An Interview With Louise Garbs

by Matthew Bohacik

Louise Garbs is an illustrator and designer in Independence, Missouri, and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri with degrees in Studio Art and Graphic Design. Louise was also the illustrator of Gust. Originally conceived in 2012 as an interpretive dance in response to the Joplin tornado, Gust has been re-imagined in a watercolor-based poetic narrative that was written by Georgianna Smith and illustrated by Garbs. She was featured in the 2014 Society of Illustrators scholarship competitions catalogue and has had her work displayed in the Society of Illustrators Gallery in New York City. Born in St. Joseph and raised in Blue Springs Missouri, she understands firsthand the brutal power of tornado alley, and was honored to work on the project.

When were you first exposed to Gust? Did you see the dance version?

My very first exposure to Gust was through an email from Kathryn Nuernberger, asking me if I’d be on board for the project. After agreeing, I watched the Gust performance on video countless times. I had it on in the background of working quite a bit.

What other works do you have planned for the future?

My future is very open at this point! This was the biggest illustration project I’ve done since school, and it’ll be up to me in the near future to decide where to go now. I’ve got a pet interest in horticulture that’s been acting up, so perhaps something plant related will come about.

How did you compose and arrange the artwork for Gust?

Composing the work for Gust was a mini storm in itself. Since much of the work is different watercolor layers I usually had a spray bottle in hand and two little fans going. Before getting to these textures though I’d sit and thumbnail where I wanted the weight to be and where text could reasonably be placed. Using the thumbnails as reference I would get straight to work with the wet paint as loose and as fast as possible, hang them up to dry, and scan them into Photoshop where I adjusted and arranged them.

How long did it take you and Georgianna to get the book ready for publishing? What was the collaborative process for creating the book like?

I was first brought on board in January of 2015 in the very very early stage. That February I submitted some preliminary explorations of the ideas I had in mind for Gust to the selection committee. Then we were in! Fast forward to mid-August where Georgianna submitted her first draft. This is when we started to send drafts and sketches between Sarah, Kathryn, Georgianna, and I. In November I met with Sarah who helped me understand just how much I was taking on and the exact time frame to really get started.

After that I received a pretty closely finalized draft from Georgianna and from that point on about every two weeks I’d submit 7-10 images to Sarah who would put them together properly. The first pieces I submitted were in late November and the final images were due in the beginning of January so I had little over a month to get everything done!

I loved the process really, it’s nice to have a team of people to knock ideas around with instead of going at it alone.

How has creating this book affected your thoughts on Joplin?

This project has cemented Joplin into my mind. I did not experience it so I will never understand it, but meditating on it for this long has made it much more real to me. Instead of remembering a news story I think about people and their faces – It’s become much less of a supernatural event and more of a human struggle.