Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter's Nest and New Year's

Wishing everyone a wonderful close to 2010 and light and laughter into 2011!

Winter's Nest is a personal piece that sprung from a vision of a nest high atop a tree overlooking a wintry landscape. But in the nest radiates a golden light, for a magical birth is taking place: a foretold golden owlet is hatching to snowy owl parents. To honor this occasion a wood fairy has come with a gift. =)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Illuxcon 3!!!

Back from IlluXcon 3, exhausted but exhilarated! Here are my highlights:

We (my fiance Chris and I) drove up with my good friend Cynthia Sheppard, who at the last minute got a table in the MAIN SHOW! As you can imagine, my little Ford Explorer was packed with art!

It was absolutely wonderful to not only catch up with people I'd met last year, but to really get some good "hang out" time with a number of them.

It was especially wonderful the number of meals we were able to coordinate on. The kick-off dinner at Red Lobster on Thursday night was especially huge, in attendance: Lauren Cannon, John Stanko, Cynthia Sheppard, Laura Diehl, Chris Kozlowski, Joe Slucher, Chris Simmons, Mike Sass, Aaron Miller. Great conversation and much portfolio trading. And fishies. I got cedar planked salmon. =^_^= For many of the other meals Chris & I munched alongside Joe Wilson, Tanja Wooten, Cynthia Sheppard and Mike Sass...who are fellow wave critique group members and all around great people. We made it a rule never to dine alone and it made the IlluXcon experience all the richer.

There were some wonderful panels and demonstrations this year. Highlights included Donato's panel on abstraction and realism.....where everything was dead on the beach. Donato is a very entertaining speaker and absolute hilarity, on top of being a master in his field. Bob Eggleton's oil painting demo was great -nothing like seeing a master go from nothing to masterpiece in 2 hours time! There were also a couple really good "business" oriented talks, including one by Dave Seeley.

The Showcase grew exponentially from last year. No longer held in the dark atrium and barely attended, this years was moved to the bigger, brighter, Ramada ballroom. There were at least 3x the amount of tables and easily 10x the interest and attendance. It was great to have the main show closed while the showcase ran, and lovely that it was held both Friday night and Saturday morning. So a ton of great energy to be had and many a talented artist in participation. One of my favorite encounters was meeting a fellow showcaser by the name of Jeff Haynie, a wonderfully accomplished career artist with some great tips for me! It was also fun talking with all of the great people who stopped by my table to flip through my portfolio and chat. It was especially hart warming the sheer number of "big name" illustrators and art directors who took the time to visit and chat with each and every showcase artist.

Speaking of "big names" my inner fan girl was delighted to finally meet a childhood hero at this Illuxcon: Greg Hildebrandt! Best known for the work he did with his (now passed) twin brother Tim on the Lord of the Rings calendars in the 70s and 80s, he also lavishly illustrated a huge stack of classic stories and fairytale. These books, which I have collected for years, were one of my earliest influences and could very rightly be credited with inspiring me down the artistic path I now travel. Now in his 70s, he is a vibrant and energy filled character, who still paints 7 days a week (he's doing more pin-up art these days) and can regal you for hours with stories of the art world that he has lived through. He was also kind enough to give me a portfolio critique and much encouragement!

And then there was the "Art Jam" where fellow illustrators with musical talent played for the rest of us.... Some really multi-talented guys and gals among us. And hanging out in the bar and lobby of the Ramada, which was a great way to get some extra portfolio swaps in and chat with some amazing people. It was absolutely amazing to see how much of a community this event has birthed.

Special thanks to the love of my life, Chris, for driving me all over Altoona, and standing at my side in every other aspect of this crazy wonderful trip.... I'm one lucky girl to have such and involved and supportive partner.

More of my personal take-aways to follow in a later post, and there are many. But to some it up: IlluXcon 3 = Amazing. I am worn out but very glad to have attending, as I've seen in many a fellow IlluXconer's facebook post: next year's can't come soon enough!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Illuxcon Prep!

