Meet Our Inclusive Illustrator: Libby VanderPloeg
It is a tradition at CreativeMornings to work with an artist in our community to create an illustration for the monthly theme.
A monthly theme inspires new conversations and ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t think about. At our events, speakers are invited to share a story around the theme and what it means to them. After a month, we are excited to see the talks and inspiration that are born out of the theme.
The global theme for April is Inclusive.
Given that these monthly illustrations are at events all around the world, it’s only right that we get to know the illustrator.
(Illustrator photo: Leigh Ann Cobb Photography)
Meet Libby VanderPloeg
Libby VanderPloeg is a Midwest-based artist, illustrator, and designer. She grew up in Michigan on the edge of the Great Lakes dunes in a small town called Grand Haven and has since lived in Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York, and Stockholm. Her mixed-media paintings, animations, and digital illustrations drift between art, pop, and meme culture, exploring her relationship to feminism, activism, aesthetic ideals, and daydreamy pursuits of happiness. When she’s not drawing, you might fun her running, cycling, or on a quest for buttery pastry.
How did you get into illustration work?
I always loved drawing, but when I was a teenager I didn’t really see a way for me to do it professionally and still live semi-comfortably. Being a practical young woman, I sought out a career that I thought would give me a sense of economic independence and security. I started out working as a graphic designer in my early twenties, but from the get-go, I was always looking for ways to work my drawing skills into my projects. I worked primarily in the publishing industry (magazine design and marketing) and there was often a need for spot illustrations. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to get plenty of on-the-job illustration practice. Over the years, I started lots of self-directed, creative illustration side projects, such as a weekly illustrated recipe column for my neighborhood blog, greenpointers.com, and eventually, future clients took notice of my work! In time, after working pretty much day and night to chase this dream, I had acquired a reliable list of clients for my illustration work and I knew it was time to make drawing my focus. I quit my full-time design job, went all in, and I haven’t looked back since.
How has your work evolved over time and what were some influences that caused it?
I did a lot of vector-based work when I first started playing around with illustration, incorporating half-tones for a vintage feel, but this process never felt like it had enough of my own hand in it to satisfy my love of drawing. So eventually, I started working with a brush pen. I loved that my hand was now such an integral part of the work, but I realized I wasn’t enjoying the process of editing my ink drawings because I had been spoiled by the flexibility of vector work. Everything changed (albeit slowly) once I got a Wacom tablet. Now, I could enjoy the feeling of drawing with my own hand while still being able to easily edit and vectorize my work. I also could play around with color palettes more easily.
My style came about in part because of the way I enjoyed working, but also because of the kind of illustrations that I enjoyed looking at—bold color, crisp, clean lines, a sense of humor, and just enough detail to get the idea across. It’s still taken me thousands of hours of drawings to get to a place that feels like my own.
How does this month’s theme connect to you personally? Why is inclusivity important to you?
I’ve always tried to make work that’s positive, empowering, and motivating. In the past few years, as the political climate has become more divisive, it’s felt even more imperative to make work that fosters community and appreciation of diversity. I’m most fulfilled by my work when I hear from folks coming from all different walks of life. They tell me they feel like they can see themselves in my work and that it feels good to depicted in a powerful way.
What are some projects or plans for this year? How do you personally want to grow?
It’s been a crazy year so far! On top of my normal workload, we bought a house and adopted a dog in the same month. Both changes have been a ton of work and huge growth experiences. I’ve been so focused on illustration for the past few years that I’ve hardly had time to think about anything else. Now, I have a large, furry friend to take care of and it’s changed pretty much every part of my life. I think and hope that things will settle into some more normalcy over the next few months. I’m excited to do some traveling this summer, likely going to the French countryside to learn the art of pastry making! I used to dabble so much creatively and I want to do more of that again. I want to spend less time in front of the computer.
You gave a talk at Grand Rapids, what was life after that? Did anything change?
I spent many months reflecting on the theme of Commitment and working on that talk. I came out of it learning quite a lot about myself and having a greater appreciation for what I’d accomplished over the course of my career. Although the experience was a bit nerve-wracking, it made me want to do more public speaking! Fortunately, I had a few more opportunities to speak throughout the rest of the year. It helped me connect with more creative folks in my community, which is always a good thing.
What’s something that you recently learned or was inspired by that’s influencing your work or life?
Honestly, adopting our dog, Tucker, has been quite a learning experience. This is our first rescue dog and every day we have to spend a few hours working with him to help Tucker through his fear and anxiety. I sometimes get so frustrated with him and wish he’d understand that the world isn’t out to get him. I have to hope that lots of love and positive reinforcement will help him move past this fear. Even when our dog acts like an a-hole, I have to always stay calm and be a completely reassuring presence for him. Things only escalate if we start lashing out in response and causing Tucker to be more stressed out rather than fixing the root problem.
Overall, this dog is giving me perspective. While dogs and people are quite different, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of fearful people who act similarly when they are scared. Their fear of the unknown often manifests in defensiveness and loud, annoying barking. I’m learning that in terms of human interactions, we need to ignore the comments.
What does the future of illustration or graphic design look like to you?
I think that more illustrators are going to be adding motion to their work, as technology makes animation easier and digital content platforms become more ubiquitous. I’m excited to see where traditional illustrators take their work!
On a less fun note, with so many people using Instagram to research illustrators and share illustrations, there is a lot of creative theft happening. Much of our work is shared without any credit to the artist and the average person has no idea how destructive this is. The issue of intellectual property theft concerns me and makes me wonder if creative folks will become more hesitant to share their artwork on social media. Unfortunately, at this time it’s hard to conceive of a better, more economical way to promote your work.
Tell us something about yourself that we can’t find on Google.
I love my bike! She’s a mint-green Salsa Vaya named Mariah. I might not be the fastest cyclist, but I can cover some decent distance! My longest ride in a day so far has been 80 miles, but I have a goal of riding a century (100 miles) this year. I better start doing some leg work now!