For this Inside the Studio series installment, we sat down with artist and illustrator, Laerta Premto, for a glimpse inside her workspace and creative process. Premto, who originally hails from Albania and immigrated to the United States, works primarily in watercolor on paper and captures whimsical scenes of animals and architecture from all over the world. This week, not only did we get to speak with her about her process and how travel influences her work, but we're also celebrating the launch of her newest book, ABC Animal Alphabet, where Premto paired a hand-painted animal and fun fact with each letter of the alphabet to help young children learn their ABC's in the most, dare we say, pretty way possible. Learn more about our Book Signing event with Laerta on Saturday here, and read on to dive in the whimsical world of Laerta Premto's watercolor work. You can also skip to the bottom to watch our live Virtual Q&A which took place on July 26, 2023. 

Our Discussion with Laerta Premto

Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I’m originally from Albania and migrated to the states in the mid 90s. Right now I’m located in Providence, RI.

How did you get started as an artist, and with your current style/medium?Ever since I was little, I was always doodling on notebooks and drawing. I just kept following it when I was in school and later on going into Art School. Although I love every medium, right now my current style is watercolor and pen.

How would you describe your artwork?
I try to depict a whimsical and dream-like world based on reality, but through my artistic lens.

What is your artistic process like?
I am typically driven by my travel experiences and the people around me. I usually go through all of my photos from my travels to start, and determine what the common theme was throughout my experience. For example, during my trip to Mexico City I was very much pulled towards plants, so I know that I will create pieces of art related to that. Once I know what the main idea is, I start playing around - sometimes it’s through conversation with others, or writing. Then I pick reference photos from that specific place and go through the exercise. Also, I try not to have a perfect idea from the start because I think it’s best to have some freedom to shift while creating. It’s good to be flexible and practice flexibility. The medium will always be watercolor and pen for now. Every now and then I do crave oils so I might shift to that soon. I already have ideas brewing.

What is the most rewarding AND most challenging part of your creative process?
The most rewarding is the finished product and then when it finds a home. The most challenging is the beginning. It is always hard, no matter how many paintings you’ve done. It’s a mix of emotions and there’s this resistance but then you push through it somehow once you get the ball rolling.

Travel has been a big part of your life and your artwork – first, immigrating with your family from Albania, and it seems to be a significant part of your creative process still. How has travel played a role in your development as an artist and in your current process?
Yes, travel is very important to me and because of my experience immigrating to the U.S. from such a different world - it definitely left a mark on me. At first, I never wanted to travel because it was such a traumatic change/move for a 10-year old who didn’t speak any English. But during college, I traveled abroad for art and that changed everything. I express my love for travel by painting certain aspects of the experience, which only strengthens my love for that specific place. It leaves a very lasting impression. So travel inspires me and opens me up to new ideas and subject matter for me to explore through painting. It feeds my soul and fuels my artistic practice.

Speaking of travel, you recently painted on location in Mexico. Tell us about that experience!
Mexico City was so beautiful! I didn’t really know what to expect so I went in very open-minded. I stayed in this perfect little artsy studio and took walks and observed. I was very drawn to plant life there and made sure to document everything so that I could paint when I got home. Mexico City to me is like a jungle city - it’s a place I will come back to in the future. I definitely worked on some sketches and watercolor while there.

What’s your favorite location you’ve painted?
My favorite would have to be in Paris. It was such a magical time to live there for over a month. I felt very fortunate to do that.

You seem to often gravitate toward animals and architecture for your subjects. Would you say that’s accurate? Why or why not? If so, what is it about those subjects that inspires you?
That’s accurate at the moment, but now I’m starting to lean towards plants. I will always paint architecture - it’s interesting to me how we humans create space for ourselves that we call home. And I love that architecture has so much history as well, that’s part of the reason I paint it. Animals - another interesting subject matter. They deserve some love too, that's why I paint them. And it's always fun to learn about them in the process.

Are there any artists who have inspired you or your work?
Oh, for sure! Norman Rockwell, Monet, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo. All of them inspired me for different reasons and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit most of their homes and studios.

You recently published a book – tell us about it! What is it about, what drove you to illustrate and publish a book, and what was the process like?
Yes I have and I’m super proud of it! I was very much influenced by my nephews and dicided that I wanted to pursue childrens books at some point. I loved how much my nephews interacted with books so it instantly lit me up! ABC Animal Alphabet is a book I started while I was working on another book in France actually. One day I was taking a break and went to visit a bookstore down the street. As I was browsing through some books all of a sudden I came up with a new book idea. So I marched back to my apartment and started designing the book. I already had all of the illustrations done from a previous project so all I had to do was put it all together. That’s when my graphic design skills came into play which was super helpful. Publishing was a challenge and definitely a learning process for sure.

From your first painting to those you create now, how would you say you’ve grown as an artist?
I have for sure grown, and my style has changed as well which I find interesting. In the beginning my style used to be very realistic, trying to capture the perfect color and line to match what I was seeing. Now, my style is free flowing and whimsical, and matches more of my personality - which is really the key I think.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self as an artist, what would it be?
Never stop painting or keep practicing and exploring whatever medium they love. And be patient. The rest will come. Keep doing what you love.

In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
To see the beauty in life.

Now for something different: Are you a morning person or night person?
Night person.

Coffee or tea?
Both - hard choice. I can’t choose haha!

Hot or cold?

True Crime or Rom Com?
Rom Com.

If you could be any animal, what would you be?

What’s your favorite place on earth?
I honestly don’t have a favorite. I fall in love with a place everywhere I go. That’s a tough one but so far I do have a favorite country and that’s France.

Explore Laerta's collection of original paintings and open edition prints in her Artist Collection, or contact us for more information about her work or Book Signing event. You can also find our full virtual Q&A from our July 26th talk on Instagram live below. 


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