So finally it is all here! A number of 12"x18" prints (from Kessler Color), postcards and business cards from and some nifty clear acrylic displays from

Can you tell what images are new for this year? ;) (I'll of course be bringing a huge backlog of older prints with me as well.)

Very excited about attending this year's Illuxcon... come see me at the Showcase event!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn Magic

Time to show off my last personal piece before Illuxcon! =)

Autumn Magic had its beginnings in a morning sketch... but initially it wasn't a "fall" piece at all. It was a child sitting over a mini tree (I wasn't necessarily thinking bonsai) and behind him a giant/old tree. The fall colors crept in when I went to do the color sketch. Surely inspired by the gorgeous autumn weather we've been having here these past few weeks... And the leaves she is "magic-ing" just seemed a perfect fit.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Workspace Update! =)

I finally put the finishing touches on my new work space... This one comes fully equipped with a pretty blue wall ;) and kodama decorations handcrafted by Cute Art on Etsy. Also featuring desk 2.0 thanks to Dad! (Computer specs haven't changed since the last photo shoot.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Hare King!

New personal artwork! I've been working hard lately to rearrange my time and schedule so that I can put more energy toward personal pieces. This is the first piece to come out of such efforts.

The concept came from one of my mid-morning sketchbook brainstorms over jasmine-green tea. It was the glimpse of a young boy standing in a circle of snow hares, being crowned their king. Like many of my self-motivated pieces, the image did not need to arise from a full understanding of an entire story, but rather came from trying to fully envision and illustrate the scene I had snared in my mind's eye. I'm still having fun imagining the story behind the scene...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cosmic Sorceress!!!

So I changed my mind as to what class/character I want to play for the aforementioned D&D.... I discovered that there was a new Sorcerer class that lets you use all cosmic-y spells and such. Thus portrait #2:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

DnD Eladrin Shaman Druid =)

I am into many many fantasy things.... I draw fantasy scenes for a living, I read fantasy books, watch fantasy movies, yet I have never played D&D. Well, a group of our good friends (including fellow fantasy artist Cynthia Sheppard) have decided to change that.

With my good fiancé, Chris, nominated as DM, we are about to embark on an epic quest of dice, math (shudder >_<) and epic story.... And, of course, fine beverages and cheeses.

After careful thought I decided to go with a an elf of the Eladrin race. Something about looking all pretty and mysterious and being able to teleport around. As for class I am technically playing a Shaman(ess) but that is only because it seems to work more the way I envision a Druid. I'm much more into getting all buffy and healy on my group than rending things and splattering blood. And I get a kitty companion! =)

Anyhow, in my excitement (and badness) I chose to do a piece for myself today, a portrait of my character:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Photoshop CS5!

So today I made one of the most exciting upgrades in recent history: I went from Adobe Photoshop CS4 to CS5. The reason for my excitement? Three words: wet media brushes.

I believe I should preface my thoughts by saying that my first digital art program (back in 1998) was Fractal Painter 5.... which has since changed hands a time or two, and today goes by the name of Corel Painter 11. It was my first love of art programs, but over the years we drifted apart: it became more and more convoluted or perhaps I just discovered the clean simplicity that is Photoshop.

At any rate, for YEARS I have longed for a way to do wet-media (read: wet paint) simulation in Photohop, every time I've tried going back to painter I've quickly gotten a headache and ArtRage just can't cut it with large files or keeping layer effects intact (a must for the large complex paintings I do for clients).

I had all but given up.... but here we are, a decade after I got my little hands on Photoshop 4 and they are here! I can only related what an afternoon of "playing around" has shown me. And they work nicely. The options for the wet brushes have been expanded we now get to adjust things like: wet, flow, load, etc.... there is brush length, stiffness, angle, etc. In short everything you need to paint with that nice "squishy" wet paint in Photoshop.

I feel like I have much more to experiment with in this realm. I'm excited. =)

You can read a bit more in-depth review of the brush feature here:

A speed painting using some of the new brushes:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Woodcutter (Sketch & Color Rough)

So, I've finally got another project-in-progress to share (ie one that is not the big ones I'm working on). The client is an author by the name of Lorn Wolf and he needs a cover for his up and coming fantasy book: The Woodcutter.

