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Welcome to Digital Minds, a new interview series focused on the incredible digital artists here on deviantART.  Today I am interviewing Steph-Laberis  and I hope you will find her insights valuable.  

Thank you for taking the time to let me interview you, can you please tell everyone a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me! I'm rockin' my mid-30's, live in California with my lovely boyfriend and various rats and cats. I used to work in games full time, before that in animation, before that in toy design, but currently I am self employed and focusing on character design for animation and toy design, in addition to working on another self-published animal illustration book and figuring out how to brand what I do. I like having some variety in what I do again.

Panda Culture Shock by Steph-LaberisLofty Harvest Mice by Steph-LaberisI've Made a Terrible Mistake. by Steph-Laberis

How did you find deviantART and what keeps you here?

I think I found it through a webcomic about a decade ago and joined not really knowing what I was going to do here. I think what keeps me here is the great reach of an audience that is here, the supportive comments, the inspiration that shows up on my watch list every day and I've even made some freelance connections over the years on here. It's a nice place to be.

What do you like the best about creating digital art?

It's FAST. Doing illustration for a living means deadlines and revisions, and when there's a note to address like a big color change, it's easy to edit with layers and color balance sliders in Photoshop. It's also easy to take bigger risks with sketching and design because you can easily undo or edit your process without wasting actual paint. Over the years some really great, convincing gouache and chalk brushes have been developed for PS, and I really like playing with those. Sometimes people think I am working with traditional paints and I love that.

The caveat though is that as great as digital brushes are, they're still not quite the real deal and there are so many nuances and subtleties that you can't achieve as compared to real media. I admit I have become quite slow and conservative with traditional paints and that's something I need to keep up with.

You have a fun style that brings your characters to life with much charm, how did you develop a style of your own?

Thank you! A wise man once told me "Your style is the mistakes that only you make." I think he's right. But I also think that a healthy mix of inspiration and influence from other artists makes for a good style, and my biggest influences come from artists like Mary Blair, Fiep Westendorp, Nate Wragg, Shane Prigmore, Eyvind Earle, Lauren Faust, Charlie Harper... I really like the graphic, fun stuff. I also took many years of life drawing and learned the fundamentals, so I think I was able to build my style off of the understanding of the way humans and animals work. As much fun as it is to just cold-copy an artist you love, it's so important so draw from life, photo or in-person reference and your personal experiences too. I can tell if an artist is just aping another artist's style versus one who is combining influences with their own voice, the latter being so much stronger and engaging than the former.

It's Fritzy! by Steph-LaberisCorgi Wonderland by Steph-Laberis

Do you have any tips, tricks, or tutorials for other artists trying to find their own style?

Hmm. No tips or tricks, because there are no shortcuts. It's all about pencil mileage - invest the hours in what interests and inspires you. Turn it on its head. Try it in different styles, palettes, allow for happy accidents and artists blocks (which will pass). Keep it as fun as you can and it's OK to get frustrated with something - just don't let your time away from a maddening project be permanent and come back with fresh eyes when you're ready.

Please share with us the tools of your trade and any relevant information about them.

My main tools are Photoshop CS5 (I really don't like the subscription model of Creative Cloud, so I am holding out for as long as I can on that one), my Cintiq and my ancient Mac tower. I do play with gouache once in a while and lately I've been trying to find ways to use my illustrations in tangle objects, like pillows, ceramic coasters, jewelry and greeting cards. I also did a lot of needle felting for a while and still enjoy it, but it's very time consuming and right now I've been wanting to focus on my illustration again.

Can you show us your favorite pieces from your own gallery and explain what you like about them?


Rocket, My Hero by Steph-Laberis 
This is a homage to one of my most special rats, Rocket. I lost her quite suddenly and it was really tough on me, so I did this piece to show my snippets of memories about her when she was healthy. I still miss her.

Raturdae Full Shot by Steph-Laberis 
This was one of my last big felted pieces, based off of the first "Raturdae" illustration I did. I was really happy with how the white one came out and I might do more with this simple rat design.

Little Big Muppets by Steph-Laberis 
Mixing work with pleasure! I used to illustrate the DLC sticker packs for Little Big Planet 1 & 2 and I LOVED it. I also am obsessed with Jim Henson and anything Muppet, so when this project came up I was all for it - I think I even gave them more stickers than they asked for but whatever, I could have gone on with them forever and not minded at all.

Who are your favorite digital artists on deviantART that you'd recommend others to keep an eye on?


What advice would you give to artists just starting out with digital medias?

Honestly? DON'T STOP USING ACTUAL PENCILS/PENS/PASTELS/PAINTS/WHATEVER! There is a plethora of online tutorials about various paint programs, so I'm not going to go into detail about they how-to's on that. What I will say is that continuing to draw traditionally while you are learning a digital painting program will inform your techniques and process in a way that digital painting alone cannot. It will teach you about color and light (in the way that light reacts to pigments in real paint) that working digitally cannot. Be a well-rounded artist and don't abandon the old ways completely.

Any closing thoughts?

None really! Thank you so much for asking me to share stuff and for all you do for the artists on DA. You're wonderful!

Siberian Flying Squirrel Study by Steph-LaberisSnow Leopards by Steph-LaberisManed Wolf and Cubs by Steph-Laberis

March/April 2014

Fri Apr 18, 2014, 8:00 AM

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Add a Comment:
Thank you for the request! :happybounce: 
What a great honour to have a pic included in your gallery
Sincerest thanks
TonyCampagna 6 days ago  Professional General Artist
Thank you for the request!
GLoRToR Aug 31, 2013   General Artist

Hey guys, new to digital art but not new to art.

Where do I find the fundamentals?

You've been featured here :love:"
Consider giving the article a :+fav:" so more people can see it. :heart:
eindraa Apr 12, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
TehAngelsCry Mar 2, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Astrikos Mar 1, 2013   General Artist
:la: :love: :la:
alexandrasalas Feb 28, 2013   Digital Artist
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