Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the Virgina studio of author and illustrator Laura Lee Gulledge. I had such fun meeting Laura Lee at the Sheboygan Book Festival this past fall where we were both presenting. After hearing about how she was transforming the woods behind her house into art, I knew I had to have her on Tuesday Tours. In addition to her earthworks, Laura has created two fabulous graphic novels—Page by Paige and Will & Whit. Laura’s an active teaching artist, giving presentations and leading workshops for both students and adults. Her collaborators (or what she calls Artners) and herself are at work on turning Will & Whit into a play opening sometime in the new year.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I love art, drawing, and storytelling! I write and draw magical-realism-style graphic novels geared towards young adults. Besides making books I also enjoy performing drawing & painting live. My personal (and therapeutic) creative outlet has usually been illustration, but this past year has taken the form of landscaping. I’ve been carving out a “writer’s grove” in the woods behind my house: building terraces with chunks of quartz, digging a firepit, planting ferns. It’s fun world building. Then my Artners and I (AKA: partners in art) are currently making a musical adaption of Will & Whit for young performers which is an exciting new outlet for me. I also love another form of storytelling: Teaching. I enjoy connecting with students and sparking inspiration. Recently I gave comic workshops through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and was the Art Director at Camp Sequoia for young men with ADHD.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve been in my current space here in Virginia for a year and a half. I love the big windows and the view of the woods! It’s far superior to the view I had in my last studio in New York: a brick wall. The natural light really, really helps. My last studio was so dark I had to use one of those sun/ion lamps! So depressing. Here I have deer, squirrels, and birds outside my window. Much more inspiring.
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I have a typed schedule posted on my wall to give myself structure, because when you work for yourself you have to be a good boss! Schedule wise…I typically give myself “computer time” in the morning to handle emails, admin tasks, and internet work. (No internet exploring after this point unless it’s for reference!) After 10:30am is then “studio time,” when I become really cranky if interrupted. I try to make myself get up every hour to stretch or make tea. I give myself an hour “away from the desk” break usually at 4:00 when I take a walk or so something else active. Then 9:00pm is my personal cut-off time for being at my desk, because otherwise I’ll sit there until midnight!
My big ritual before starting work is that I always have to tidy the room I’m in before working so I don’t have any visual distractions. It’s the OCD in me. Then I also usually need to get myself OUTSIDE before settling into to work at my desk. Whether it’s visiting my grove in the backyard for a quick hello or simply walking outside and feel what the weather is, it’s a helpful transition ritual for me as someone working from home.
When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I had the most fun while sharing a studio with penciller Reilly Brown and writer Chris Irving in Brooklyn while I was making Page by Paige. Our studio, Outpost 54, was down the hall from other studios of comic artists such as Dean Haspiel and Simon Fraiser. It’s the only time I rented out studio space for myself and it was invaluably helpful for me as I was starting out!
Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a lot of whimsical souvenirs from my days working as a scenic artist on Macy’s Christmas windows. From the colorful rainbow circuit board to the giant cartoon glove, they remind me to dream big and work hard! I also have trinkets from other past projects I’m proud of, like the shadow puppet from our debut production of the Will & Whit Musical. I also have images of those who share my dreams with me: my dear friends, inspiring Artners, and my ancestors who I feel are cheering me on in spirit.
I also have a lot of “reminders” in my studio. Some are illustrations I’ve made that read things like, “Stress Doesn’t Improve Production” and “Let’s Be Revelationaries.” (I sell these as prints on my website for $7-10.) Others are post-it reminders to take care of myself, or to “Start with what you know” which is my mantra for when getting the ball rolling on a project (also handy for when I’m having trouble picking an outfit to wear).
What colors inspire your creativity. Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love complimentary colors, colors that vibrate when they’re near each other. Teal green and poppy red is my favorite such combination, salmon orange & sky blue is another one I love. But I love all colors! Periwinkle blue, the color of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia is probably my all time favorite hue. These colors appear as pops of color throughout the collection of artifacts that adorn my space. (they used to adorn my walls but my current walls are white) I pepper in a lot of color, especially yellow when I can. Yellow/ gold is always good to create warmth & make a space feel inviting.
If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
I’d relocate to beautiful Vermont for the Summer because my Artner Lauren Larken lives there. I love the lakes and rivers and especially the creative community. (Plus this plan also rescues me from the muggy hot Virginia in the Summer!)
Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I MUST have music on while I’m working. Lately I’ve been listening to New York radio station WFUV online. Their listener request hour is stellar. If I’m writing or thumbnailing and require more focus, I tend to listen to my Yann Tierson (more instrumental) station on Pandora. When I’m inking & shading I tend to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I’ve listened to the entire Harry Potter series via audiobook more times than I would like to admit.I’m currently reading the “Lumberjanes” (so fun!) and “Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota.” Before that I read “Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” and I cannot praise enough. Next up is the graphic novel “The Story of My Tits” by my friend Jennifer Hayden which I’ve been really looking forward to diving into.
If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
Definitely Scott McCloud. Not only is he super inspiring, but he and I also get along really well! I could see us having some really good conversations but then also knowing when to shut up and get work done.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
If you want to make a space to be creative then just CLAIM it! If your artistic outlet is a priority then you must stand up for your needs. Treat it with respect, keep it tidy, and schedule time for you to spend there. Display things to keep you inspired, such as what I mentioned earlier about personal reminders and images of the supportive people in your life. I’d also say it’s helpful to display your accomplishments in your studio. Whether it’s an award for something big or merely a souvenir from something you did that you’re proud of, I find it really grounding. Because we often don’t let ourselves celebrate out successes! I also enjoy including my fuzzy friend Rory cat in my space, hence there’s multiple surfaces for him to hang out. (as well as the oh-so-essential cat grass) Having an animal around makes working alone at one’s desk feel much less lonely and much less stressful.
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m currently working on writing & drawing TWO new books for Abrams and I’m so excited! I’m also developing the Will & Whit musical with my Artners here in Virginia. Then this January I have a residency at the innovative Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas where I will be working with kids making Peace Books. There is much afoot for 2016! To learn more (and if you’d like to buy prints) here’s my website: whoislauralee.com
Thanks so much, Laura Lee! Great seeing all of your creative endeavors. Excited to hear you have two new upcoming books!
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