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by Ryan Chatterton August 14, 2019

When it comes to approaching complex, artistic challenges, illustrator Lara Carson prides herself in taking unconventional approaches. Where artists would zig, she would rather zag.

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Canadian illustrator works as a professional 2D designer and has amassed over 20k fans through her Instagram with her color-saturated, geometric style.

While that success and that following have allowed Lara to build a career around animation and design, she’s done it all by doing what she would’ve been doing anyway: Her own thing, at her own pace, in her own way.

Breaking Out and Away

Lara’s artistic interests started with glitter gel pens, crayons, cartoons, and Disney movies, but she never considered a career path in animation until late into high school.

“I had taken a couple of digital art classes in high school and that really opened my mind to the possibilities of working in animation,” Lara said.

Even after high school, a fast track to an artistic career seemed up in the air. After two years at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Lara found her creativity in a lull. She needed a change — a big one — and she needed it soon.

“My creativity didn't feel very abundant at this time,” explained Lara. “I wasn't making things that I was especially happy with, but I also didn't know how to do better, so I just sort of puttered along.”

Lara found a semester exchange program at the University of Edinburgh, enrolled in their illustration program, and found herself living far away from home — in an entirely new country — a short time later. There, she found herself surrounded by both new and accomplished artists.

It was exactly the breath of fresh air that she needed.

“Being exposed to new influences and art was the breaking point for me to really push myself and feel like I had the right to stand amongst them,” she said. “When I came home I was even more motivated to create things that made me proud, and that’s what I tried to do for the rest of my time at school.”

Angling On Popular Culture

Lara’s exposure to other artists is key to her personal growth and success. From old school masters like Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha all the way to the artistic minds behind indie video games likeMoonlighter and movies likeInto the Spiderverse, Lara finds something that resonates with her on a personal level, studies it, and tries to learn everything she can from it.

That ability to learn and willingness to adapt is a hallmark of Lara’s artistic passion. She keeps an eye on other artists and what they’re doing, no matter whether they’re YouTube stars or friends from school. In Lara’s view, artistic expression is part of popular culture. If she can see it, she can learn from it.

“Even though I went to an art university and majored in illustration, I still believe that I learned most of my process and technical ability from outside sources,” she explained. “School taught me how to think about art and the art world, but I taught myself how to make said art.”

Of course, all influences aren’t positive. Lara notes that some of the characters she draws go directly against the themes she sees in popular culture, particularly where women are concerned. Having grown up around strong female role models and admiring powerful women in books and movies, Lara is quick to point to the scandalous renditions of girls and women in today’s digital art. This is especially true in the fantasy genre, and it’s something that Lara sees as a contrast to the type of female characters she creates in her own work.

“I guess I’m trying to show the other side that’s strong and maybe a little more realistic,” she said. “It’s kind of like a celebration and a freedom to be able to draw and be inspired by all these strong women, and I hope that my characters also invoke that can-do feeling for anyone out there needing it.”

Forcing Confidence

It’s safe to say that Lara’s unique style has been — in some part — directly influenced by the popular culture she experiences. But that’s not the whole story.

Looking at Lara’s work, you won’t find soft shading or subtle curves. It’s all sharp angles and hard color changes that come together in a jump-off-the-page style that’s both geometric and precise. The fantastical elements and vibrant colors which saturate the piece are almost secondary to the polygonal motif which characterizes her work.

Lara admits that creating such a dynamic style wasn’t her intention when starting out. It took her a while to figure out where her art was headed. Once she realized that geometry would play a big role in her style, she did what she usually does: She leaned into it.

“Looking at some of my influences, I can see where it probably originated but I think part of it too was forcing a kind of geometry to my work also forced me to be more confident in my shape, color and line choices,” she said. “Moving away from sketchier, more blended works meant I couldn’t really fake my lighting or anatomy as easily. Then, that forced confidence turned into real confidence and I just kept running with it.”

Even so, Lara says that her process among artists is pretty standard. She starts with a few sketchy layers that build on each other until she gets a clean-ish sketch. From there, she blocks in the shape and experiments with the colors until she gets something she likes. After that, it’s all about rendering, cleaning up, and sharing her art with the world.

Staying Personal

From start to finish, Lara maintains that art is as much about skill as personal experience. She’s a firm believer in personal time and in spending a healthy amount of time conducting “research”, which includes watching movies and shows, playing video games, or even taking a walk. Those experiences, Lara explains, help artists build a visual library that they can (literally!) draw from.

But none of that matters if you don’t believe in yourself. Lara admits that it might sound cheesy and overspoken, but everything from developing a personal style to landing a job comes down to self-belief.

“That drive and belief is, in my opinion, more important than innate talent. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you put yourself down or don't reach out to anyone, it can really hurt you in more ways than one,” She said. “But drive and confidence will push you to make better art and learn from rejections. Talent will follow. In an industry as competitive and tough as this, sometimes you just have to make your own opportunities.”

You can find more of Lara’s work on Instagram, where she posts new artwork and updates once or twice a week, including original pieces and tributes to some of her favorite inspirations. For direct contact and commissions, reach out through her website.

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Ryan Chatterton
Ryan Chatterton



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