This week we sat down for a chat with Libby Burns, our resident artist. We’ve been lucky to have her illustrate the pieces in Issue 1 and Issue 2 of The Golden Key, as well as design the key and keyhole for our journal.
Libby Burns was born in Brussels, Belgium, and grew up in Reston, Virginia. She currently works in the Midwest as she pursues her master’s degree in editorial design at the University of Missouri. Her work has appeared in Northern Virginia Magazine, Bethesda Magazine, The Travel Channel and Amelia’s Magazine.
How did you get into illustration?
My mom jokes that I spent hours drawing “little ladies” as a kid and when she would be tempted to ask me to stop using so much paper or making a mess, she told herself that one day I’d making a living at it and it’d be worth putting up with my artistic chaos. I actually strayed from my interest in art and drawing in high school and most of college. It wasn’t until I took a basic art class my junior year of college that I remembered how much art was a part of who I was. I ultimately got a minor in graphic design and went on to work at a magazine where I became friends with the art directors who took notice of my illustration work. After I left that job I was offered the opportunity to do some spot illustrations for that magazine. That was really the beginning of my career as a freelance illustrator where, alas, I’m still drawing “little ladies.” (Thanks, Mom!)
What are your working environment and habits like?
Currently, in the chaos of grad school, my working space is wherever it has to be to get work done. Sometimes my living room couch, in the kitchen or a study room at school. For me, it’s more about being in a mental space that allows me to feel creative and open. Recently, I’ve been listening to The Staves album Dead & Born & Grown on repeat. That and a good latte helps me get to that creative mental space.
What are your favorite subjects to illustrate?
I really enjoy subjects/stories/articles that allow me to be conceptual, simple and feminine. Thankfully, I think my illustration style kind of leads me to those types of jobs. But generally speaking, anytime I can draw a lady in a dress with a cat, I’m a happy gal.
How did you design the key for the journal?
Drawing the key—and keyhole—for The Golden Key was probably one of my favorite projects. I work so much with shapes and colors and textures, that it forced me to go back to the basics of illustrating—just really nice, simple line work. It was fun to research “vintage keys” and find inspiration in such beautiful pieces of work. I ended up illustrating a series of keys and I really liked a lot of them—but the one ultimately chosen was definitely one of my favorites.
Can you take us through your process of illustrating one of the pieces for a TGK issue?
Illustrating a piece for TGK is a really different experience for me compared to what I normally do (which is what makes it so fun!). I know I can be as conceptual as I want, but at the same time I often am so taken with the wording and prose that I end up taking a key phrase or word that I really find representative of the story and focuses on illustrating that. I suppose a good example would be the illustration I did for the first issue of TGK—“Bones” by Sylvia Linsteadt. While I didn’t want to draw anything too obvious, I thought the whole piece was so gorgeous—and I loved the line “Slender transparent bones, the tiny echoes of female voices bending over baskets.” It felt so delicate and it inspired me to do the bird skeleton—kind of alarming visual but also so light and fragile, which I think the illustration really conveys.
We love that bird skeleton! It became our emblem object for the Sharp Things issue. You’re not a stranger to working on literary zines though—we’re huge fans of your feminist zine, Ladybones. Can you tell us a little about how you started Ladybones, and what’s in store for the future?
I became really interested in feminist zines a few years ago—and I felt like the personal stories from women really helped guide me during a time in my life when I was figuring out who I was. I wanted to provide that same experience for other women through my own stories and the essay and fiction work of other great writers I knew. Ladybones has a second issue in store and is soon to be online.
Can you recommend a few of your favorite artists and illustrators?
What are you reading now? What stories, novels or poems would you recommend?
Right now I’m reading Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado (how can you go wrong with a coming of age novel set in 1950s Paris?) and I just ordered Allison Seay’s new poetry collection To See The Queen. Recommended poem: “Town of Unspeakable Things” by Allison Seay. Recommended book (one of my favorites, and perfect for summer): Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan.