“Cute, gentle and fun”: why silly characters are so integral to Larissa Laban’s eclectic portfolio
The Sao Pãulo-based illustrator and designer on loving to laugh while she works and how recent Arabic classes have expanded her type design repertoire.
- Olivia Hingley
- 5 July 2022
For illustrator and graphic designer Larissa Laban, authenticity is key. In the case of Larissa’s work, this pursuit of authenticity has resulted in an eclectic mix of styles, mediums and approaches, all of which come together to create an energetic, entrancing and truly unique body of work. “Honestly, I have no idea how my style converges and unifies nowadays. I don’t know if it unifies at all actually,” she adds. “My process is organic, and I let creativity assume control.”
Whilst Larissa is clearly set on not needing to follow a strict style, one thing she does want to craft is a sense of identity, which she portrays mostly through her characterisation. And certainly, it’s Larissa characters that we simply can’t get enough of. From book-reading blobs and luminescent frogs, to cheeky devils, her fabricated subjects range from power-purple to harsh red, saccharine to mischievous.
If you were to listen to this character breakdown whilst not viewing Larissa’s work, you would likely be surprised to hear that she’s equally as attracted to much darker themes and visuals. Often beginning with darker palettes, Larissa will then throw her characters in where you would least expect them. “As much as I'm painting an oil canvas that seems a little dark I usually put a cute silly fluffy character in the middle of it to break the tension,” she explains. “I like to remember that there’s a cute, fun side in my head when I’m inspired to paint something dark.” It’s also a big bonus for Larissa if, when creating her characters, she’s able to find some humour in the process. After creating random shapes on Procreate, until she comes across “its little face”, Larissa will often find herself laughing when drawing her characters. “If I still don’t find it funny, it’s because I’m not doing it right,” she adds pointedly.
Like many creatives, prior to pursuing her passion Larissa believed she had to study something more “professional”, and likely to result in a stable career. And so, she began an undergraduate degree in advertising. But it was when she was studying that Larissa discovered her “enormous passion” for design and illustration: “much bigger than my enjoyment for studying advertisement”, she adds. After graduating in 2018 Larissa started working as an art director in agencies across São Paulo. Over time, she did in fact find herself enjoying working with companies and on big communications projects, but she struggled with the inability to bring contemporary illustrations and styles to the clients. Larissa then instead embarked upon a freelance illustration career, “where I could express myself much more freely and creatively”.
Larissa hasn’t entirely neglected the classroom, however, and during the pandemic she began learning Arabic, as inspired by half of her family’s Arab heritage. Early on in the course, Larissa’s teacher asked her to design a few posters for his school. Taking on the project was perhaps more difficult than Larissa originally envisioned. “I’ve discovered that it’s super hard to work on an alphabet that’s not yours,” she shares, “designing Arabic is both hard and fun because its writing elements have an important graphic component in each piece, and it’s totally different to what I’ve been using in my other professional projects.” But Larissa has well and truly risen to the challenge, creating a series of posters featuring her playful characters and well-crafted typography. In one particularly charming piece Larissa uses a grainy, airbrush effect to realise her smiling characters, the delightfully rounded, bubble-like font being the typographic icing on the cake.
Larissa Laban: Arab (Copyright © Larissa Laban, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.