In this scene the main character (and family) confront the Giant who has supposedly kidnapped his daughter (the girl in the center). At this point in time, the daughter has rushed out to "save" the misunderstood Giant but is rapidly loosing control of her magic.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Career Interview

Thought I'd share with you an interview that I did last night via IM with a high school student... regarding a career in illustration.

[Note: edits have been made for brevity, to keep things on topic, and because I -never- misspell a word. =P]

Li Smith: 1. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Laura: Hmmm, well I guess at the heart of it I just love creating art.... I mean taking a concept that is words or even just an idea and making it something visible.

Li Smith: 2. What's your salary like?

Laura: Hard to know yet, seriously, complex too. You see I think of my illustration business (and literally it is) as a "company" in its first few years.... So along those lines reporting a profit (after business expenses) to the IRS is my version of salary success at the moment. I won't give numbers, but I will say things are going up each year =) So much is based on "per project" so I'm actually quite surprised when I tally things up for the year.

Li Smith: What's it like in your workplace?

Laura: Comfy. I work from home. I've got a nice desk, fast PC and all the right equipment.... and hot tea whenever I want it. =) The commute isn't bad either.

Li Smith: 4. What kinds of things do you illustrate?

Laura: Fantasy... though I don't do the scantily clad chicks and dragons so much. I prefer the more children's-fantasy or the whimsical fantasy. That is not to say I don't take on a more "mainstream" project now and then.

Li Smith: 5. How long does your art process usually take?

Laura: Depends on what it is. For a full-color book cover, say, I tend to "budget" 40 working hours.... but then I also "run" the project along side others at the same time (so something like this can start-to-finish take 4-6 weeks).

Li Smith: 6. Have you got any particular pet peeves about your job?

Laura: Clients! No, seriously, it's the name of the game. Think of it as having many bosses at once. I often feel, though, like I am trying to "save" my clients from themselves (as they try to Art Direct... where they really don't know what they are doing!)

Li Smith: 8. What are your hours like--nine to five, eight to ten, etc?

Laura: I used to think of things more as sit down in the computer chair X hours. I now take a slightly different approach: setting project goals and deliverables rather than set hours. Generally, speaking you will find me at my computer doing art from around 9ish to 5ish all week days though. Sometimes it's heaven sometimes I'm cursing said art in front of me (not often).... it is nice to be able to bug-off for a walk mid-day though =)

Li Smith: Do you ever collaborate with other artists or are you a one-(wo)man show?

Laura: I don't collaborate per-see, but I am a member of a couple artists groups. The fantasy illustrators one is a tight-knit place for sharing our projects and getting crits from each other.... we're all freelancers so it helps us with a sense of community to. Sometimes freelancing can be a lonely business!

Li Smith: How free are you able to be with creativity, or do the restrictions vary from client to client?

Laura: Varies. I would prefer 100% freedom, but in reality it can be anywhere from 50-50 to 20-80 (flipped either way). It really depends on the needs of the client/project.

Li Smith: 11. What is your favorite genre of art, if you have one?

Laura: Children's fantasy. =) (Which I want to do more of.)

Li Smith: This is a little off-script, but do you do a lot of children's book illustrations?

Laura: Not enough for my liking. I've actually yet to do a picture book proper... though I am working on a huge NDA project right now that involves covers and b&w interiors for that genre =)

Li Smith: 12. What school did you go to for this career? Would you recommend it or another one instead?

Laura: I went to James Madison University. Because, quite honestly, they were close by, had a "decent" art program, and weren't going to leave me 100K in debt..... However, I am torn on the whole "college to do art" bit. In some ways I think my time at JMU was valuable in others I wonder how far along my illustration business would be now had I not gone and just started working fresh out of high school. I guess it really comes down to the individual. I would say: only go to school for illustration if there is a strong dept. for it at that college AND you realize that you are going for the skills not the degree. In freelance illustration no one looks at your degree. Period. They want to see your client list and portfolio!

Li Smith: 13. Why did you choose to do what you do?

