-dippy-floaty and we make thousands of dollars off our art magically. Or we’re starving. I don’t know why that dichotomy is the way it is. But everything in between doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation. Which I find very strange.
Let’s see… also, the mountains of things that we’ve done and failed at is an important thing for people to know about. It takes an awful lot of work and awful lot of really bad art to get to make good art. And some of the bad art is still out there on the internet but some of it we try to get rid of.
I don’t post everything I do. I post a lot of things I do. But not everything. Because I don’t need people to see when I am having off days.
And occasionally I do. Occasionally things happen like when I sent Anastasia, who is our editor for Expanding Horizons, everything I did. Good bad, and ugly. And there was this one tiny ink doodle of a giraffe that says right next to it, in ink: “This is not how you draw a giraffe.” That’s in the book. It’s acceptable and funny because the concept of that book is that it’s an art journal. Not everything is perfect. And people should know that we didn’t go out there and everything we did were beautiful rendered paintings in the bush, or something like that. We did really crappy ink drawings of giraffes as well. I think that just recognizing the amount of work that goes into art is pretty important.
If you go up to someone’s booth at a convention or a show and they have five amazing, beautiful, perfectly detailed pieces out there, there are probably a hundred or two hundred or five hundred sketches and studies and things that didn’t work, along with perfectly detailed rendered paintings of octopuses with the eye slightly off kilter or something. And they were like “Nope. That’s not going anywhere.” and they left it at the house. The pieces that you see represent a tenth or a fiftieth of the pieces that we make.
One of the things that I love about interacting with other creatives is getting to see more of that. And learn more about their process. It doesn’t matter what field — if it’s ceramics or fine arts, writing or music: getting a chance to know artists better, and getting to see some of the flawed work makes their finished art more beautiful. I think it’s neat.
It is neat! Here’s maybe a simpler question: What’s your favorite major geek franchise right now? Do you follow any of it?
I followed Doctor Who really hardcore for awhile. And then I didn’t like what they did with Clara last season, so I keep side eyeing it. And I keep hoping for better. Because I really like what Capaldi is doing, but I didn’t like what the writers were doing. And it made me sad. I liked each individual monster of the week, but I didn’t like what they were doing with the characters.
I’m following Jessica Jones and Gotham. Those are the things that have caught my interest right now. I am not someone who generally goes out of their way to pay attention to the entire periphery of a fandom, and I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the fandoms of either, even if I do get excited when I see an article or something about them.
Gotham is a very well cast show with the largest collection of interesting characters that are extremely different and believable that I have seen in awhile. Jessica Jones, by contrast, has a very small cast of very believable characters, very different. I started actually watching, it because I had it on while I was working and that was a struggle, because I kept wanting to watch it. Which is the same thing with Gotham, which is how I know it’s a good show.
Jessica Jones feels more like… I watch a lot of shows with a woman who is the protagonist, but it feels like the “idealized woman” is the protagonist. She stumbles out of bed and there’s no toilet paper on the roll and her door is broken and she lives in a shady area and she’s like “i don’t have time for this.” There’s a lot of flaws in her and in her life and she’s not just perfect. Which I love.
In terms of other geekery that I am really really excited about Monstress is a new comic that come out. It’s a monthly, not weekly. And it’s beautiful. They got the exterior artist to do the interior illustrations. So it’s pages and pages of beautiful.
I’ve followed webcomics for ages, but this is the first comic that I went to a comic store and I was like, “I need need this comic. This is the thing I am getting.” And I’m so, so excited. I would pick up comics periodically, but I’ve never been so set on — following something.
That leads nicely into my next question. What are some of the less well known things you recommend?
So… Monstress by Margery Liu and Sana Takeda.
I read Questionable Content every morning, because it makes me happy.
In terms of art: Gurney Journey and Muddy Colors are the things that I follow religiously. I like to follow Neil Gaiman’s blog but sometimes he’s doing so much I can’t keep up. And sometimes he’s not, so it just depends.
Also love Welcome to Night Vale. Not caught up, but it’s amazing.
Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap as well as their other podcast The Hidden Almanac which is kinda like Welcome to Nightvale if it were Prairie Home Companion. It’s like five minutes of patron saints that don’t exist and weird facts of another world. In terms of audiobooks, I’ve been listening to Dresden Files. And away from the PG rated, I love Sex Nerd Sandra — for an entertaining podcast that is both educational and endearing.
I have a large feed that I pull from in terms of creativity. But those are the biggest ones. I really like novels, whether it’s audiobooks or actually reading — which I never have as much time for as I like — in terms of inspiring me. I love Dresden Files to listen to. I recently started Iron Druid. It’s one of the reasons I have Netflix on while I work. I love having stories read to me while I work. It brings me a lot of joy and it seems to fuel my work really well.
So, I know you do a lot of commissions. What’s your favorite sort?
I love it when I have a lot of artistic liberty. When people just give me a character and stuff about them and just say “go.” So when it’s not “this specific scene from this specific angle and this specific lighting” because then I feel like I’ve boxed myself in and I feel less able to give the best work I can give. It might not be how I immediately see their character.
One of my favorite commissioners keeps getting this wonderful polar bear dragon thing and I love getting work from her because It’s always like: “You know my character, and I want to see this shade of him now. Go!” And I get to push myself. I was really happy with the last composition.
I did a discount last year for people who wanted to get gryphons. Because I really wanted to paint gryphons. If you wanted a gryphon, you could pick both sides of the body parts and that’s it, and I did the pose and everything. I did five of them in a couple months and it was a lot of fun.
What’s your routine like?
Normally, yes. I get up, and I stumble to get tea. I check the internet and I check feed.ly. I look at my emails, but I discovered that I should not answer emails before 10 o’clock, because they will not necessarily be coherent. But I arrange them by what is and isn’t priority.
I have breakfast, work for a few hours, and take a shower, work for a few hours, and have a snack, work for a few hours. I generally get up around 7 and I don’t stop working til 7 or 8 which is when I have dinner. Depending on the day, I might work more later.
My boyfriend and I both like to work side by side. So he gets home and we have dinner, and sometimes we keep working together. Sometimes we watch Gotham, or we go out, but we’re recluses so we don’t go out nearly as much as normal people.
One of the things I love about my work is I use it to relax. Unless what I am working on is taxes. The days I have to do taxes are 24 hours of working on it and then I scream at it. But yes, I do generally stick to a decent schedule.
The last questions I had was, what’s your advice for new artists?
New artists as professionals? Or new artists who are just doing art?
Let’s do new artists and then let’s do pros!
If you are doing art for you, then a lot of it is figuring out what you love to do and what it is about the art that brings you joy.
I mean, for everyone. Draw everyday. Or paint everyday. This isn’t to say that I do it, most days I do though and I think it’s very important. And I do try to do it. Even if I have a tax day, I try to set myself a little bit of time at the beginning or the end of the day to draw for myself.
And in terms of being a professional, a very important thing is being accountable to your clients. When you are starting out in your profession, start with that accountable. Don’t with start out and be like: “I’m new, so it won’t matter if I am a few weeks late.” Or, “I’m new, so it won’t matter if x or y or z.”
Be accountable to yourself. I’m speaking from an illustrator perspective — which is different from fine art — that’s a different thing when you are making work to sell to galleries. I’m usually making art for clients and they have a timeline and it’s important to keep that in mind.
That’s fantastic! Thank you so much for talking!
Thank you for having me!