Wednesday, August 20, 2014

StarSpun - a Graphic Web Novel by Laura Diehl

After a long break we are back with our member interviews. This time I am very happy and excited to introduce your to Laura Diehl's work and her latest comic project StarSpun

Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in illustration or what made you want to become an illustrator in the first place?

I’m a freelance illustrator who specializes in children’s fantasy illustration. I’m American, but I currently live in Southern Germany with my husband and our sock-stealing Cocker Spaniel (who is also my studio mate).

I decided I wanted to be an illustrator quite early on –in the third grade- when I was introduced to Chris Van Allsburg’s beautiful picture book: The Polar Express. I was completely mesmerized by the way he conjured up a whole story world through art and words. Throughout my early school years, I was always creating art, from crayon drawings, to colored pencil fanart, to computer painting. In college I majored in Painting only because my school did not offer an Illustration major. After graduation, I began to take on freelance art gigs via my website, until I was eventually doing art for clients full time.

You recently launched your own webcomic “StarSpun”, which is such an exciting project! How did you get started? What inspired you to make your own webcomic?

StarSpun had its beginnings as a single personal illustration piece, which grew into a picture book dummy (which it outgrew many times over in length), then a chapter book (which didn’t really work either), and then finally found its home in the form of an online comic. The inspiration to make it a webcomic specifically comes from digital art being my native medium and my excitement about the possibilities of creating with the unlimited “canvas” of a computer screen.

You publish a chapter each month, do you work way in advance on your comic to keep the set schedule up even if you might not be able to work as much on your comic as you would like to?

I’d love to work up a backlog, but, unfortunately, it’s all I can do to get out one chapter per month, let alone double-time it so that I am building up backlog. It’s a fact of being a freelancer that some months are more booked with client work than others so I do try to push ahead when I have time but generally on the chapter at hand. I knew this going in and I choose to start putting the comic out there anyway. Currently to me it is more important to be making headway with the comic and getting it out there to an audience. I knew that if I took too long stockpiling art/chapters ahead of time I’d never actually publish anything.

Speaking of time to work on your comic, how do you organize the illustration process of a whole comic? It seems to be a lot of work and your illustrations are also quite realistic and very detailed!

The “infinite canvas” format allows for an interesting workflow as it gives me the ability to lay out an entire chapter as a unit. I use this to my advantage as it allows me to have one huge file per chapter instead of having to keep track of 20+ pages separately. It’s only at the very end that I slice and save out the separate web-ready images.

Could you share with us how an illustration or page of “StarSpun” gets created from idea to finished artwork?

I create each chapter first as a series of rough sketches, where I can move the individual rough drawings around as needed to tweak the chapter flow and allow room for word balloons. 

I then move on to tighter sketches, which I think of more as “volume sketches” that are just for me, these let me work out form and expression with a bit more detail.

Then I devise a color palette for the whole chapter and use this to lay down a basic color layer under each sketch layer.

After the basic color is down I go through each panel, shading and lighting the forms until I can drop away the lines layer and just the shaded forms remain.

At the very end I add the effects, final word balloons, and final text.

Do you plan to also publish your comic traditionally or will it remain a free webcomic?

I’ve created the pages so that they one day could be published traditionally as a landscape format book. But plans for such a thing would likely wait until book one is compete. Either way, I fully intend to have it remain a free webcomic, as I feel that this is the original and my most preferred reading format.

As “StarSpun” is a free comic right now and a lot of your time goes into that beautiful project, how do you finance such a work intense comic as “StarSpun”? 

I am currently financing StarSpun with the other illustration work I do for clients. I do, however, have a Patreon page for it and would love to eventually transition into StarSpun being supported directly by fans who’ve become patrons. It would be great to be able to devote myself to the comic full-time.

I think “StarSpun” is your first comic project. What makes this project special to you, apart from this being your very own and original story?

I love that the comic format allows me to fully tell a story from beginning to end by myself. Most of my other illustration pieces are just single images, which, by their nature, can only tell one fragment of a larger story. I also enjoy that comics as a medium allow for an ‘older’ and more complex story than might fit within a picture book. For someone who communicates primarily in the visual medium, comics are the perfect and most immediate way to tell a great story.

Most of your work seems to be created digitally. What are the advantages for you to work digitally and do you also work traditionally at times?

I’m 99% digital and have been for over a decade. I honestly haven’t used real paint since college and only occasionally break out the physical sketch book. I love digital because it affords me the ability to paint with light on an unlimited canvas. And I don’t have to clean the brushes afterward! Super-great for someone like me who hates getting their hands messy.

You have a very strong and distinct style. Could you share with us how you discovered and developed this very style?

I discovered it by doing. I started playing with digital art in 1998, when my family first bought a computer, and I’ve been creating art with a monitor and Wacom tablet ever since. Over time I’ve picked up methods I like better than others, discarded those that didn’t work for me, and discovered what I really enjoy most. I don’t think about style so much, I just have a way I like to do things that tends to yield similar results every time.

Are there any other projects apart from “StarSpun” in the making at the moment?

I currently have more than enough on my visual easel with StarSpun and the occasional client commission. There are other more story worlds and ideas simmering slowing on the back burner, but full throttle ahead on StarSpun is enough for me for now!

I am always intrigued to find out what inspires people and nourishes the creative soul. What is your well of inspiration or is it a variety of things that keeps your creative juices flowing?

I am quite a fan of all things fantasy, so my creative well is filled with fantastical books, movies and games. I particularly resonate with Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, with whimsical middle grade fantasy books such as Bliss Bakery and When You Reach Me, and with beautiful artsy games such as Child of Light or Journey. I am also currently very inspired by living abroad in Germany –as it allows me to travel and see all the beautiful sights of Europe!

This is the final question I like to ask everyone, so here it goes. Now that you have been in the business of illustration for a while what advice would you give your younger self at the point when you were just starting out as an illustrator?

Figure out early on what you love to draw and how you love to draw it. Fill your portfolio with this. I’ve found that clients, big and small, tend to contact me because of specific portfolio pieces that are similar to what they have in mind. If your portfolio is also a demonstration of things you truly enjoy making, you are more likely to get assignments you love! Also, always do personal work. You never know where a self-inspired single image might lead you. Perhaps it will unlock a whole story world as my first StarSpun piece did.

Thank you so much, Laura, for this great interview! I cannot wait for the next chapter of StarSpun!

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