Laura: Because art has always come naturally to me.... and for as long as I remember I've admired the art on books covers and in picture books. =) I can't not do art, if that makes sense. (As many a teacher can testify from my doodles in the margins of my notes!)

Li Smith: 14. What are the academic requirements for your degree?

Laura: Well, my degree is a BFA in Painting.... but from a liberal arts college so it was about 50% art classes and 50% academics. Basically a ton of hours in the studio painting for my degree... I would often literally be on campus from 7am to 10pm many days! That always "balanced" with gen eds and other academic classes.... enough to keep anyone busy!

Li Smith: 15. Are there academic requirements for keeping updated on the developments of your profession?

Laura: Not really. Think more professional conferences and conventions and reading things.... that "education" now is completely self-motivated.

Li Smith: 16. What professional organizations are related to your career?

Laura: Well the aforementioned SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), ASFA (Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists), New York Society of Illustrators, etc... also many online communities: like CG Society or

Li Smith: 17. What's your typical workday like?

Laura: Well once I sit down at my desk (after my long arduous commute...) I review what "needs to be done"... I currently feel like I have a pretty good grasp on how long things take me so generally it is a matter of deciding what to tackle today. I normally start out with whatever I feel most excited about and work on that until lunch time. After a bite to eat (and perhaps some ImagineFX)... I return to tackle the next thing on the list. My workday is generally a "wrap" when I've finished some nice chunks of work and gotten the "deliverables" off to the respective clients.

Li Smith: 18. How does it affect your family life?

Laura: Well, I used to be a major work-a-holic, I just didn't really take much time for anything else. Since meeting my (now fiancé) I make a point to keep my evenings and weekends work free =) It's good to have those divisions, especially when one works at home!

Li Smith: 19. Are there any online artists communities you would recommend?

Laura: CG Talk, Deviant Art, Elwood, are the three that come to mind... though I am not as active on those as I used to be I do at least maintain small galleries on a lot of "satellite" sites as I like to think of them =)

Li Smith: 20. What was it like getting started?

Laura: In many ways I still am ;) It's a challenge. It can be scary. It is also fun. Getting that first "job" is a leap of terror =P I kid. I actually got my first "job" when I was still in college..... started out small. It was a "cd cover" for a metal band -that I don't think ever saw the light of day- but anyway it was $100 and that first client on the list! =P It felt awesome at the time. I've definitely done my share of small and not quite related to my passion (i.e. fantasy art) jobs, especially at the get-go. Though, I've found that I am getting to do more and more what I want. I think experience sort of "earns" you the right to be more choosy in the projects you take. And the secret is: it's in your best interest to only take those projects most in alignment with what you want to do. Think about it: those projects BECOME your portfolio which then gets you more projects like what you've just done!

Li Smith: 21. What are your thoughts on the risks of your art being stolen? Has it ever happened? What did you do about it? What advice do you have for someone in that kind of situation?

Laura: Honestly, it has never happened to me... so not sure what to say there. I do hear it is good to formally register your artworks copyrights at the US Copyright Office. Though they are protected by law when they are created, without you needing to do a thing... registering just gives you a bit more legal protection. And it is looked upon favorably if you were to take a copyright violator to court.

Li Smith: 22. What do you think is the most important aspect of being an artist? The education? The skills? The discipline?

Laura: Not losing sight of the passion. Seriously, there is a reason you picked up that first crayon and loved it.... the trick is not to lose that enthusiasm under things like deadlines, contracts, and bills!

Li Smith: 23. How flexible are you with your mediums? Do you prefer digital, traditional, or do you enjoy both equally? Why?

Laura: I work 100% digital on client projects, it just allows the best flexibility for changes and tight deadlines.... I do enjoy acrylics and oils, but purely for personal art (I shudder to think of making major changes -client requested- to an oil painting!)

Li Smith: Have you ever tried traditional?

Laura: I did more traditional in college... many many classes worth. I still have an easel set up and my oil and acrylic paints though =)

Li Smith: 25. What advice in general do you have for someone looking into the career?

