Laura Manns, photographed in at her home in Brooklyn. She works at a number of fabrication companies, including the Jim Henson Company, Constructive Display, and Spaeth Design. She also makes props for Sesame Street, movies and television commercials. Her future plans include illustration and design in children’s media productions.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from.
It’s always been hard for me to say where I’m from exactly; my father is English and my mother is Chilean, I was born in Portugal and I’m a dual US/UK citizen. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY.
You mentioned you grew up in a number of different countries speaking multiple languages. Please explain your travels and how you think they had an impact on who you are as a person and artist.
My family and I moved around a lot because of my dad’s job in the textile industry. We lived all over Europe, South America, and Asia, and now we all currently reside in the US. I think that having to switch schools every 2-4 years made me become a people-person, and adapt to new situations quickly. I have no doubt that the different cultural aesthetics I was exposed to influenced my visual taste.
How do you describe yourself as a creative and the kind of work you do?
I guess I’m both an illustrator and fabricator. My work is lighthearted and playful, and usually inspired by animal imagery and folklore. I make puppets, miniature dioramas, animations and drawings and I’m always keen on learning new trades and techniques.
What does your job entail?
I work at various fabrication companies like the Jim Henson Company, Constructive Display, and Spaeth Design. I make props for Sesame Street, television commercials and movies, and most recently have been working on the animatronic Christmas window displays for the fancy department stores in Manhattan. Even though I love building things, I’m hoping to one day be an illustrator/designer in children’s media production.
Have you had any mentors in your life/career? If so, please tell me how they have shaped you as a creative.
My parents have always been really supportive of my choice to become an artist. I went to a high school with a really strong art program and my teacher Mr. Thomason guided me through my formative teenage years as a young creative. I continued my training at the Rhode Island School of Design and one of my professors, Erminio Pinque, was really inspirational. He runs a puppet troupe in Providence called Big Nazo, and also teaches a class called Creature Creation, where we each got to design and build a giant foam monster costume and run about town. I later did an Independent Study with him and got to participate in parades and visit public schools and hospitals, while dressed up in a crazy space alien or creature costume. While I’m not necessarily a performer, I enjoyed getting out there and making a moment memorable for someone.
What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on and why?
A couple of years ago I took a really intense wood carving workshop in Tennessee where I built a life size carousel horse. It turned out that I was the only student in the program, and there was a crew of old local dudes who would come in and whittle spoons all day. I was nowhere near completion after the course was over, so I shipped the horse in pieces back to Brooklyn. After work I would go straight to studio and chisel and sand for hours. Five months later, she debuted in the window display at McNally Jackson, a bookstore in SoHo, for the holiday season!
Do you have many other artist friends? How does this influence your work and creativity?
Yes, most of my friends are artists! They’re off in the real world doing amazing things like starting clothing lines and businesses, getting published, exhibiting, teaching and so on. It’s really inspiring.
Where do you get inspiration?
I watch lot of animation made during the ’80s and ’90s by Disney, Don Bluth, Igor Kovalyov, Genndy Tartakovski, Nick Park, Tim Burton, Hayao Miyazaki and John K. I love the drawing styles of Tove Jansson and Annette Marnat, and also the gouache paintings in vintage Golden Books.
You seem to have a strong interest in living and dead creatures. What does this interest stem from?
As a kid, I was enamored by the Natural History Museum in London, especially the dinosaur exhibits. I recently got a chance to revisit after 15 years, and there was an insect exhibition with giant bug sculptures and interactive games that hadn’t changed one bit! It was like a time capsule of my childhood which actually made me tear up a little.
At RISD, I worked at the Nature Lab, which is a collection of natural artifacts and specimens for drawing reference. You can ‘check out’ bones, fossils, crustaceans and small taxidermy the same way you would a book at a library. They had some live animals there too and I’ve always been into caring for pets, especially dogs.
Please describe how your creative brain works. Do you have any routines or rituals? Something that gets the creative juices flowing?
I do a lot of yoga which helps clear my head. I’m much happier and more motivated when I’m practicing regularly which probably makes me more inclined to make things.
How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
My definition of success at this point is really all about earning a living making things that I care about. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve worked with some amazingly accomplished people who’ve been at it a long time – I want to be able to look back and be proud of a few decades of hard work and experience before I call myself ‘successful.’
What are you currently working on?
I just got a tablet monitor, and I’m having a lot of fun with that. I’ve always preferred using tactile materials and was never really interested in digital art or animation until recently. I’m realizing the potential that can be had through layering and blending, the variety of brushes, and the ultra forgiving Undo key.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received about how to be more creative?
Take a break from what you are doing. Get up, look at something else, drink some tea, stretch, and when you get back to what you were working on things will probably be a little clearer.
To see more from Laura Manns, please check out: www.lauramanns.com