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SCBWI-L.A. Illustrator’s Day is coming around the corner and we have a wonderful presenter lined up, ready to dive deep into the craft of digital art making with you!

Please welcome Laura-Susan Thomas, a digital artist extraordinaire with experience creating art on a grand scale as a Walt Disney Imagineer where she was able to embrace her inner 10-year-old every day, working on designs for Paris, Orlando, and Tokyo theme parks. She has had her work featured in the LA Times Kids’ Reading Room and Babybug Magazine. A professor of Fine Arts at the Allan Hancock College, she is also the Gallery Director at the Ann Foxworthy Gallery and the Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI-CenCal region.

For Illustrator Day, Thomas will share with us different strategies for working creatively with technology. The workshop will delve into two of the main applications artists use for creating on the computer and will have a little “sandbox” time for participants to begin experimenting in the medium as well. If you haven’t signed up yet, please visit the regional events page to register.

KITE TALES: Welcome Laura-Susan, and thank you for taking the time to talk with us! We are very excited to have you join us for Illustrator’s Day. So how was it that you began using digital media as your main illustrating tool? Did some creative processes change while you learned to work on the computer?

LAURA-SUSAN THOMAS: In the early 90s while I was at Disney, I went back to school to get a degree certificate in digital arts. I saw this new medium and wanted to learn more, both for my job and because it seemed like a whole new world of creating art! Back then it was still just Photoshop and Illustrator. Tablets didn’t exist yet, so all the creation of digital art content was done with a mouse and lots of keyboard shortcuts. We had to constantly adjust opacity, pressure, and size with one hand on the keyboard, while the other hand drew and painted with the mouse. 

After my Disney days, I freelanced, and while still working traditionally, I branched out into full digital as an illustration tool for my work. Sometimes bringing in and mashing up traditional media and digital to get the final results (I often carry techniques and ideas that I have embraced in oil painting, drawing, and more into digital). Sometimes I work fully digital for interactive ebooks and to create animations for those as well.

KT: Do you use any special tools to create on the computer?

LST: I use a Wacom Intuos tablet, although a large-sized one. What I like about the Intuos rather than a Cintiq is that it doesn’t need a power outlet or multiple cords to plug into the computer. I can use it sitting out in a flower field with my laptop if I want. I invested in a wonderful Dell monitor that is 27 inches and has fantastic color and quality of detail so I can see my images large when I work in my studio. I run my digital software on my Mac laptop (it has a graphics processing card that allows for bigger files and faster speeds). When working in smaller apps or Procreate, I work on my iPad.

KT: Do you have any hardware or software that you would recommend for beginners?

LST: I think for beginners, an important tool would be a computer (laptop or tower) that has enough processing power to handle an app like Photoshop. You can find the suggested specs to run Photoshop on the Adobe website. I use Adobe on my Mac and find that Photoshop has a great range of tools and effects I like to paint with. There are other kinds of digital paint softwares that are inexpensive or free to use as well. Clip Studio Paint and Krita are good programs to play around with. 

A drawing tablet is also key, whether a standard drawing tablet or a digital display, like a Cintiq, and there are many brands now that perform well and are not too expensive. Remember, if you have an iPad and a Mac, your iPad can be used as a mini Cintiq of sorts by utilizing the “sidecar” options in the settings on your Mac.

KT: What is the best part about working digitally for you?

LST: There are so many things I love about digital. For one, no fear! The undo button and the ability to save and work on various versions of a file let you freely experiment. It gives an artist the ability to change a piece at any point in the process in a multitude of ways. The other is speed. Digital doesn’t need to cure or dry, and you don’t need to grab supplies from the store, you can jump straight in. I also love being able to mash-up traditional work into the digital process. I love to get my hands messy, but with digital, there’s no real mess and it can be easy to take your whole studio with you to create anywhere. 

KT: What is a challenge in creating digitally?

LST: Starting out, there can be a technical learning curve that sometimes is hard for beginners. Your work or marks on the “digital page” may not look the way you are used to and be at the level you can create in your chosen traditional mediums. I always tell my students it is no different from any other art medium they had to master, be kind to yourself and see what comes out. 

KT: Do you have any advice for illustrators looking to break into making art for children’s publications?

LST: Keep learning! Find and use the resources out there for you, there are many great tutorials and artists sharing what they know. Take classes. As artists, there is always something new for us to learn! Make sure to have a portfolio online that is easy to access and showcases your best work, in addition to sending out postcards and posting to social media accounts. Find a community of support, like the SCBWI, that can provide mentorship and opportunities to network with other artists. And lastly, make art every day! It is a passion, but also a good reason to look at it as your job.

KT: Thank you so much Laura-Susan for joining us and sharing your creative wisdom! 

To learn more about Laura-Susan and her fabulous work, please visit her website or follow her @seismiccowink on Instagram.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Author photo and illustrations provided by Laura-Susan Thomas.