Laura: Experiment. Find what you most love (drawing) and draw more of it. Your portfolio is the single most important thing you have.... put stuff that you enjoyed doing in it. Don't be trapped into thinking that college is the /only/ way to go.... there are many fine seminars and conferences that could teach you more in a week than you might get in a couple years at college!

Li Smith: 26. What regrets do you have?

Laura: Well, I would say that I regret not going to an "art school" i.e. a private art college with an illustration program. But, honestly, I think half the reason I came out of college with such a strong portfolio was because I had so many independent studies.... I, literally, had complete control of my portfolio =) So a blessing in disguise for me.

Li Smith: 27. What sources do you draw inspiration from?

Laura: Movies. Books. Video games. Talking to and seeing the work of other artists in the field.

Li Smith: 29. Do you like drawing from life or out of your head more?

Laura: I do both.... I often find that when I look at things in "real life" I start imagining them with fantasy elements....and they serve to inform the drawings that result with more believability. I found in college I would start making up parts to still lifes because drawing them bored me so much!

Li Smith: 30. Have you ever had any specifically bad experiences in the business that stuck with you? Looking back, do you think they could have been avoidable? If so, what would you have done different?

Laura: Well, they say hindsight is 20/20. But I really prefer to look at the "bad" past experiences and just learn from them.... for instance my contract now has a number of clauses in it that it didn't start out with! It really all comes down to communication with the client.

Li Smith: would you care to elaborate on those clauses at all or is that private business matters?

Laura: Laying things out clearly, talking with them until you understand what they are looking for, etc. Things like "revisions" "rights" "timetable" etc.... my contract basically serves as a "every last detail" layout of the whole project. So that things are clear! Assumptions can spell hours of re-working. And that is no fun.

Li Smith: 31. How long did it take you to get where you are today? What did you have to go through to get here? Are you happy with where you are or are you ambitious to go even further?

Laura: Well, technically, it has been 4 years since I graduated college... though I've been doing art much longer. I went from interested in art high school student, to art major, to, now, young professional in my field. I'm always looking to grow and expand. That is the way of life. I'd love to get into more "self directed" projects that are my ideas AND art (like picture books where I am the author-illustrator).

Li Smith: 32. Who's your idol? What is it you like about their art? Are there any others you like?

Laura: Chris Van Allsburg: writer-illustrator extraordinaire (of Polar Express fame)... I love the magic he brings to his books. There are a ton of others I admire. Heck, I think I met most of them at IlluXcon last year! =P

Li Smith: 33. What was it that got you into this business in the first place? Can you pin down a specific reason or is more something that's developed in you over time?

Laura: Well, being recognized by my 3rd grade teacher and having my "coral reef" crayon drawing hung in the library was encouraging.... and later being an avid fantasy reader in high school and admiring book covers did the rest ;)

Li Smith: 34. Are you a fan of colorful socks?

Laura: Oh yes. I like the fuzzy kind and I tend to get immense satisfaction out of matching them with my outfits!

Li Smith: 35. What kinds of risks(in general, not just theft) are involved in what you do?

Laura: Mostly the "risks" are health related.... and it's a matter of taking breaks, getting exercise etc, what anyone in front of a computer for hours should be doing. There is also the fact that "paychecks" tend to come in spurts....things even out, it's just that you have to be mindful and keeping "padding" in your accounts =)

Li Smith: 36. How big a role do you think artistic style plays in determining an artist's success?

Laura: All of it. Or a lot. You see, a true style -one that emerges naturally from the way you see things and put marks on paper- is something uniquely you.... and you are one of a kind. Therefore, don't strive to be a second rate copy of anyone else! Be irreplaceable! =)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Golden Fish

Golden Fish is my first truly "personal" piece in ages... I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep one night and this would not leave my head. After fighting it a good hour, I decided to get up and sketch it out....only then did the glowing fish in my head go away! =)

Oh, I highly suspect that the glowing fish came from the respective episode of Big Bang Theory.

Some progress shots:

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Last night it was snowing. Not a dusting of snow, not a sprinkling, a bona fide blizzard...historic snowfall for the Northern Virginia area.

My boyfriend Chris and I bundled up, preparing to make the trek to our friends Joe & Cassie's apartment for a small gathering of friends and meatcakes. Little did I know or suspect that he had the ring on him...

