An illustrated interview with UK-based illustrator Laurel Pettitt, whose work constantly puts a smile on my face.
How did your creative practice originate? Did you study art formally?
I studied Illustration at university between 2012 and 2015. Before then, I was interested in comics strips and children’s picture books as modes of telling stories and conveying humour and connecting moments. I doodled a lot as a kid and, honestly, mainly dreamed about becoming a writer. I also dreamed about becoming someone who sits around thinking about things and asking questions about life - a philosopher. And I wanted to be a Buddhist nun in a far-off country who recycles.
What are your personal motives for making art?
To connect with people and capture the world we live in.
What's a day in your life like?
I get up earlier now than I used to, about seven - seven thirty. My boyfriend makes us tea or coffee while I try to avoid my phone by handwriting in my journal. I get up and stretch, have breakfast, maybe shower, then sit down to look through my emails. I haven’t done much commissioned or freelance work lately, which is fine by me, so I alternate between my own projects. I put some music on. Some days, I pencil sketch out thumbnails for a design to sell, others I write or edit a book I’ve been working on. I go for a walk in the woods after lunch, making sure to be mindful, present and grateful. I then try to do a few more hours of work, moving onto drawing on Procreate on my iPad or continuing the writing. I often get distracted by coming across something interesting on my phone, mindlessly watching Youtube or Netflix or going to see what my boyfriend is up to. When it’s time to prepare dinner, I put away my work for the day and wind down with a meal then a movie or a book or messaging friends.
You've experimented with illustrations, comics, screen prints and riso prints. What other mediums have you not tried yet but would like to?
I’d love to have a go at digital animation.
I remember reading a post by you where you refer to Lynda Barry’s comic exercise, where each panel was drawn within the time limit of the length of a 2-4 minute song. What are some of your warm-up exercises / tricks to get you in a flow state? Do you have certain rituals when it comes to your practice?
I’ve tried the Pomodoro technique a few times, which is good for procrastination. I usually warm up by getting a bunch of reference pictures related to the project I’m working on and doodling them, playing with different pencils and pens until I feel relaxed and focussed. I like to have a tidy workspace. I think having something to respond to is a good way to get started, like an inspiring piece of text (a passage from a novel, a poem, a quote, an observation, a part of a conversation) or a photograph or illustration.
Your Hourlies, which we've had the pleasure of featuring earlier, are also quick sketches made over a day. How does the act of creating without overthinking within a timeframe differ from your usual creative process?
I think Hourly Comic Day is pretty stressful, especially when you realise you’ve missed a couple hours and need to catch up! The whole day revolves around quickly making these hourlies so they shape the day and vice versa. I’m usually quite deliberate and plan out my images through lots of thumbnail sketches. I do have random bursts of spontaneity when I see something I want to capture in the moment. I think there is a balance that is needed to let the work naturally flow, to preserve its initial energy, but also guide it. So not completely blind but also not wracked with overthinking or pressure, which can lead to inaction.
I'd love to know your thoughts on the creative community in England. What community are you a part of right now that you find most nurturing as a human being and artist?
The pandemic has shrunk my activity within the creative community. Earlier, I would be taking part regularly in group exhibitions and art fairs across the country and the lack of that is definitely felt. Art festivals give a chance for socialising and opening up conversations for collaborating, they’re also an amazing platform to inspire others.
I adapted to this change by focussing my time and conversation with a smaller circle of creative individuals whose work (within illustration, comics, design, writing, editing, photography, philosophy) and opinion I valued. These conversations are very nourishing. I do have a drawing club (in the most relaxed sense) with friends where we meet semi-regularly to draw or photograph and talk about current projects. I’m also part of a new community from starting a 12 week fiction writing course. Most of the interaction is done online and it’s been really stimulating reading other’s work and giving positive feedback as well as receiving constructive feedback in order to grow and stretch my creative muscles!
In regards to the online creative community in England on Instagram… I do feel like a lot of people have stepped back from that platform. It’s been such an intense time and people have had to change their lives and careers and realise their priorities. I wish there was more discussion and interaction on it. That being said, I value the people I follow on Instagram and it is a wonderful source for coming across new artists and friends and supporting each other!
Tell me a bit about Ísland book, your travel journal documenting my two weeks in Iceland, including observational drawings, comics, facts, folklore and photographs. Is it essentially your sketchbook converted into a book?
It is mostly my initial sketchbook converted into a book. When I came back, I redid a lot of the pages to make them neater, but I also added more material - probably a quarter of the book was new material based on information about the country. I’d never planned to make a book from my trip! It happened naturally, once I realised how much material I had collected from a short time there.
What are some essential things you never leave your home without?
Yes, I never leave home without a pen! If I ever forget my sketchbook I usually find something to draw on while I’m out. I always have my phone with me because I write any ideas that come up in the Notes app - there’s a lot in there! My walking boots, I’ve worn them basically everyday throughout this year, even in summer, they’re so comfortable and practical. An umbrella - never know the unpredictability of the weather nowadays.
Can we talk about the color choices you use in your work. Do certain colours match the mood you're in while creating?
I try to limit my colour palette when I’m working and choose depending on the subject matter. I do lean towards more pastel or complementary combinations. I like to use warm colours to convey that warmth.
What's inspiring you right now?
This autumn season, friendship, the book Dune as well as the new film of it, mushroom pickers, photographs of the Oregon coastline, the game Oxenfree, Albert Camus.
Follow Laurel's beautiful illustrations on Instagram @laurelpettitt_