Meet the Sponsors / Giveaway: Laura Coyle of

Last week I was The Expert on‘s Meet the Expert series, where Atlanta-based designer and instructor (and jazz vocalist!) Laura Coyle gave me a warm welcome and asked me questions. This week, I’m excited that the tables are turned! Laura is an extremely talented freelance designer whose client list will make your head spin. So I asked her here to talk about her work, sing the praises of Adobe Illustrator, and tell you about the online classes she teaches.

As part of this Meet the Sponsors interview, we’re giving away a spot in Laura’s Ink and Paint workshop,  which is a self-paced online class that will help you make your vector art more natural-looking with hand-drawing techniques. It’s also partially a lesson in using the Wacom tablet, which is a favorite tool of many a famous fabric designer.

To be entered into the random drawing, simply leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick a winner this Friday, May 4, 2012.

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Please tell us more about your background!

I grew up in Atlanta and always wanted to be an artist. I went to school at Auburn University starting in graphic design, but later moved into illustration. I was excited to discover I could make a career of drawing pictures!

{ Laura’s birthday collection for Target }

How did you learn Illustrator?

I am mostly self-taught. In school, graphics software still lacked much aesthetic range. I started my career working in watercolor and ink and scratchboard. Later, I had an illustration client who was nudging me to “go digital.” At first I was resistant, but they gave me some deadlines, which I always respond well to! I spent a lot of time working with Illustrator manuals in my lap.

What would you say to people who are intimidated by Illustrator, either because they have never worked in it or because they consider themselves “Photoshop people”?

I completely understand their plight, I am the reverse: an Illustrator person who still has plenty to learn about Photoshop, and I keep that in mind when I create a class. It’s empowering to have learned a complex program like Photoshop. Adobe Illustrator is no more complex, just different, and just as powerful. I explain the logic of how it works, so students can adopt the mindset and get into making art, and a lot of them wind up in love with Illustrator!

{ The new Parcheesi board, designed by Laura Coyle }

You re-designed the Parcheesi board! What was that like? I imagine it must be intimidating to re-design a classic, especially when you’ve got such a respect for classic and vintage design.

It was fantastic! The old board I grew up with is definitely iconic, but it’s a perfect candidate for re-styling because it originated in India and throughout the game’s hundred-year history, the board has changed with the times. Hasbro wanted to highlight this and make it appeal to kids. A sculptor designed the animal pawns while I went back in history, researching patterns inlaid in the marble of the Taj Mahal and motifs you would find in mehndi designs. This was eleven years ago, and it was fascinating merging that history with the relatively new process of drawing, scanning and sending designs back and forth over email.

{ Laura warms up her vector illustrations with handwriting and hand-drawn lines. }

A lot of people (including me) complain that art designed in Illustrator looks “too Illustrator-y.” What is that all about, and what’s the one biggest thing people can learn so that the art shines through first, and not the technique?

It can be easy to fall into using too much native Ai vocabulary and shapes that don’t have much life to them. Incorporating scanned drawings and textures can warm things up. I work from scanned pencil sketches to keep movement in my work. And I rely on my background: watercolor taught me a lot about how to use transparency and blending modes. Art history can show you how simple shapes like the ones Matisse cut from paper or Calder cut from metal can be the elements of a beautiful composition. You can use Illustrator to craft beautiful shapes – rather than letting the software shape you too much.

How did you get involved with And what makes them different from the other e-course sites out there?

Renee is a designer and Photoshop guru – we became friends in Atlanta and later we ran into each other at Surtex in NYC. Her book Digital Designs for Scrapbooking was out and she was traveling the world teaching the emerging craft of digi-scrapbooking. She launched her website where she offers a range of classes in Photoshop, PS Elements, digital art and photography and she was looking for an Illustrator teacher. Renee is right on the technology curve — her site offers a very popular class on iPhone photography — and you can watch any of the classes on an iPhone or iPad. You can watch lessons wherever you are or whenever you have the time, but you also get attention from the instructor and a community of fellow artists that helps you stay inspired.

