Elizabeth Laferrière

Director, motion & collage artist

10 Years Experience

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Art Director and graphic designer, Elizabeth Laferriere creates still and moving images that encompass her poetic, sensitive and spontaneous vision. She plays around with typography, collage and video, and is moving towards set design and projection where she develops a more comprehensive approach. With her passion for art and go-getter personality, she sails through her numerous projects with one goal in mind – tell stories. Elizabeth completed a D.C.S. in Graphic Arts before doing her Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design at the UQÀM, including a semester abroad at ESAG Penninghen in Paris. Elizabeth was interviewed at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Read to the bottom of this interview to hear a follow up on how she is managing, 8 months later.

At what point did you learn about design and what drew you to it?

As a child, I was always crafting things: I would make little story books or play around with glue and paper or make costumes. My imagination was very fertile, and my parents nicknamed me “la Faiseuse,” which is French slang for “the Doer.”

I discovered design by accident while visiting a college on “open days” to learn about different programs. At age 17, I wanted to study fine arts or theatre production (my first love), but I didn’t fully embrace them, so I went for a field that was both rational and creative. I now gravitate more towards interactive or scenographic projects.

Describe the first office where you worked as a designer.

It was in advertising. I was 20 years old and freshly out of CEGEP (which is the equivalent of college in my province). I was responsible for adapting designs made by other creatives for every different format and media possible. It was hard, and it was super-repetitive. But I learned a lot, and it compelled me to explore what I was good at and to find my creative niche. Later on, I left to freelance.

I did my Bachelor’s degree at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) while freelancing. I’ve never had a full-time job since. I also started VJing around that time: I made little snippets of animation using Photoshop or even hand-drawn elements that I would project on screens. I didn’t know then that I would later work in the motion design field… But electronic music parties drew me to it unconsciously.

What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

Coffee is impossible to skip for me. It really is the first thing I do in the morning. And then it’s the morning routine with my son, daycare drop-off, and bike-ride to my office. On the best of days, I don’t look at my emails in the morning; I sit down at my desk in my studio and tackle the task that I feel will be my biggest challenge of the day.

I give myself an hour to create a first draft without judgment. And the key for me is to tell myself that this first draft will be whatever it will be, and I don't need to use it. It’s just a warm-up. Just like athletes need to stretch their muscles, our creative brains need to warm up and to wander.

What’s funny is that most of the time I end up going with these first drafts or using pieces of them as stepping stones. It truly helps just to go for it and then fix it along the way.

But that was before this whole pandemic situation (ha!)—now it’s back to a more hectic schedule that reminds me of when I was in school and working on an ever-changing schedule without any consistency.

Who do you consider to be an inspiring woman?

I am lucky to be surrounded by strong, inspiring women.

My mom, Lina Vandal, is someone who taught me to be patient and to focus on the bright side of things. To me, she’s a strong woman because she’s passionate and she embraces her sensitivity. A mother to four kids, she used to work in advertising when I was growing up. She had big responsibilities as account manager for Cossette.

I don’t know how she made it through, but I saw her work hard. Really hard. But her true passion was art. She quit advertising a while ago to focus on her art. She’s now 67 years old and has her own studio where she paints full-time. She’s also a model. I look up to her because she showed me, without even trying, that life is a slow grind and that you can reinvent yourself the way you want.

And I have to say that I’m a big fan of Brené Brown. Her research on vulnerability and creativity was a real game-changer for me. Also, her conference presentation at 99U is a must-see for every person in the creative field.

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Describe your design process.

Messy AND organized. I like for boundaries and parameters to be clear when I start a gig because I’m a docile child (ha!), but also a wild one. So paradoxically, I need to be able to be messy and to wander, to push the boundaries, and to be a little rebel in order for my work to be both poetic and practical. Creativity, to me, is not a straight line. And I love to be surprised in my own process.

What inspires your work (professional or personal)?

Emotion and intuition. That’s why my favorite projects are the ones related to music—there’s something abstract, yet truly visceral, about music that nourishes me.

What project are you most proud of?

It’s a close tie between the on-stage visual content of Robert Charlebois’ show and the music video for Alfa Rococo’s “Les Choses Invisibles.”

