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Interview with illustrator Lauren Tamaki

Thursday 01 December 2016

Based in Brooklyn, Lauren Tamaki is an illustrator, graphic designer, and occasional art director. Her drawings are super stylish, perfect for the fashion illustrations she has done for numerous fashion houses and publications. In edition to this, she creates for editorials and other commissions, drawing a wide range of content, including portraits, maps, busy scenes, food, lettering, animals, and plants. Her illustrations often feature bold line work and bright colours, and have a bold sense of energy to them. She has produced work for clients such as GQ Magazine, Wildsam Field Guides, Bumble and Bumble, and The New York Times. We asked Lauren to give us the low-down on her work, inspiration, and creative process.

How would you describe your style as an illustrator?

I’ve always been obsessed with line and I think I’ll always go back to that as a very comfortable zone. I’m hoping I have work that’s recognizable but not same-y same-y, you know? Extremely bright colours and an attempt at an effortless feeling will probably always be in my illustrations.


Who or what inspires you?

I’m very VERY inspired by 60’s cartoonists such as Ronald Searle, Saul Steinberg, Quentin Blake, and the graphic design/illustration mash-up master, Milton Glaser. Recently I’ve been struck by the work of Kerry James Marshall – his portraits are so graphic and intimate at the same time. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

What does illustration mean to you?

Illustration has afforded me the chance to draw everyday for a living. In that regard it means the world to me! It can be kind of cult-y but most people in the industry are seriously lovely humans.


Your work is of all kinds of things – from portraits to maps – do you have a favourite subject to draw?

I love drawing people. I do quite a bit of portrait work and am really lucky that some art directors let me play within the confines of portraiture. If I find myself doodling it’s usually of flowers, because they are the most perfect creations on Earth! I would have a huge garden if I had the space and a green thumb.

You’ve created illustrations for books, magazines, websites, even the inside of buildings – is there a form you most enjoy creating for?

I love the immediate nature of editorial illustration. They know what they need, they know when they need it. I love creating work for newspapers because it really is no nonsense.


Do you have a favourite series or piece of work that you’ve created?

Honestly my sketchbook stuff is my favourite. It’s all mine and it’s where the most experimentation happens. It’s hard to pinpoint one commissioned piece that’s a favourite. Recently I did some work for Women’s Wear Daily, which allowed me to create some of the fashion figures I do for fun and it was awesome. Working with The New York Times has been such a gift as well – they’re extremely supportive and let you play – my recent Hillary Clinton portrait was a great departure from my usual portrait work.

Which commissions have you most enjoyed responding to?

This is probably a typical answer but I love when art directors let you try out new shit. It’s really the only way to grow and its so fantastic when they support you in that.


What’s your creative process?

My creative process really depends on the brief. If it’s straight-forward (a bottle of wine, etc) then it’s a matter of making that thing look the best it can. If the brief requires something more involved I do wild, unintelligible sketches and sweat a bit. After reviewing my scratches I refine the images that are working and send them off for comments. Then it’s a matter of playing with colour on the sketch (usually in Photoshop). I try to go freehand as much as I can but if the layout demands something exact, I’ll use a lightbox.

What are you working on at the moment?

Portraits of course! I’ve been itching to do some new personal work so I have to dig around in my brain a bit.


What’s your dream brief or project?

I’m always wildly jealous of the illustrators who get to do a bit of storytelling during fashion week (and beyond) in editorials like T Magazine or New York Magazine’s The Cut. My DREAM dream is a children’s book, since it’s where my intense love of drawing started. The illustrations of Quentin Blake and William Steig (specifically Abel’s Island) are burned into my brain forever.

View more of Lauren Tamaki’s work on her website laurentamaki.com.