Lauren Nyquist is a professional illustrator, writer, and cute animal enthusiast. Born and raised in Michigan, she learned to love mischievous squirrels and colorful fall forests early on. Her work is inspired by wildlife, and created to nurture fascination and appreciation for the natural world, as well as compassion towards one another. When she’s not drawing, you can find her writing both poetry and blog content about Michigan plants, animals, and state parks.
"Crossing Paths", the fifth piece in our Artist Series, was designed by Lauren. Inspired by the many ways Michigander lives intersect with our wilder neighbors, she created this piece to illustrate how our paths cross, both literally and figuratively.
I spoke with Lauren to learn about her art, inspirations, and hear her story:
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew I loved art, and drawing and painting were a part of my life as early as I can remember. But I don’t think I seriously considered art as a career until high school.
I joke sometimes that if I wasn’t an illustrator I’d be a zoologist, but that was honestly the choice I was weighing. It came down to the realization that, if I had to pick one thing to do every day for the rest of my life, it would be drawing. I still stand by that, and I like the flexibility that a freelance illustration career affords!
Plus, I love the idea that when you’re an artist, you can be a student of many things. I’ve collected so much random but interesting knowledge that I had to learn for a client project to say, draw a bridge accurately or make sure some animal tracks looked correct.
It’s exhilarating to go out in the world and recognize something I learned three months earlier when I was hidden away in my studio working towards a client deadline. Just yesterday I walked outside to see squirrel prints in the snow, and I recognized them immediately because I’ve just finished all the research for the new Michigan State Parks poster for Peninsulas!
I love that your art is inspired by nature.
Yes! Animals have always been my favorite thing to draw, ever since I was a little kid. Something about squirrels, bears and birds are both very scientifically interesting, and personally endearing to me.
How did you go about creating an illustration? What did you do first?
First, I play around with a bunch of different ideas, and figure out the general layout of a piece. I almost always do this traditionally, in my sketchbook with a pencil.
Then, I’ll take that rough sketch to my computer to refine the layout and shapes, and play around with color until I find something I like. If there’s any type involved, I’ll start working that in the layout as well.
From there it’s mostly painting out everything to finish. I create the finished piece mostly digitally these days, although I love being able to include some traditionally-inspired texture here and there (pastel, gouache, charcoal, etc.).
There’s also a lot of research involved to make sure all the information that’s included is correct. For the Crossing Paths design, it wasn’t enough to make sure that the animals looked correct, but also that the binomial/scientific names were correct, the spacing and shape of the animal tracks were accurate, and various other things. This doesn’t really have a “stage” because my research is sprinkled throughout the entire process. There’s also a step where I double-triple-quadruple check all the binomial names right before I turn in the finished piece (laughter).
I’ve found that sites like Michigan Flora, iNaturalist, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Michigan DNR website have been invaluable resources for my research!
What music do you like to listen to while drawing?
Right now it’s a tie between indie folk and soul. I’ve been really interested in Fleet Foxes’ music, especially their new album, Shore. I also love Raveena Aurora’s work! Her music has a very uplifting, soft-but-strong mood to it. When I’m working, I tend to listen to more instrumental stuff: scores from period dramas or “coffee shop” playlists. It helps me focus.
You grew up in Michigan, what is your favorite memory?
My grandparents have a cottage “up north” (Northern Lower Peninsula) that my dad’s side of the family goes up to a lot. I have all sorts of happy childhood memories from there! Afternoons playing in Lake Michigan, pastries from Crescent Bakery in Frankfort, spending lots of time in The Bookstore (also at Frankfort), sledding in the winter, that sort of thing.
If you had to eat one thing everyday for a week (without getting a stomach ache) what would it be?
This is maybe a weird one, but it would definitely be dried mangos! I just love ‘em!
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I have this perfect dream of waking up at the crack of dawn, birds singing, coffee in hand…alas, I’m a chronic night owl with a pretty stubborn circadian rhythm. Maybe one day!
Is there anyone who inspires you?
Plenty! Art-wise I’m inspired by an unending list. Music artists (Janelle Monae and Hozier), poets (Mary Oliver and Ron Padgett), historical visual artists (Klimt, Gwen Frostic, Tove Jansson) current visual artists (Tom Froese, Rebecca Green, Chris Turnham, Christian Robinson). The list goes on and on.
There’s also my mom, who’s been running her own photography business for years now! I talk to her all the time about running a creative business. I’m also lucky enough to have worked with the great team at Peninsulas, and I’m often inspired by their work ethic, positivity, and creative power!
What advice would you give someone?
Do what you love. Paint that picture, learn to play the trumpet, heck, build that basement train set. If it makes you happy, it has value!
I’ve had the privilege of being able to pursue my passion as a career, but I know that’s not the path that everyone takes, or can take. But I do strongly believe in making space in your life for your passions and interests, simply because they make you happy. That alone can enrich not only your own life, but the lives of the people around you!
Is there anything very important to you?
Yes! When it comes to my art and my life, compassion is a huge factor. This plays out in a lot of ways. Just being kind to people in my everyday life, of course, but also to take the time and energy to learn from people whose experiences are different from my own. And, to care enough to advocate for others who are struggling. I also extend this mindset towards treating the wildlife around you similarly, with a sense of respect and gratitude.
Eventually I would really love to open a shop of my own, and donate proceeds to causes I care about. That’s definitely a goal I’m working towards!
What is something you are looking forward to?
The little things. Right now it’s hard to make big plans or think about the long-term (you don’t need me to explain, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about). So I’m looking forward to things like: updating my website, finishing Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, making more illustrations, seeing my LDR partner again, my next cup of coffee. Stuff like that.
If someone was visiting Michigan for the first time, where would you recommend they visit?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. If they like the outdoors, I’d recommend one of our State Parks in the UP, like Tahquamenon Falls. If they’re more into art, music and history, I’d say spend a day in Detroit at the many museums and galleries! Or, if they like those sort of hipster-y, vintage shop or coffee shop spots, Ann Arbor and Royal Oak are great. Oh, or visit Drifter Coffee in Ferndale. I love that place!
You’ve mentioned it already, but tell us a little more about your most recent design you created for Peninsulas and the Michigan State Parks.
My design is called Crossing Paths, because it’s about…drumroll please…crossing paths! The beauty of seeing all sorts of different animal tracks in the snow, and admiring that - and also how we don’t live our lives in isolation.
The birds chirping outside, the squirrels running around in the trees, the deer outside your car window, they’re all sharing the same environment as you, having their own experiences. I think it can be easy to forget that there are all these little lives around us, especially when we’re (understandably) already busy trying to navigate our own lives.
Experiencing wildlife up-close, the way you can when you’re out on a Michigan State Park trail, can remind us that these amazing creatures exist outside of just looking pretty in nature documentaries. We’re all neighbors, and we have the power to positively impact the world.
I had so much fun chatting with you, Lauren! Thank you so much!
To see more of Lauren Nyquist's illustrations and designs visit www.laurennyquist.com.