Which classes do you teach?

I teach Beginning Illustrator and Illustrator 2, an intermediate class. We call them the “Essentials” and they are both comprehensive (4-5 hours each) to give students a good working foundation. Then I have a series of shorter project-based workshops (1-1.5 hours each) that teach more skills in-depth.

And how do the online classes work?

My classes are all self-paced, so the minute you sign up, you can watch the streaming video lessons — and they never expire, so there’s no time limit. Classes include written content and files for the art we create in class. We have an Illustrator forum and gallery, which is a big benefit because we can gather, talk shop, and share tips. I’m there to answer questions, but we a lot of participants are actively contributing to the conversation too. It’s inspiring when you are learning something new to make friends and exchange ideas and images. Also, I host monthly Illustrator demos online, so students can attend the live chat or watch the recordings later. I take suggestions for what to demonstrate, so you have the opportunity to get specifically what you need in the live chats.

{ Happy Hour pattern by Laura Coyle. Her Illustrator 2 class includes instruction on creating repeats. }

And finally, what does the aspiring fabric designer have to gain from these courses?

Illustrator is an essential design tool — not only does it have repeat pattern capability for fabric designers (and we work with repeats in my Illustrator 2 class) but vector art is endlessly editable. You can take a tiny flower from one pattern, enlarge it, and make it the jumping-off point for an entirely new design. From the first lessons we start creating art and along the way I teach about building and editing art to take advantage of Illustrator’s unique strength: anything you create at any time could be the seed for another design. We work with color too so you can stay organized while working on collections of art.

I teach about measuring, tracing and working with precision: the technical aspects of illustrator that you could apply to anything from laying out sewing patterns to preparing work for print. I also spend time on drawing and working in intuitive ways so your personality can shine through.

Finally, Ai is a great companion to Photoshop and in my Essentials lessons I work between both programs. In my own work, I create for greeting cards, paper goods and similar markets so I want the artwork we build in my classes to have colorful and decorative appeal. We don’t draw 3-D flaming Camaros, as cool as those are, but I want you to feel like you can start making useful art right away and ultimately infuse it with your own style.

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Thank you so much, Laura!


  1. I have taught myself a fair bit on Illustrator, and I have a tablet/stylus (not Wacom brand though).

    I get frustrated with Illustrator, because I feel like I do lots of things the long way round, I am sure I would benefit from learning the right way to do things.

    I probably need to sign up for a class.

  2. Nina Tovish says:

    Oh yes, yes please! That class would be great timing for me.

  3. Katie says:

    I’d love to learn more!

  4. Pam says:

    I would love to learn. I hope I win

  5. Charlotte says:

    Wow that is an unbelievable giveaway, I would love to win! Great interview too. Thank you

  6. susan malcik says:

    I really need to learn this stuff! Hope I win.

  7. Cherie says:

    Thanks for this post….I just purchased Adobe’s classroom in a book on Illustrator to try and figure it out but a class like this would be awesome!

  8. Pamela says:

    Please enter me in the drawing for this wonderful class. Very nice interview!

  9. Tabitha says:

    Thanks for the informative interview. I just bought Illustrator, and wow, what a lot there is to learn.

  10. Kate Erbach says:

    I would love this class. Although I can use Illustrator, I would like to learn more techniques to add to my arsenal. I fumble around in the program now and want to be more self-assured when using it.

  11. Chelsea says:

    What a neat interview and giveaway! I would love a chance to win.

  12. Greta Songe says:

    Laura’s lessons are just great and easy to follow! I just started the Ink and Paint class and just love it. My work included a lot of hand-drawn elements, so it really plays into the aesthetic I love.
    Don’t count me in in the drawing, but I’m just here to plug the class! ha! :)
    Also, Kim, you should know, I am TOTALLY addicted to the color changing tool in Illustrator after last week’s talk on ReneeTV! geez. :)

  13. Would love to win always want to learn more about my own craft.

  14. Angela says:

    So Interesting! I NEED to learn illustrator and this sounds perfect! It is such a vital tool in our industry!

