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We were thrilled to interview the creative genius, Laura Lee Gulledge! Laura is an author and illustrator of the YA graphic novels Page by Paige and Will & Whit, which was nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award.  Here is our interview with Laura!

Laura Lee Gulledge

What is your favorite STEAM topic?

ART of course! But I also also love science, particularly earth science.  I also have a personal theory that more letters will get added to STEAM…eventually spelling out STEAMPUNK. Which I say half as a joke, half for reals.

What do you do for a living & what do you do for fun?

For a LIVING I write and illustrate YA graphic novels. Plus, I do a lot of teaching, workshops, and school visits which helps support the books as comics take so very long to make. For FUN I read, sing, dance, meditate, do yoga, hike, camp, send snail mail, draw in my sketchbook, and Artner on creative projects with friends. Hobbies include natural beauty and making playlists.

When did you discover that you wanted to be an author and an illustrator? 

I started brainstorming making a book while working in my sketchbook in my early 20’s, but at first I thought I belonged more in the art book or gift book category. My ideas were more illustrative and conceptual. But once I discovered graphic novels in my late 20’s I knew I found the medium that would best accommodate my voice. At first, I was intimidated to adapt my style to working sequentially in a format I wasn’t familiar with, but when I saw there was a strong need for more female authors I threw myself at the opportunity.

What does your day to day look like? 

I keep my days pretty regimented as I don’t have a boss looking over my shoulder to keep me in check. So I invented a fictional assistant named Coco to help me stay organized and on task! Every Sunday Coco makes my schedule for the upcoming week. I work 6 days a week right now since I’m on a tight book deadline. Plus I weave in school visits, shows, and other events each month. In the morning I do Coco work (aka emails, promotion, invoices, social media, etc) usually 8:00-9:30 am, then I transition to working in “flow state” for my drawing or writing work for the day which I do 10:00am-4:30pm or 5:00. Then, I’ll often take a hike or do chores to help clear my head before dinner. Then, after dinner is when I’ll do tasks like prepping for school visits, filling orders, personal projects, or self care from 7:00-8:30pm.

Tell us about more about your latest book Sketchbook Dares?  

Sketchbook Dares: 24 Ways to Draw Out Your Inner Artist is an interactive book featuring my favorite drawing prompts inspired by my personal sketchbook practice. It’s designed to cover a healthy variety of drawing subjects, styles, and skills in an accessible format appropriate for artists of all ability levels. The book features prompts, blank pages, and inspiring quotes all in a fun rainbow-dipped color palette. Since I got my start by working in sketchbooks, it was a particularly satisfying project for me to work on between graphic novels!

What inspired you to write a graphic novel? 

I first decided to write a graphic novel after first reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and then Blankets by Craig Thompson back in 2007 right after I moved to New York. For years I had grown frustrated trying to figure out where my style fit in the “art world,” so when I discovered graphic novels I was smitten with the flexibility and possibility of this new medium. I read only a handful of graphic novels when I wrote my first book Page by Paige because I knew I wanted to develop my own style that perhaps could also give voice to artsy introverts like myself who didn’t relate to classic comic superhero stories. I’m still impressed with myself that I really went for it…and still surprised that it worked.

What was your favorite project to work on? 

My favorite project lately has been working as a comics journalist with the Kennedy Center and their big annual Arts Summit where I capture the big ideas of these inspiring Citizen Artists and innovative thought leaders from around the country as a comic book. 

I also really enjoyed taking part in the Signs of Change initiative here in Charlottesville recently where artists collaborated with a local historian to help reveal the hidden stories of Charlottesville’s communities of color and how they impact the stories we are living today.

Is there any advice you would give young girls and boys who would like to be in an author or illustrator? Where did you start to get where you are today? 

My advice is to travel, read, volunteer, and listen as much as possible to let the world sculpt you. Look for needs you can meet along the way, self publish, and make things happen yourself rather than waiting for someone else to make things happen for you. Don’t look to make money off of your art at first, but rather learn skills and work other jobs to help teach you entrepreneurial skills while you make your art on the side during your 10,000 hours. Make the art you need to make and not what you think others want to see. Put yourself in places where you’re the worst artist in the room…and then ask questions. Diversify your interests and outlets, have a solid self care plan, and meditate.   Assemble your support system of mentors, allies, gatekeepers, and Artners and ask for their help on your journey. And above all, always use your art for fun and for therapy. Even if you don’t end up doing it professionally it’s most important to keep a personal practice to help keep yourself sane. Also, floss.

Have you ever heard of Svaha before? 

No, I had not but I tend not to online shop for clothes too much as a working class artist. I’m more of a thrift store, vintage, hunting-for-unique-finds-on-the-sales-racks-of-fancyplaces sort of clothes connesiuer.     

What do you like most about the Svaha brand and what would you like to tell our other customers?  

I love the eclectic array of patterns from artsy to geeky to sciency, the variety of clothing styles they come available in, and the abundance of POCKETS! It particularly seems like a good brand for geeky girls who grow up into strong women.

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