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Meet UArts’ Loveis Wise, 23, who just illustrated the cover of the New Yorker

"I was in my apartment, working, and I checked my email, and I was, like, 'how did this happen?'"

Loveis Wise, who illustrated the cover of the New Yorker's 2018 Summer Fiction issue, says to her, illustration is about accessibility.
Loveis Wise, who illustrated the cover of the New Yorker's 2018 Summer Fiction issue, says to her, illustration is about accessibility. Read more / File Photograph

At the beginning of every year, Loveis Wise creates a chart of intentions, a visual interpretation of how she wants her year to play out.

In 2017, as a junior at the University of the Arts, she hoped to start working as an illustrator. She wanted to land a steady stream of freelance assignments, with no breaks in between. She pulled it off.

This year? The 23-year-old wrote that she wanted to work for the New Yorker.

Just three weeks after graduation, Wise's Nurture is the cover of the magazine's Summer Fiction issue.

She's one of the first black women to illustrate the cover of the New Yorker, Françoise Mouly, the New Yorker's art director, confirmed, and Wise said she may be the first black female illustrator to get on the cover. (Kara Walker illustrated the New Yorker's cover in 2007 but Wise pointed out that she's known more as a fine artist.)

Wise, who grew up in Southeast Washington, D.C.  and Prince George's County in Maryland, said she feels as if her cover shows the power of words, the power of writing down your intentions.

"Your words are a spell," says Wise, whose first name, after her great grandmother, is pronounced "Love Is."

A few days after the New Yorker issue hit newsstands, I visited Wise in her West Philadelphia apartment, where she lives with her partner. They had recently moved in and Wise said the walls still felt bare, though many of her illustrations, which play with color, shape, and texture, adorned the apartment. She wore a rose-colored crystal on a chain around her neck, one so big it was almost distracting, and a mess of patterns — stripes, galaxy print, and florals, which, she reminded me, are illustrations, too.

You were working all throughout your senior year at UArts?

I needed to take care of myself. I don't come from a lot of money. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own, and I did, crazily enough.

Were you pitching yourself?

No, I didn't know even how to do that yet. I was just making [work] and putting it out there on Instagram and then Women Who Draw came along, this amazing platform by Wendy MacNaughton and Julia Rothman, and art directors were looking for people there. That's how I got my first job, with [women's news site] Refinery29.

Last year, you were at school,  you were working, and were you doing your own art, too?

Yeah. It taught me a lot about how to self-care. Early on, I felt super guilty if I did not work, like, every moment I could. I'd wake up in the middle of night and feel like, I could be working right now.

How'd you get over that?

My partner got tired of me waking him up at 3 a.m. [laughs] But loved ones, also, they talked to me. I realized, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. Be patient with yourself. My best pieces come from me realizing that I needed to take better care of myself.

In your Q&A with the New Yorker, you said it was hard to put all of yourself in your work. What did you mean by that?

I was still exploring who I was as a person. You can't put that part of yourself in your work if you don't know who you are yet. Before, I would get caught up in making images that showed who I wanted to be or that portrayed this, not false happiness, but it was too idealistic. Now I want to make things that feel real, real narratives or things I've experienced, or those around me have experienced, or of voices that are often shut out.

What's an example of that?

The New Yorker cover. I touched on motherhood. My mom just had a baby three days ago, my brother, and I've been thinking a lot about the women in my life who got me to this point, like my grandmothers and my mom and my aunts.

You talked a bit about your mother in your New Yorker interview, how she was nervous about you going into art.

I was always into art but it wasn't encouraged for me to do that as a career. Because we didn't know the possibilities. Also, there's a lack of representation and awareness of who can make it in these spaces.

When I decided I want to go to school and be trained formally, my mom was apprehensive. But she saw how much I loved it. She was like, "OK, I trust you. I think you can do it too. Just pay off your loans." Which I still hope I can do. [laughs]

Wait, how did the New Yorker thing happen? Did Françoise reach out to you?

Yes. I burst out into tears [when I got the email]. I was in my apartment, working, and I checked my email, and I was, like, 'How did this happen?' She asked me to submit a few sketches. I didn't expect it to happen so soon. And I had just taken a workshop with Kadir Nelson, who does a lot of New Yorker covers.

How do you explain illustration to someone who doesn't know anything about it?

I communicate things visually in an accessible way. As opposed to fine art, which doesn't have to be accessible. That's why I'm so influenced by Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas because their work was very representational. It communicated those narratives I was seeing at home. I knew I could see myself in that work.

With illustration, people can see it in more spaces. You see illustration in packaging, you see illustration in your first children's book when you're a child. It's everywhere in society. I wanted something that everyone could connect with in some way. With fine art, you can go to a museum to see it but not everyone can afford a ticket to the museum, not everyone has the education or the knowledge about what makes that work special.

What's your process like?

I start in a sketchbook. Then I take a photo of it and draw it in Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet. I'll listen to podcasts while I work, like The Read, Sooo Many White Guys, The Friend Zone, Still Processing, 2 Dope Queens.

Tell me about an important part of the aesthetic of your work.

I'm crazy about texture. There's always a kind of scratchy feel, something that feels kind of chalky — visually. Because there's nothing squeaky clean about the way that I am. I'm naturally clumsy …. I'm super messy. It feels closest to my hand to have that bit of texture in there, which is important because I'm working through a digital medium.

What's it like illustrating journalism or essays?

Sometimes, I overthink it, like, am I really communicating what they need me to? Especially personal essays. I was illustrating a lot of essays for PhilaPrint's zine. There are a lot of narratives of people of color being drawn by white people. It's OK, it's fine. But I think the work comes out a lot better with someone who can relate to the writing.