    Great interview!

  15. Andrea says:

    Would love to win this so I could attempt to design my own fabrics for my dresses.

  16. Ellen says:

    Please enter me!!! Thanks!

  17. I would be VERY happy to be entered in the drawing for workshop. Thanks!

  18. Else49 says:

    Illustrator sounds like a very interesting program. We don’t have it right now but we plan on buying CS6 in the near future so I would have access to it then. The more I read about illustrator the more I like to try it. Thank you Laura for giving the opportunity to win one of your classes.

  19. Sondra says:

    Sounds wonderful! Thank you for the Giveaway! Great post.

  20. Alex Sanso says:

    Great interview, and I’d love to try out Laura’s classes. I work in Illustrator all the time and am quite comfortable, yet I know I am leaving lots of untapped potential behind. Thanks for the opportunity!

  21. Sally T says:

    I love Illustrator! But need help with precision. Count me in.

  22. Taryn says:

    What a great interview! I am a graphic designer, but I have always been more on the page layout side. I would love to learn to use Illustrator a bit better.

  23. Stephanie says:

    Neato! What a great opportunity. Thanks.

  24. button6 says:

    I finished your swirl shop class. got some beautiful results, thank you.

  25. Kanani says:

    LOVE Laura’s work! I’ve taken her Swirl Shop class and would LOVE to win a spot in her new class!

  26. Thanks for the great interview…

  27. This is so interesting, I can’t wait to learn more. Thank you Laura;-)

  28. Elizabeth says:

    The class sounds amazing!

  29. Allison says:

    Sounds like a great class and what a beautiful style Laura has

  30. LisaT says:

    Sounds wonderful,I hope I win a spot in this class

  31. Nicky Ovitt says:

    It was a great interview with you, Kim! Glad I got to see it. Yours with Laura is equally good! Would love to take that illustrator class. thanks!!

  32. Kathy Julian says:

    Laura is so generous with her knowledge and I can’t wait to hear more. I have been a graphic designer for quite a few years but always avoided the pen tool, only using it when I have to. I have watched Laura on YouTube and have just signed up for ‘Swirl Shop’. I would love to take another class to develop my skills to help me work smarter and really understand what I am doing.

  33. Wow! How great to have someone share so much of their technique with others.

  34. Barb N says:

    What an interesting interview and introduction. I am learning so much as a ‘late bloomer’ and this would be so much fun!

  35. mark braught says:

    Great stuff. Long-time fan. Keep up the great work

  36. Janet Broxon says:

    Great interview, I would love to take this class! A more freehand approach to Illustrator is what I’m looking for.

  37. Becky says:

    I hope I’m not too late to get in the drawing! Please pick me! I would love to be able to use my Wacom tablet better. Thanks!

  38. Tamara says:

    HI Kim, I would love to win the class!!! I’ve taken laura’s classes in the past and loved them!!! I would like to learn more about designing fabric with you Too!!! Thanks for the chance !! Tamara

  39. Sue Allemand says:

    Great interview!! Can’t wait to take some of Laura’s classes! It would be awesome to win one! Thanks!! :)

    Sue Allemand

  40. Cindi Gay says:

    Thank you for the well timed post. I feel like I won already. I purchased the 2 set beginner package. I watched the sample videos before purchase and have already learned some things that will save time. Whoo hoo, now off to learn more.

  41. Sherry says:

    I enjoyed the interview of Laura—and your webinar interview last week. Love the class format and it is on my “to do” list.

  42. i have done everything by hand so far…but feel I ought to know how to use illustrator but every time I open the programme I switch it off again! I need a kick up the bum to learn a new skill :) what a great opportunity, thank you x