Champagne Club Sandwich (Gabriel Poirier-Galarneau) hired me to create some visual content that would be on-stage during Robert Charlebois’ latest tour. It was an incredible opportunity for me because I grew up with his music.

And it’s always an immense pleasure to work with Gabriel. He’s one of the best creatives I know. He trusts and truly embraces the different processes of others. I got to play around with beautiful archival materials to make surreal collages. The final result was amazing! And I love to work for show content—it gives another perspective to motion design work.

More recently, I directed the music video for “Les Choses Invisibles” for [electro-pop duo] Alfa Rococo. I created this new piece while quarantined at home. It was a special challenge, partly because daycare was closed (ha!), but also because we couldn’t meet in-person or film anything. That forced me to dive into my own process and just go for it.

I created many different vignettes to reflect on our individual and mutual feelings during these weird times. James Mabery (founder of Fern, which represents my work in the U.S.) animated a bunch of  the scenes. I love the way our creative minds bond together. He brings a lot of delicacy when animating but also offers strong impact. The band is giving all the profits from streaming and online sales of their song to the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation. I hope this project can be helpful and bring a little light.

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What is your personal or professional motto/philosophy?

“It has to feel right in the gut, not just in the mind.”

It sounds better in French: “Ça doit faire oui dans le ventre, pas juste dans la tête.”

It’s what I ask myself before taking on a new project. It needs to feel right in an intuitive way and not just rationally.

What does success mean to you?

I don’t like this word, to be fully honest. It’s not out of scarcity or avoidance of success on my part; I’ve spent the last few years questioning this exact word, and I find it quite ambivalent.

I think we all get confused between the meaning of success and fame. Can my own perception of success be free of other people’s opinion of my work? I’d be lying if I said yes. Peer recognition is important to me, and probably to most of us, but I’m now focusing on recognizing my own achievements and setting realistic goals.

That said, I think success is when you find freedom and joy in your work, and when this same energy moves people in a positive way. It’s when you feel you’ve contributed to other people’s lives positively, but also when you pushed yourself a little further (compared to yourself, but not to others). Fame is unreliable and on the outside; success is on the inside.

I had the opportunity to teach at UQAM this last semester, and now I think success is also when you see the spark in a student’s eye when they’ve pushed themselves and unlocked something they were struggling with. It’s an amazing feeling and a privilege to witness that happening.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in design?

Hands down, maternity leave!

I was scared that I wouldn’t be as creative anymore after giving birth and caring for my baby for so many months. As a freelancer, having to take a step back was scary. And as much as I love my son, I found it was hard not to be intellectually-challenged by creative projects for a while.

I wondered what part of myself I would be giving away to my son, when the truth is that you don’t give something away, it’s something you share. And that thing flourishes and gives back to you a thousand times more.

Being a mother revealed in me strengths I didn’t even know existed, and it made me more connected to my essence. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it’s the one and only ultimate opportunity for a woman to be stronger! But to me, the journey of becoming a mother was a powerful one.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

It means that we have to WORK. To keep our chin up and to trust ourselves. To deconstruct things that society has taught us we can’t do (or be).

But it also means that our sensitivity is welcomed and celebrated. I used to share an office space for the last four years with 11 other motion designers, all men. They showed me, without even knowing, that it’s not a bad thing to ask for what you’re worth and to stand your ground when you believe in something. They’re never scared to be called picky, bossy, or precious where their rates or needs are concerned.

What was your educational experience like?

II have great memories of my design school years.  Hats off to my teachers! It’s a vocation to transmit knowledge!

I studied graphic design in CEGEP for three years, then took a year off to work, then completed a Bachelor’s degree at UQAM in graphic design with a semester in Paris at ESAG Penninghen. I sometimes miss those years! It was so much fun to explore and travel through Europe.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

I sometimes daydream of being a ceramist. Pottery is my hobby and I’d like to explore more of it.

I would also love to be a stage designer. Theatre is a very powerful art that can move people to their core.

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.

How can I make sure my work lasts in time? How can I continue to grow independently and build a strong future for myself?

(I think that focusing on directing and telling great stories, rather than focusing on my technical skills, is the key here).

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when starting?

Tricky question! Now that I’m a mother, if I answer that I would’ve done something different, maybe I would never have met my son or my boyfriend! I think it’s better to just trust the future… even though I’m a super-nostalgic person.

