Laura Stitzel is a layout designer for an animation studio, and an exhibiting artist specializing in pen-and-ink illustration and hand-lettered vintage-style posters. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is now living in Toronto.
I chatted with Laura over a pint in a pub in the Annex – the neighbourhood which is about to host one of Toronto’s more unconventional outdoor exhibits, where she’ll be showing her new series of works on wood.
In the Annex Patio Art Show, art is displayed on the outside of storefronts and restaurant windows along Bloor St. West while artists hang out on the sidewalk. It’s an unusual setup, but Laura enjoyed the experience of exhibiting there last year:
“I really liked it. It’s strange because you can’t sell the work there, but I actually got a lot of publicity out of it, a lot of people contacting me after the show. It’s good because people are just walking around and they’re not expecting to see art, so it takes them by surprise and you get to see really honest reactions.
Laura’s latest series of works on wood, created using an ink transfer process that gives them a weathered vintage look, was inspired by classic circus posters.
“It’s taking an existing style of poster – the circus poster – and putting a twist on in, which is that it’s animals as circus freaks, and they have personalities.
“Because I really like animals, they are in my work all the time. I’m really fascinated by how animals fit into our day-to-day life.
“My Fear the Birds series was about how birds are around everywhere and they’re wild animals but they live in the city among people and it’s really interesting and it’s something that we don’t really take notice of.”
Laura’s technique is to do all the line work on paper first, using a fine tip pen or pen and ink. Only the colorful illustrations (like A Day in the Park, above) are painted digitally. The lettering on her posters is also drawn by hand, assisted by nothing more advanced than a ruler.
“I like to try to find a balance between wonky lines, things that are a little bit off and not computerized-looking, and also having it really neat.
“It’s very time-consuming. I love doing it though – it’s very meticulous and I just have the right kind of personality to not get sick of doing that.”
“The way I got into doing hand-lettering is I did an illustration course in New York a couple of summers ago and we were asked to bring a draft of something we were going to work on. I did just pencil and paper, and the lettering I copied by hand off the computer, fairly roughly. I brought it to class and the teacher loved it. Then I went to do the final draft, and I did the lettering on the computer, because I thought, “This is the good one now”. And when I brought in the final draft, she said, “What are you doing? Your lettering was so nice. You should just do it by hand.”
“I didn’t know that lettering was a thing – which I guess it is. And I really enjoy doing it. That summer has shaped my life quite a bit. It’s one of those little mistakes.”
For someone with obvious drawing talent and eye for design, Laura arrived at her current profession in a curiously roundabout way:
“I used to be a dancer and a choreographer, and I started playing around with projections for dance shows. I started playing with Flash – this is when the animation stuff was pretty new – and I was using it as a tool to create almost specific lighting for dance shows. But then as I was playing with the software, I found that I really liked it, and I enjoyed drawing. So then I went to university to study animation to help with the dance side of things. But once I began to study it, I really loved it and started working in it straight away.
“I started off as an animator, and as I was working in the industry I shifted from animation to design – designing backgrounds and props for animated TV shows, which is what I still do for work now. “
For her day job, Laura works for 9Story Entertainment studio in Liberty Village.
“I work in layouts, which is putting together backgrounds and characters and camera moves – putting all that together before it goes to the animators. So it’s a lot about composition and design, making sure the characters work well with the backgrounds.
“I’m working on a PBS show called Peg + Cat. It’s a preschool show about a little girl and her cat who use math to have adventures. It’s super cute and all the backgrounds are hand-painted, [in gouache], which is really unusual.”
And while we’re on the subject of cats: Laura also volunteers for Toronto Cat Rescue, a cat shelter that runs out of people’s homes.
“I have foster cats sometimes at my house. It’s a way of running a shelter that’s not in a building, so they don’t have to be in cages. People see them online and if they’re interested in adopting a cat, they would come to my house and meet the cat and they can adopt it straight from me. It’s kind of cool.
“I’m a bit animal-obsessed. I volunteer at the Humane Society as well.”
Laura is originally from Melbourne, Australia and I ask what prompted her to make the move.
“In Melbourne the animation industry is really tiny and I was freelancing all the time. I was managing to stay in work, but it’s very competitive and it’s very draining to look for work every three to six months. I just got to a point where I felt like a change.
“I was working for a company at the time that had an office in Toronto and an office in Melbourne, so I was offered a job in Toronto if I was going to move. So I started off on a six months contract with them, and that was enough to get me into the right circles, and I started meeting the right people. I’ve been really lucky, had a few more freelance shows after that, and then landed this job where I’m at now, which is a bit more permanent.
“It’s really exciting for me to be working in the studio where I’m working now. It’s 250 people, working on five shows at a time – that kind of studio just doesn’t exist in Melbourne.”
And how is she enjoying Canada?
“I love it. I don’t miss the weather or anything. I actually really like the snow, but I’ve only been here for two winters so far. I’ll see if the novelty wears off.
“Everyone’s so friendly. You really are.
“Canadians are a bit self-deprecating about it, but it’s a great place.”
- Annex Patio Art Show, July 13-14 (at Futures Bakery)
- Oakwood Toronto Public Library Artist Space (with Dara Gold and Hilary Leung), Sept. 1 – 30
- Barns Art Market, October 19
All images in this interview, unless otherwise noted, are © Laura Stitzel