Loveis Smart: How Self-Work and Personal Memories Nourish Creativity

When I speak with the illustrator Loveis Wise over the phone, I hear birds chirping in their Los Angeles garden. I also hear the pitter-patter of the paws of Mellow, their pet Shiba Inu, on the grass. It sounds just like the worlds I see when I look at Loveis’ designs—floral-filled sanctuaries populated by beings taking care of one another.

Care, for Loveis, has become a creative philosophy of sorts: They often mine for inspiration childhood memories of being cared for, and their illustrations themselves embody care in their empowering depictions of intersectional identities, queer bodies, and self-loving individuals. Aptly, “nurture” served as the name and theme of Loveis’ first New Yorker cover, released two years ago when they were fresh out of art school at age 23 as an ode to nourishing, matriarchal communities.

Loveis’ joyful, celebratory approach can be seen on large and small scales, gracing their recent Black History Month mural for Google’s artist-in-residence program as well as a floral patterned bandana, designed in collaboration with Wolff Olins for Planned Parenthood. As with many creative people, Loveis pours their self into their work—a process that can often bring out the best in an illustrator, but also one that comes with its own challenges as work and life boundaries blur. Sat in their garden, Loveis shares the story of how taking care of themselves personally has led to a stronger creative outlook and working process.

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Q. Your illustrations have such a unique voice, in terms of the patterns, colors, textures, and forms. How did you arrive at your style?

A. By playing around with different ways to draw. I had a professor [at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts] that encouraged students to draw in the most uncomfortable ways—uncomfortable, but also still comfortable to our own hand, almost like how we would when we were kids. So that tuned me into how I innately draw. I also thought a lot about how different artists that I love interpreted figures, like Kerry James Marshall. My love of patterns comes from the picture books I read as a kid, like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day and Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar. I took all of those little influences, mashed them together, and my style was born. 

Desktop with books and mementos.

The illustrator casts a wide net when looking for inspiration, drawing from spirituality, community and nature.

Q. What else inspires you, outside of art and illustration?

A. I’ve been learning more about spirituality, metaphysics, and playfulness, as well as nurturing my own community in various ways. That might mean making a plant medicine for a friend, cooking, or taking time to reconnect with my body.

 

Q. You often draw from personal memories to create work. How does that manifest?

A. I started using nostalgia in my work while I was doing a lot of self-work. I had a rough and traumatic childhood, and to be able to move through it, I tried to recover calm and beautiful moments where I truly felt free. Putting these little memories into my illustrations has helped me a lot. 

New Yorker cover by Loveis Wise.

The artist’s second New Yorker cover echoes many of their signature themes of nature, community, and nostalgia.

You can see these memories in things like my first New Yorker cover, where I was inspired by my mom and the women in my family. I grew up in a very matriarchal family: Both of my grandmas grew food in the garden and took care of us. I brought memories of their nurturing and care into the cover.

“When you’re telling your own truth, it makes for the best pieces, because people will connect with them.”

For my second New Yorker cover, I remembered moments from my childhood watching a femme person taking care of another femme person. My grandmother owned a hair salon: I drew from my memories of women coming in, getting taken care of, their conversations, and the beauty of that interaction. I also drew from memories of my mom tending to me, doing my hair, and the safety of that.

 

Q. I’ve read you say that illustrators can sometimes be afraid of putting themselves into the work. Why do you think that is?

A. There’s often a pressure to be what people want you to be. Early on, I found myself trying to mimic what I thought people wanted me to be and how my work should look. Through doing therapy, I started to see myself as enough, and in tandem, I came to the realization that my stories are worthy of being told in my work. I started to feel much safer sharing personal parts of myself in commercial illustrations. When you’re telling your own truth, it makes for the best pieces, because people will connect with them. 

Loveis Wise at home.

Loveis Wise at home with Mellow, their beloved Shiba Inu.

Q. What other realizations about your professional life have you made through self-work?

A. I used to overwhelm myself with a lot of projects, because I felt like I needed to take everything on at once. I found myself saying yes to everything, and thinking that if I said no, it was a bad mistake that I’d regret. We can all get ambitious in that way. 

Google Doodle for Black History Month 2019.

The artist’s Google Doodle for Black History Month, in 2019 depicting Sojourner Truth.

Now, I’ll only take on two to three commissions a month, and I feel comfortable enough to say no. Maybe it’ll come back later again, who knows? I only take on the work that really speaks to me, and nine out of ten times, I hand the project over to a friend, or I recommend someone else for it. Saying no is a powerful thing: It’s all about having better boundaries with yourself.

“I only take on the work that really speaks to me.”

Designating certain hours, and certain times, to work has also been important. There was a time when I had no boundaries at all and I’d be overworking. I’d be so hard on myself when I thought I wasn’t spending enough time drawing. I now won’t ever work past 8pm. I won’t do that to myself. And I’m not hard on myself when I do need a break. 

 

Q. How do you split your time between personal projects and commissioned work, and what is the relationship between the two?

A. Right now, more than ever, I’ve been diving into what that question really means to me. For a long time, I was only working on commission-based work and I didn’t take the time—or make the time—to play. I stopped hearing that call for my own innate creativity. 

Loveis Wise at home.

Wise has learned to balance personal work with commercial commissions in a way that best serves their innate creativity.

Now, I’ve now set up a strict routine to make time for personal work. I’m the sort of person that if I don’t create a plan, I won’t stick to it. So I wake up in the morning, take a shower, go for a walk, and then I designate an hour or two for making whatever comes up. Afterwards, when I’ve done whatever I really want to, I can focus the rest of the day on my commissioned gigs. And it’s so important to make this time, because you can bring the information that you learn about yourself while playing into your professional work. 



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