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Laurie A. Conley is the Queen of Halloween. She didn't intend to gain that title but just sorta ended up there. When I first saw her work I was blown away. Actually, I thought I was looking at some vintage illustrations created long ago. Everything she makes I wish I could hang on my wall. Her beautiful ink on paper illustrations bring a sort of nostalgic feeling like comfort food. Although her subjects are often dark they come across as heartwarming and sincere. Have you ever wanted to hug the grim reaper? You'll want to hug hers. Keep reading to discover this gem of a person and get the inside story of this introverted artist.
What role did art play in your childhood?
The first and only thing I ever wanted to be was an artist, starting from when I was about 5 years old. I remember thinking that being an artist meant painting outdoors on a bridge in Paris! Drawing was my favorite pastime throughout my life. My parents were very supportive and never told me it wasn’t a good career choice.
Do you remember when you decided to make a career in illustration?
I think I made that decision at Syracuse University, where I was an art major. I didn’t know of many options for artists, and figured I should find a full-time job. My first job was as a staff fashion illustrator in a department store. It would have been so great to have the internet back then!
Do you feel your degree was worth the time and money? What advice would you give an aspiring artist when it comes to education?
I loved university, and I think I needed my degree to get a job at that time (I graduated in 1983). I got a lot out of the campus experience as well. But as good as it was, there were things missing from my art education. I didn’t learn that it was possible to be a freelancer or independent artist, or how to go about doing that. I think business classes should have been encouraged, and maybe finance classes too.
No matter what kind of art education they choose, I would encourage an aspiring artist to learn about art as a business. It’s good to know about marketing, licensing, managing finances, and business plans. I’m catching up now, as well as learning about multiple income streams and managing social media!
Could you describe your workspace?
I use the fourth bedroom in my house as a studio. It’s very small, and since I don’t make cleaning it up a priority, it’s very cluttered. My art table isn’t large either, but I make small art so that’s not a problem! My computer is in there with me, and I have a little TV. What used to be the closet is where I keep my art supplies. And the walls are covered with art that my grown children made when they were little. I have managed to fit a lot of toys into the room with me as well, such as Disney dolls and a growing collection of ghosts.
What does a typical day look like?
I wake up early, at about 6:00 am. I make coffee and watch the news with my husband until we make breakfast, and get to my studio by about 8:00 am. I usually work from a to-do list that I keep in my phone and on paper as a backup. I call it work triage, as in the biggest emergency gets done first. I get distracted easily, which is always a problem! I work until dinner time, and then often put in another few hours in the evenings.
What are your favorite tools?
My favorite tools are a dip pen with a crow quill nib, and waterproof black ink. I like to use cold press textured watercolor paper because it helps keep the ink lines from bleeding and I like how the texture works with the ink. If I am doing book illustrations, I’ll use a smooth Bristol board so that it’s easier to scan and clean the art for reproduction.
Do you ever use digital?
Yes, I use the computer a lot! For my book illustrations, I scan hand-drawn illustrations into the computer and use Photoshop to clean and revise them. I often use Adobe Illustrator to make vector drawings for education. And I use the computer to clean up scans of my fine art pieces too, so I can send digital files to have prints made for my shop. And recently I’m learning to do digital animations of my drawings!
When did you get into the spooky drawings?
That happened in 2014, when I made some Halloween art as a lark and got a good response from it. I realized that the spooky Halloween themes suited my pen and ink drawings well, and I’ve continued with them ever since. The haunted houses are custom house portraits, which I launched in my Etsy shop to see if they’d be successful. They were, and I have had so much fun creating them!
Is it hard to balance work/family/personal life?
It was harder back when my kids were young. These days, it’s quite easy! I am an introvert by nature, so I have never sought out an active personal life outside of my home. To me, any trip out, be it to do errands or spend a week out of town, can be a source of inspiration. And there are images and potential art pieces in my head all the time. So in reality, my work/family/personal life are woven together and are never really separated.
If money and time weren’t an issue, what project would you tackle?
I would like to make a book with a life/death theme that would be appropriate for everyone, even kids. It would be a bit spooky, but not scary.
Thanks for allowing us to get to know you better! How can people find your work?