Wednesday, 26 June 2019 15:19

Getting GIFfy With It: Behind the scenes with illustrator Libby VanderPloeg

Written by  Marla R. Miller
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(Above) Saugatuck Douglas Map. (Below) "Lift Each Other Up." (Above) Saugatuck Douglas Map. (Below) "Lift Each Other Up." Art by Libby VanderPloeg

Grand Haven native Libby VanderPloeg praises her Grand Rapids Community College experience and offers this bit of wisdom when it comes to making it in a creative field: “Don’t wait for work to come to you. Opportunity awaits those who seek it out! And if you want to get better at what you do, do it every single day.”

Now a successful illustrator with national clients including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and more, VanderPloeg is one of four female artists featured in Storied Drawing at Saugatuck Center for the Arts. She moved to Grand Rapids two years ago after living in Brooklyn for 10 years and Chicago before that.

“It’s nice to be back in one of my hometowns after so many years away,” she said. “We especially love Michigan summers!”

VanderPloeg is leading the workshop Drawing Remixed for children ages 7 to 14 years old from July 19-20 at the arts center.

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Can you talk a little bit about your work in general and the work that is included in the exhibition?
My illustration work is colorful, crisp, clean, hopefully inspiring and/or motivating, and generally bustling with life. I’m inspired by the cities in which I’ve lived, and the diversity of people therein. I make a lot of maps, but I also make a lot of work about empowering women and the importance of community and diversity. My ‘Lift Each Other Up’ GIF has been going viral since I first shared it in 2016 on International Women’s Day, and has been shared by some of my favorite celebrities, including Reese Witherspoon and Cyndi Lauper!

What does it take to be a successful illustrator?
You have to be a problem solver — figure out what your client needs, why they came to you, and deliver a solution. Pretty much like every job, but with a lot more drawing. (Laughter) But making a good illustration in a reasonable amount of time takes a LOT of practice. It took me years and years to be able to work efficiently and create a workflow that felt right.

You also need to be self-motivated. If you don’t have any client work going on, take that as an opportunity to make some fun, self-directed work to bolster your portfolio and show people what you love to create. Then you just might get hired to do the thing you want to be doing! Honestly, that’s how things started to take off for me.

What goes into making a GIF?
There are a lot of layers of drawing in a GIF. I typically draw all of the elements for each frame on their own layer, so that each element can move independently of the others. I then create my animation from these layers in Photoshop using the timeline. But before any of the nuts and bolts of drawing happen, there has to be an idea, which is more complicated. The best GIFs loop seamlessly, but it can be really difficult to come up with ideas that are both clever and can work in a looping format.

What do you hope viewers learn or take away after seeing the exhibition? 
I hope people will feel inspired to grab some pencils and paper, start doodling, and see where the lines take them. Drawing is as much about the process as it is about the finished thing.

What is your favorite thing about being an artist and illustrator?
I love how I see color and shape, and I love how much excitement I get from making an idea come to life visually. It sometimes seems to take forever to get there, but when a work suddenly snaps into place, it’s such an awesome feeling.

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