This month we welcome illustrator Laura Fisk to our Member Interview Series. We also welcome Laura as our new Austin Chapter Illustrator Coordinator. Her picture book, SLEEPING BAGS TO S’MORES, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April, 2020. At one of our Austin Chapter Monthly Meetings, Laura shared her experiences with printmaking and how to start a line of retail offerings that feature illustrations. Check out her shop at Fisk and Fern. At another Monthly Meeting, Laura was part of a panel discussing building a better portfolio.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut. The nature and attitudes of New England will always be a big part of me. People in New England have a very no-nonsense exterior, but are quite warm once you get to know them. My town had lots of woodsy woods that I loved, including on Long Island Sound. I basically spent every summer going to the beach as a kid. I miss the seasons here in Texas. Seeing the trees change and watching the snow fall for the first time is something I miss every year.
Did you always want to be an illustrator, or did that come later?
I’ve always loved drawing and making things, since before I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to have a greeting card business. I vividly remember illustrators coming to my elementary school and how important that was to me (the great Steven Kellogg visited once!). My mom had a picture framing business in our basement, and I loved going down there and feeling like part of a workshop. I didn’t go to art school, but found my way by doing many other creative things: working at a rubber stamp store and an art and framing store, as well as taking many, many continuing education art classes.
In my early 20’s, I had a literal lightbulb moment reading Steven Heller & Marshall Arisman’s book, Inside the Business of Illustration, and realized all the doodles and drawings that I did—that was really illustration! Everything really clicked into place for me after that. I had lots of work ahead of me, but I finally saw the path.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
I don’t know if it would be all that interesting! Most days involve a mix of working on projects and assignments, drawing (mostly on my iPad Pro), catching up on mundane business stuff on my computer … ideally while drinking tea and listening to my many podcasts or Spotify. So, basically, a lot of quiet problem solving!
During the three months leading up to the holidays, it’s way more action packed; I have a small company called Fisk and Fern. I sell giant coloring sheets, dish towels, and other things online and at a holiday show in town called Blue Genie Art Bazaar. During that time, you’d see me in a never-ending scramble of packing online orders, prepping products (screenprinting, folding, packaging), restocking shelves, and dropping off at the post office … rinse and repeat!
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I wonder if it’s my everyday life or my life in my daydreams, as my mind always tends to wander to distant places. However, I’m influenced a lot by my eight-year-old kiddo, who is so funny and silly and loves all manner of spooky stuff. I also have always been inspired by my sweet pug, Salsa, who sadly recently passed away; but many more pugs will be drawn in her honor!
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
When it comes to illustration, my book, Sleeping Bags to S’mores, makes me really proud. It’s a real book! 100 full-color illustrations! I look at it and it’s hard to believe I actually did that in such a short time too—I really only had five months to complete it.
Another big thing that makes me proud is being a part of the creative community in Austin, and, of course, SCBWI is a big part of it. I’m so grateful for the many friendships and connections I’ve met here, and my life and work are so much better for it.
What surprises you about the creative life?
That it’s a winding path and never a straight one. I think when I started my business I thought that I’d want to make greeting cards, and that I would maybe do variations on that theme, and I’d somehow become successful and just keep doing that. How naive! I’ve now realized, many years later, that you’re always in a state of growing and changing—with different projects or different ideas. I’m never quite satisfied; but I also think that’s a good way to be because it pushes you to do more, and not get stagnant.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Fun! Happiness! Joy! Humor with heart. I love making people laugh or smile with my work, but also hope they see the sincerity in it.
Who is one of your favorite mentor illustrators?
I’ve had almost too many mentors to mention—so many people who believed in me and helped me find my artistic path. At my high school and college job in the art rubber stamp store, the women there (especially our manager) made me believe in myself and made me feel that I could actually do something with my art. It’s crazy that my afterschool job influenced me so much, but it’s true!
In terms of professional illustrators that inspire me, the big three going back to my childhood and still today are: Sandra Boynton, James Marshall, and Jim Henson. I feel my work always genuinely harkens back to all of these folks.
Would you rather get lost in the Connecticut woods or be found in the Texas hills?
Sorry, Texans! I’m going to have to choose Connecticut woods (or anywhere in New England or upstate New York if I’m being honest). I do like the Texas landscape; it’s beautiful. But when I see pine trees and green and wetlands, it feels like home.
If you draw a pug on a tea towel or mug, whose heartstrings do you hope to tug?
It’s both heartstrings and I want to make people laugh. Pugs are so weird and funny, and that’s why I love them. I’m always speaking to pug people first, who are in on the joke of these little weirdos, and then hoping to win over everyone else.