As we trod out the back and down the stair we marveled at the sheer beauty of the wondrous white fluff. We approached the small grove of trees and I stopped to oogle at the flakes falling through the lantern-style streetlight. "Narnia," I said, pointing.

The next thing I knew (is Chris a ninja too?)... I turned and he was down on one knee.

***About the Ring***

Specs: 18k Yellow Gold, Fine Quality Blue Sapphire, Green Tourmaline, 5 VS1 (.05 carat) diamonds

Symbolism: Two owls: Chris is the bigger blue one, I am the cute lil green one. The band concept is stars caught in tree branches -a way to tie in fantasy and dreams and sci-fi with the owl theme. (I went through numerous ring designs that looked cool, but didn't mean anything... I settled on one that did both.)

I designed the ring... Quest Jewelers of Fairfax, VA made my sketch into a wonderful REAL 3D handcrafted object. It was absolutely amazing to witness. I love the resulting ring...especially because it is so personalized. A huge thank you to Huan for his care and attention to our ring!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow = Magic

Today I awoke to a winter wonderland....

Ask anyone who knows me, I LOVE snow. I get absolutely giddy when I see flakes gliding gently though the lamplight out the window.

I think it is wonderful.
I think it is magical.

I feel sorry for the "grown ups" to whom it is just an inconvenience.... for they have lost their sense of wonder.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. --Albert Einstein

And boy I'm glad I look upon snow favorably.... currently our area of Northern VA has a winter weather advisory for up to 20 inches Friday-Saturday! Can you say blizzard?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Storystrators Writer-Illustrators Group

So, I've been rather quiet as of late. Both of my "daytime" illustration major projects are under NDA and my personal work has private outlets for sharing and critique (you can't very well post a picture book in progress publicly on the internet -as technically that counts as publishing).

In consideration of the above, I created a group where I could share my work in progress with other Picture Book Author-Illustrators. The group I made is called Storystrators. The purpose: mutual critique and betterment of our written and visual work. The meeting format online at a private forum...

We number 6 members at the moment (mostly drawn from SCBWI Mid-Atlantic), we just picked the name and are starting to build momentum/activity. The plan is 10 members, so we are looking for a few good men/women to join our ranks.

If you think you might be interested please send me an e-mail at . I'd love to know more about your area of focus, what you are looking for in a group, and your current PB project... also, be sure to include an art and writing sample. Also, we are especially looking for those who are enthusiastic and can be active on the forum!


-To form a small (but not too small, around 10 members) tight-knit group of writer-illustrators for the purpose of mutual critique and betterment of our visual and verbal art.

-An active group that supports the unique one-stop combination of writing & art that we writer-illustrators create (and can critique book dummies as well as manuscripts).

-To provide a private forum for general encouragement and companionship.

Member requirements:

-You write AND illustrate.

-You are willing to receive AND give critique in a useful and positive fashion.

-You are actively striving to improve (no matter what level you are at now).

-You are currently working on a Picture Book manuscript & dummy in some form! (or have an idea for one and just need a good kick in the pants! ie You will have one very soon...)

This offer stands until all positions are filled.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Working Space / Studio

As promised, refreshed pictures of my working space. I'm absolutely loving the new NEC 30incher ^_______^

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Math Wizard

Just wrapped up an e-book cover today for Vincent Tan in Singapore (his blog here: This is an illustration of a D&D "Math Wizard" for a specialized rule book. Accordingly, our hero fights with a divider and casts mathematical spells at his foes... I loved the clever concept and had a blast coming up with the illustration to match.

In the midst of said illustration, I underwent a rather big workstation change: I upgraded from a 24" Gateway LCD to a 30" LCD. And not just any 30incher, a NEC MultiSync LCD3090WQXi which I am really enjoying. I also got a Spyder3 to help with calibration =) (Photos of my updated workstation to follow). As for my 24".... let's just say a certain boyfriend is now enjoying a 3 monitor spread for his internet spaceships.

Oh, and special thanks to my friend Joe for modeling in a wizard's robe.

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