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What are the best and worst pieces of advice you’ve ever gotten?

Worst advice: Make sure you shield yourself and don’t trust easily, because people will take advantage.

Of course, trust is something you build over time, but the energy spent on doubting everyone is excruciating. So this is advice I tend to ignore. I think it’s just more effective to be clear about your own boundaries than to examine and scrutinise others’ intentions.

Best advice (from my oldest friend): Ask for what you want… and then shut your mouth! Let the interlocutor think and respond in their own time. Women tend to ask for something and then open the door wide for the other person to negotiate (“my daily rate is X, but let me know what you think about it”).  It’s because we're scared we’re not enough.

But we are enough. So we should just ask. And then shut up.

As a woman, what sacrifices have you had to make in your professional life?

Not that much, I think. Life is about choices. Something always has to give. I used to think of maternity leave as a sacrifice, but my child is not a detriment to my career. He’s my lighthouse. He keeps me grounded. And my partner (his dad) is really supportive of me and my career. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to travel for work, he’s always been cheering for me to do it. He’s also an entrepreneur (chef and owner), so he knows that it’s normal not to count hours when working on different projects.

What is unique to the woman design experience that no one talks about, but should?

That we are not soft or emotional. I think it’s about time women get higher positions in the creative industry and that we are trusted more. We live in a society that puts a lot of value into hard skills; women are strong because we can bring nuance and empathy to workplace leadership.

What’s your favourite thing to do when you come home?

My pre-pandemic self would say “hug my son and boyfriend and sit down for a meal.”

My seven-weeks-in-quarantine self would say “wine and dill pickle chips for dinner.”

Who are your design heroes?

I’m a big fan of BlinkMyBrain (Ariel Costa), Tom McCarten, and Ruffmercy, who are amazing motion artists. Their work inspires me and opened up the possibilities in my mind since it’s so different from the rest of the motion trends a few years ago when I started animating. Their styles are very analog and quirky.

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Who was/is your greatest mentor and why?

Montreal-based illustrator Lino was my mentor. He taught me at UQAM and was one of the best teachers I’ve had. I’ve met amazing other artists and designers through him, and he’s offered me several gigs. He pushed me hard sometimes, but he was always benevolent, and he encouraged me to embrace the mess and chaos of the creative process. I will always be grateful for his guidance and influence on my work.

Is it possible to be unique or original in the Internet age?

It depends on how you see it. A director once told me “everything has been done, but never by you.”

What are your plans for the future?

I want to focus on directing. I have stories I want to tell, images I want to create.

I’d like to have a good balance between commissioned work and personal work. Commissioned pieces nurture me and bring me into places I sometimes didn’t think of. But too much working for others is tiring to me. As my collage approach evolves, the way I want to tell my own stories does too.

I’m working with Fern on a short film about empathy, and I have a series about philosophy for kids I’m currently writing. Let’s see what the future brings!  

Your interview took place at the beginning of COVID. How are you managing, 8 months in?

I think I'm fine now! It's been a wild ride of emotions, mostly at the beginning of it all. Working from home with gigs being canceled, others coming in, taking care of our son while my boyfriend was working days in / days out almost by himself to keep his restaurant going was overwhelmingly overwhelming.** Back then, we didn't know much about that virus and just going to the grocery store was stressful. But you can only live in panic mode for so long - your brain just won't stand it... I had to dig deep to find some peace, to focus on what we still had, the joy we could still feel each day, our friends and family - who are our pillars. As a family, we worked hard to find strategies together and to make sure that the mental load was fairly shared. This period in time is crazy hectic, unprecedented, full of grey areas.

But this hot mess showed me that I was more flexible than I thought. I realized that when you have the basics - health, love to give and to share, a roof over your head, food to eat - the rest is gravy. So I feel really privileged for that and that work is still kicking strong - I can't lie, it helps to keep me grounded and gives me the confidence that things will be fine. This pandemic forced me to let go, to realize that we don't really have control over our lives and that we just have to play our best with the cards we are dealt.

** And, of course, this is nothing compared to the people working on the front line, caring for everyone in our communities.

Photo Credits:
Office/Portrait photos: Cindy Boyce
Conference photos: Sarah Neale
Robert Charlebois's show images: Bruno Destombes