Landing the cover illustration for the New Yorker magazine is a boon for any artist, at any age. This week’s cover – the summer fiction double issue – is by a Philadelphia illustrator just three weeks after graduating from art school.
Loveis Wise (pronounced Love Is Wise, her birth name after her great-grandmother) is so fresh a graduate of the University of the Arts that she can still use her student ID to get into the school’s buildings on Broad Street. She hasn’t yet gotten around to getting her UArts alumna card. She’s been busy.
Wise spent her senior year doing her college work as an illustration major and chasing freelance work. Her images have been used by Buzzfeed, the Poetry Foundation, and BUST magazine. Earlier this spring, she did the cover of a Brooklyn-based magazine Gotta Girl Crush, which brought her a lot of attention.
Then, out of the blue, came a call from the New Yorker’s art editor, Francois Mouly.
“She emailed me, randomly, and said, ‘I saw your work, and I want you to do this thing. We normally don’t reach out to people, but I really like your work,’ ” recalled Wise. “I didn’t even know she knew me.”
The New Yorker summer fiction double issue is one of those magazines that tends to linger on coffee tables and in beach bags all summer. Many of its 1.2 million readers will likely be living, for a few months, with Wise’s striking illustration of a black woman cradling an infant in a sling while watering a lush, green garden.
The image, called “Nurture,” was inspired by Wise’s grandmother, who had a green thumb.
“We had this huge tree in our front yard. It’s still there. I remember playing in that tree, climbing that tree, and just being there in my childhood,” said Wise, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent a lot of time at her grandmother’s house in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“I think plant life is symbolism for life as we know it,” she said. “They grow as we grow. I focus on symbols of growth and flourishing, and being happy.”
Much of her work prominently features bodies – figures with thick, oversized limbs with unusually small heads and abundant hair. Their clothes are boldly patterned. The bodies take up most of the image space.
“For so long, I felt like I made myself very small,” said Wise. “I make the figures the first thing you see, making them very large, beautiful, huge, confident. Taking up as much space as possible — you are important, you are beautiful, and you deserve to be seen.”
Her illustration style has caught on. In addition to her magazine and blog work, she has designed a mural for the March of Dimes in Washington, D.C.
The workload comes with an emotional toll. Wise feels anxious putting herself out into the world to be judged, but she has been heartened by feedback from her New Yorker cover.
“I’ve received so many messages, saying they are inspired, they can connect with it,” she said. “That’s why I became an illustrator, to create images that represent people like me, women of color, and being queer. I’m happy to be inspiring folks.”
Wise is on a roll – she’s currently working on a series of illustrations for the New York Times.
She is also gearing up for her new role as big sister. Just as the New Yorker was being printed with her cover, Wise’s mother gave birth to her fourth child, a boy. The day after, Wise’s younger sister graduated from high school.
“She’s having a bomb week,” said Wise of her mother. “It’s crazy.”