Meet the artist behind Alaska’s newest license plate

Anita Laulainen, the designer behind Alaska’s newest license plate, is currently completing her senior year at UAA, receiving her degree in art with a focus in graphic design. From a class she was taking for her degree program, Laulainen decided to enter the Alaska Artistic Licence Plate competition, created by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

“I knew about the license plate design contest from a class assignment, actually. We were given the license plate design competition criteria as a class assignment in my illustration class, and after we completed the assignment we then had the opportunity to submit it,” Laulainen said, “I thought, might as well, what’s there to lose?”

Anita Laulainen, graphic design major, submitted her license plate design in April of last year. Her design was chosen from 140 submissions.
Anita Laulainen, graphic design major, submitted her license plate design in April of last year. Her design was chosen from 140 submissions. Photo credit: Sandra Laulainen

Quite the opposite of her initial thought, Laulainen actually gained a lot from the competition. In addition to becoming a publicly recognized artist, having her design be driven around town on countless cars, Laulainen also recieves $1,000 as a prize.

The competition originally started with more than 140 submissions that were narrowed down by a four-person “celebrity jury” last year.

Included in the jury was Sitka Democratic Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, first lady Donna Walker, Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle and artist Ray Troll. The four of them worked together to narrow down the submissions until the final five could be voted on by the public. To reduce bias, the names of the artists behind each submission was hidden from both the jury and the public.

Once nearly 17,000 Alaskans voted on the final design, it was announced in early December that Laulainen was the final winner.

“I actually didn’t believe it at first. I was really surprised. Now that I’ve had time to process it, I can’t wait to see the design on people’s cars,” Laulainen said.

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Her design was originally put together in last spring. Despite the skill it took to design the plate, Laulainen was able to finish the design in just a couple of weeks.

“I think I finished it sometime in March for the class assignment, and after adjusting a couple small details, I submitted it sometime in April before the deadline at the end of April,” Laulainen said.

Although the class the was the main factor for the design submission, it was her love for Alaska that prompted the actual design.

“I was motivated to create this particular design because I wanted to depict the beauty of Alaska, even in winter. The harsh, yet beautiful snowy mountains, and the glowing luminescence of the northern lights,” Laulainen said “Once I had the design elements in place, most of the work was just adjusting the colors to make sure the design flowed well.”

In her free time, Laulainen spends a lot of time in the Alaskan elements.

“I’ve always been interested in art for as long as I can remember, but my interest in graphic design started in high school. I realized then that I really enjoy making illustrations and designing graphics, so it only made sense to study it in college,” Laulainen said.

Anita Laulainen Artistic License Plate Design

The outdoors brings her a quiet serenity that often helps inspire her artwork, but her classes and academic experience is what really led her down this path. Her specific interest in high school promoted her focus in graphic design.

“My advice for incoming graphic design students would be to take a variety of design classes, as many as are offered. That way you can create a diverse portfolio. Also, create your own projects outside of class, just experimenting with different styles and techniques; if you don’t know how to do something, find a tutorial,” Laulainen said.

As for getting your work out there, Laulainen said that creating an online portfolio is a great way to get started. Now as a senior, Laulainen has a small portfolio of her work on her website that she hopes to continually update, to see more visit

The license plate will be available for drivers to choose in early 2018.