Libby VanderPloeg, Artist, Illustrator & Designer
Libby VanderPloeg makes us say YES! Her designs have been shared world-wide – think the women helping women GIF – and her practice is truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing insights into your life and your beautiful illustrations with us, Libby.
What do you do?
I’m an artist and illustrator, designer, and occasional art director. I do some baking now and then. I just generally love making things, be it paintings, bread, papercrafts, or new friends. I try to be well-rounded with the making. I don’t make the bed every day though.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
I have a quote of Joseph Campbell on the wall by my desk that says “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us". I try not to be bound by the past and whatever missteps or miscalculations it may involved. I want each day to try to do better, to make work that’s more meaningful, and to make things that I am proud to invest my energy and creativity in. Most of the planning that I did in my twenties blew up or blew away, ushering in this time in my life where I’m quite rooted in the present, and hopeful about the future.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
Moving to New York in 2006. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t scared. I’d lived in Chicago for a while, so I was used to a certain kind of city living. I knew that if I worked hard, I’d be okay. And that’s what I did. Worked hard, made friends, and became part of a creative community that challenges and inspires me every day.
Working with Design*Sponge to illustrate their Design Icons Series and “24 Hours in” maps for the site. It was an amazing opportunity to sharpen my craft, to articulate my style more clearly, and to collaborate with so many dedicated shop owners, writers, and artisans. A lot of people got introduced to my work through those series, which led to many more fun collaborations.
And that led me to eventually quit my safe, yet ill-fitting job as a web designer to be a freelance illustrator. I was tearing my hair out for weeks, wondering if the timing was right, and then I finally remembered that there’s no such thing as a right time. And so I began concertedly pursuing my passion.
What is your dream project?
I would love to do a long-form animation about the color and shape of music. I know that’s rather vague, but it’s something I keep coming back to. I’d love to start an artists’ residency in Michigan, where I’m originally from. I think it’s a really beautiful and inspiring landscape. I’d love to do an illustrated cookbook. I’d love to create a line of easy dresses with fun prints on them. Is it okay that I have too many daydreams? I have so many :)
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I have some lovely book projects that I’m currently in the middle of. One of them is all about the art of the scarf, with tutorials on how to put all of those vintage (and new) scarves to use. Another fun book I’m wrapping up illustrating is all about etiquette, and how there are some rules of conduct that reflect the modern day. Then there are some miscellaneous magazine pieces, a fun animation project for a natural skincare company called S.W. Basics, can art for Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co., and a wedding invitation suite to round things out.
If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?
I think I would choose Lisa Hanawalt. She’s a huge inspiration to me. I found her work at a time that I needed to get excited about drawing. I instantly loved it – so beautiful funny, and smart, sometimes a little gross. If I could meet her, I would thank her for making work that made me smile, and made me say, “ Oh my god, this is so good. I wanna be that good". She’s a rockstar.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
I have a few shows that I’ve been loving, including Broad City, Better Call Saul, and Mozart in the Jungle. Musically I’m all over the place, but I’m really enjoying Laura Veirs lately. It’s not new, but I rediscovered her album July Flame a couple of weeks ago. It’s SO GOOD. And I have an obsession with Toumani Diabaté lately, a Malian kora player. His music sounds like rain. I like to listen to this song, Kaounding Cissoko while watching my rain animation. It’s a perfect match. So evocative.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
I absolutely have a supportive female network! We meet up once a month to catch up with what’s happening in our respective creative fields, share ideas, and commiserate about our challenges. It’s been a wonderful resource for support and feedback. While I’ve always had a great informal female friend network, having a group that’s small-business focused has been amazing. It’s like one of those mom groups, and our businesses are our babies. Ha ha, but seriously.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
When I was younger, my dad told me that you don’t always have the opportunity to make things perfect. Sometimes you just have to finish the task at hand and move on. Do better next time. It’s something I try to remember when I wish I had 10 extra hours in each day. Until I grow another head and four extra arms, I will have to keep this in mind.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
I wish that more people valued their own creative time. I know a few artists who worry that a potential client will get scared off if they are quoted a market rate, and so they ask for less than what their time and skills are worth. If people continue to undervalue their own work, then what will everyone else do? I think that we can all benefit from having a modest level of transparency with our peers so that we can all work together to achieve fair pay.
How can we find out more about your work?
While I do try to keep things up to date on my website, you can always have a look at what’s happening on my Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.