I’m a huge fan of the work of illustrator, Libby VanderPloeg. Her work is addresses current issues imbibed with a fresh, whimsical, and humorous touch. We’ve been the lucky host of a few collaborations now with our Lars Book Club printable art prints, but you can find her work from products at Anthropologie, to book covers, and magazines around the globe. You can even take her class on Skillshare, which is actually on my bucket list this year! We’re so thrilled to learn more about her in our latest interview.
Becoming: Interview with Libby VanderPloeg
What did you want to be when you were young versus when it was time to decide what to actually do?
When I was young, I wanted to be everything! A comedian, an actress, a fashion designer, a magazine editor, an author, and, of course, an artist and illustrator. I sometimes wish that I had figured out that I could be a professional illustrator a little sooner instead of stepping around the edges for so long, career-wise. But I’m really thankful for all of the design and professional skills I developed in my career leading up to running my illustration studio.
What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person etc.
All of the above! If you want to solve a visual problem, it’s really helpful to be able to work it from every angle. I also get restless when I only work on one kind of thing. It’s like eating the same thing at every meal– eventually you’re going to be missing some essential nutrients you need for healthy, happy development.
How did your childhood influence what you have become?
I can’t stress enough that it’s not an accident that I was able to become an artist. I kind of won the happy childhood lottery in that I had loving parents who had the means to foster my creative inclinations. When they noticed my interest in art, they put me into kids’ art classes to feed my creative drive. From age 7 through high school, I was taking art classes both at my public school and on the weekends through the local art school. I wish all kids were as lucky as I was. All kids need art in their lives and deserve opportunities to express their creativity!
Did you feel pressured in any way to pursue a certain career path?
Not at all. I wanted to be an artist, but I hated the idea of going to art school, so I took my time getting there. Starting with 2 years at my local community college and then moving to Chicago, where I worked odd jobs at first before getting on the design / art direction track. My parents stayed out of my decision making, probably because I was super headstrong. I think I was fortunate in that way to be the youngest of three, so there was a little less pressure on me to walk a clear path.
How did you get started in your field doing what you do?
After moving to Chicago, I got a gig working as a “spraymount girl” at a children’s pajama company, making presentation boards for the sales team. When I wasn’t making boards, I would hang out with the designers in the art department. Where they gave me little lessons on how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Not long after, I landed a job as a junior designer (and illustrator) for a small design studio, and within a couple of years I’d worked my way up to art director there. After that, I worked as an AD for a small publishing company on Chicago’s north side, before deciding to go back to school to University of Illinois at Chicago to get my BFA.
What did you study? Did you go to school specifically for what you do?
I studied studio art (drawing, painting, time-based arts, and sculpture) at UIC, and majored in Sculpture. I didn’t even think about majoring in Illustration while I was there, and I’m not sure why not! It was definitely something I was interested in. I think I figured as long as I could paint and draw, then essentially I could illustrate too.
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?
Definitely my mom. She has always been an unapologetic feminist, and made it clear to us, in a loving way, that motherhood was a part of her life, but only one aspect of who she was. She was (and still is) joyful, caring, and strong AF. She always worked, and made sure that all members of the household, both boys and girls, had a role in keeping the house clean and getting dinner on the table, which taught us to be cooperative and self-reliant.
What’s your work space like?
My partner and I just moved, so right now the office is a little boring and needs some work. I’ve got wood floors, an old rug, my computer and desk (it’s a standing desk my MultiTable which I love), a Craigslist-sourced IKEA bookshelf that I picked up when we lived in Brooklyn, and a cozy dog bed. My aforementioned awesome mom came over and painted the walls for me! I chose a really light pink to give the space a calming vibe. I still need to hang things on the wall to really make it feel homey!
Your work is so clever. How do you come up with your ideas?
I feel like my best ideas come to me while I’m not in front of a sketchbook. When I came up with the “Lift Each Other Up” gif, I was out for a run, thinking about all the supportive women in my life and how to visually represent that. When the idea popped into my head, I literally ran home straight-away to start working on it, and had it completed by the end of the day! When I thought of my “Layer Up” gif (girl putting on all the sweaters), I was just sitting on the sofa on a very cold morning, trying to imagine how many layers I should put on to get warm myself! I think you have to be in tune with your imagination, and when you think of a funny or clever idea, write it down or sketch it up quickly, if you have 5 minutes, because this blip of inspiration can fly out of your head as quickly as it came!
What is your favorite part of illustrating? The concepting, drawing, finalizing?
Concepting is the hardest part, since it requires me to force my brain to solve a problem in multiple ways in order to determine the best path forward, and my sketches usually look so awful. So I try to get through this part relatively quickly. The drawing part is usually a little more relaxed and fun since I now have a roadmap to follow. And finalizing is the best feeling, since, by that point, I was pretty sure I was able to solve the problem.
Did you always have an ultimate plan?
Nope, and I still don’t! I do like goals though, and I’ve got a secret stash of long-term ones.
You’ve done work for a number of clients. Any favorites?
I love working with Grace Bonney from Design*Sponge (See our interview with Grace here), because she’s shown me how my work can be more inclusive and open people’s minds. And I love working with S.W. Basics, another one of my earliest self-procured clients. Adina Grigore, S.W.’s founder, is such a wonderful, smart, and funny woman. She really believed in me and my work, even before I did! But really (I know this might sound impossible) I love almost all of my clients! Maybe I’m getting good at recognizing the projects/clients that are a good fit for me, but I feel lucky to have lots of faves 🙂 .
What sets your brand apart from other brands?
I play around with a lot of different styles and media artistically, so I think it might take a moment longer for people to recognize my work. But that’s okay with me. I just love exploring new ways of working!
Do you like being the face of your own company? Does it have any draw backs?
I’m cool with it! In fact, I wish I had seen/had some access to more women-illustrator-business-ladies growing up because I think I would have been inspired to follow their lead. The only drawback is having to put yourself out there in front of people when you don’t always feel super confident. But I just try to maintain a healthy perspective, and remember that I’m human (i.e. fault-ridden, scarred, error-prone, with bad hair days and occasionally charming and/or inspiring thoughts to share).
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What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up early (6/6:30 AM), drink coffee and eat a bowl of cereal, watch some news, and then put in about 4 hours of work (drawing, email, concepting) before lunch. I have no typical lunch. I love eating, but I don’t like large lunches, so I usually just have a few bites of various things in the house (some cheese, chips or crackers, some leftovers, a piece of fruit). And then back to work for another few hours. Both blocks of work include the ever-important stretching and snacks breaks. I clock out around 6, which is when my partner, Erik, gets home. And we usually watch some TV and eat a late dinner. We lead a pretty tame life! But we just got a dog, so our routines are in the midst of big changes (like a lot more walks!).
What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?
Don’t make yourself crazy with your perfectionism, via my Dad. Make deadlines for yourself, stick to them, and if you don’t love the finished product this time, that’s normal and fine. Assess what you don’t like about the piece, and keep the critique in mind for your next project. Bit by bit, you will begin to make work you like, or even love, more quickly.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in a creative field?
Don’t wait for work to come to you. Opportunity awaits for those who seek it out! And if you want to get better at what you do, do it every single day.
What’s coming up for you in 2019? And your company?
As far as work goes, I’ve got some really cool, fun projects that I won’t talk about yet 😉 . And personally, I hope to spend a lot more time at Lake Michigan this summer. We’re working on renovating a little house near the lake, and hope to have it ready in time for beach season!
Where do you live? How does that influence your work?
I’ve lived in a lot of cities Chicago, Brooklyn, Stockholm (shortly), and am now back in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I grew up. I am definitely more of a city girl than country, and I think that’s reflected in the busyness of my work. I like to show lots of little things happening all at once!
What does your dream retirement look like?
Hmmm… I don’t think I want to retire! I can’t imagine not making art. When I starting thinking about what I really wanted my career to be, I told myself it needed to be something I wouldn’t want to retire from. I mean, I would love to be at a point where I can get super picky about the work I do, but I wouldn’t want to stop illustrating. Then again, I do have some large project-y things I’d like to add to my life down the line, but I’m not quite ready to share those schemes out loud yet!
What artists/designers/creatives do you look up to? Both historical or present
Oh wow, hmmm…Roz Chast, Lisa Hanawalt, Christian Joy, Bjork, Andrea Zittel, Lisa Congdon, Annie Albers, Louise Bourgeois, Lady Gaga, Guerilla Girls, Dusen Dusen, and a million others!
What do you do when someone copies your work?
That’s a hard question to answer simply. If a person is trying to learn how to illustrate and they copy my work for practice and credit me as the artist they are copying, I’m usually cool with that. But when someone rips off an idea or composition of mine without crediting me, then that makes me pretty upset, and I will send them a message that I don’t appreciate it. And if someone straight-up shares my art on social media without credit, that really disturbs me, and I will definitely let them know. It happens depressingly often! So if I see this happening with other friends’ art, I always make a point to let the person posting know that they need to include artist attribution. But in general, I take a deep breath and try not to lose sleep over this stuff because it’s hard to change people’s behavior on the internet.
How has social media influenced your work?
I think a lot more about attention span and the scroll effect when I’m making work. I consider how things will read at a very small scale. I think a lot more about what will make something pop, which is one reason I love working digitally! I can try a few versions, look at them on my phone, and see what reads best in that format.
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Who is your work intended for? Example: you, your readers, someone who you hope is watching…
My work is for everyone (myself included), although I hear from a lot of women that the work resonates with them, and that makes me happy.
What’s inspiring you lately?
Life has been a bit upside down lately with the new house and dog, so I would say I’ve been a bit too distracted to notice incoming inspiration. But joy is in abundance right now. These new parts of my life bring me so much happiness.
Are you where you want to be in your life?
Yes, I am.
Anything more/additional you’d like to “become?
Gosh yes. A millions things…a little more confident, better at sewing, an interior designer, an expert gardener, able to fearlessly operate a table saw, an expert at time management, a person who knows what to make for dinner before she is at the starving point, less anxious, bilingual, et. al.
Where You can Find Libby: