Beautiful Books: Nipugtug

We chat with Métis and settler illustrator and interdisciplinary designer Natalie Laurin about her hopes to inspire Indigenous youth to feel “proud of who they are” through the art she creates—most recently her work on Nipugtug (Kegedonce Press), a gorgeous children’s story about a spirited young Mi’gmaw woman, as she snowshoes through the forest during various stages of her life.

The cover of Nipugtug by Emma Metallic, illustrated by Natalie Laurin


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All Lit Up: Your artwork in Nipugtug is gorgeous and beautifully captures the mood of the book. Can you tell us your artistic approach to your projects? Where do you start when illustrating a children’s book?

Natalie Laurin: Thank you! When I first read Emma’s story, her words created such vivid images in my mind that I knew right away which scenes to bring to life. From there, I created some sketches to show her and we worked out the specifics of the colours and subjects. These illustrations were actually first created as acrylic paintings on 36×36 inch canvases and shown in a couple of galleries, then photographed for print reproduction.

An image from Nipugtug

ALU: How did you work with writer Emma Metallic to create the art to accompany the words? Was the process collaborative or was it more of a solo process?

NL: Emma and I are very close friends, so our collaboration on Nipugtug was woven into our catch-up conversations through Facetime and texting. Some images had 3 or 4 variations in their early stages so running ideas past her really helped give me a clear sense for their final direction. I am also somewhat familiar with the landscape that this story is shaped around, since I had the chance to visit her at home a few times and experience the same trails that A’le’s adventures take place on. Emma sent me reference videos and photos of different scenery and wildlife from her time spent on the land; it was important to both of us that the imagery reflect the beauty of Listuguj.

Inspiration images

ALU: How did you get started as an illustrator? Did you always want to illustrate children’s books?

NL: I took a handful of courses in university to achieve my Illustration minor, and this is where I was inspired to begin to work towards illustrating as a career. After graduating, I sent my portfolio to a few publishing companies and was lucky enough to be hired on to my first big project with Strong Nations Publishing: Andy’s Tribal Canoe Journey. 

ALU: We read that you illustrate books for Indigenous children with hopes to inspire youth to engage with themes of community. Can you talk more about this?

NL: This is a big one, and is sometimes hard for me to put into words. We know it’s really important for youth to see representation of themselves, especially positive representation and especially underrepresented youth. The books I’ve been lucky to collaborate on so far are written by such talented storytellers. They have strong, admirable, Indigenous main characters and valuable lessons for the reader. Seeing yourself and where you come from reflected in a positive way can be the key to being proud of your culture and traditions. I just hope that my part in creating images from the words of Indigenous authors inspires youth and helps them be proud of who they are, and that they grow up cherishing these stories and feeling connected and proud and knowing that they matter.

ALU: Who are some Indigenous artists and illustrators you admire?

NL: Oh man, I see so much amazing artwork on Instagram it’s hard to only name a few. Luke Swinson (@lukeswinsonart) creates such beautiful illustrations, I am obsessed with the colour palettes and softness. Brandon Mitchell (@writerbrandonmitchell) the author of Giju’s Gift is also a huge inspiration…I spent a lot of time with his book when playing with the layout of my first graphic novel. Megan Kyak-Monteith (@mk.monteith) puts together animations from her paintings and they are just so full of life. I have to also mention a beadwork artist from Georgian Bay! Talitha Tolles (@redwoodbead) was one of the first beadwork artists I followed when I started getting into beading—her work is gorgeous.

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Natalie Laurin (she/her) is a Métis and settler illustrator and interdisciplinary designer, with family roots in the Georgian Bay Métis community. She holds a Bachelor of Design from NSCAD University, where she majored in Interdisciplinary Design and minored in Illustration. A central goal of her work is to create with an informed, collaborative approach. She hopes that by illustrating books for Indigenous youth, more people will be inspired to engage with themes of community and relationship-building to further our collective revitalization journey.

Photo credit Keely Hopkins 2023

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