We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."
Lo Harris, a 25-year-old Brooklyn-based digital artist, never imagined that her hobby would turn into both her profession and purpose. Her eye-catching illustrations use bright colors and interesting themes to create work that's inspiring, confident and joyful.
Harris has created work for a variety of brands and publications, including NBC News, The New York Times and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" among many others. Harris continues to create artwork for brands and has other long-term projects in the works, including illustrating a children's book for Random House. Here's how she got there.
How did you get started as an artist?
I always liked to draw as a child. As soon as my parents got one of those chunky computers, I spent a lot of time on Microsoft Paint. I attended school at Alabama School of Fine Arts, where I studied creative writing and was surrounded by so many fabulous young artists. When I first applied to the school, I wanted to go into the art department but I didn't have any work to prove I could draw. So throughout high school, I would go on different online artist communities, learn human anatomy, print out art tutorials and practice drawing almost every day. I was particularly inspired by Japanese cartoons at that time. When I went to college, I stopped drawing completely because I viewed it as more of a hobby. I was focused on keeping up with my journalism classes instead.
It wasn't until December of last year that I really started to pursue illustration again. I saw a colleague of mine using an iPad and I was enticed by the idea of what my artwork would look like utilizing a tool like this. I created my Instagram @loharrisart in January 2020 as a means to explore my artistic style, flex my muscles again and really re-engage with my inner child. Unbeknownst to me, it became something much larger than that.
When did you notice that your artwork was starting to take off?
I had been drawing consistently since January for Black History Month. I made an art series called "29 Queens" where I drew a different Black woman for each day of February. From there, I continued to draw frequently and experiment with my style. Around June there was a movement to support and follow Black artists on Instagram and I started being added to these lists of Black artists to follow.
The thing that really put me into a category of being an artist who engages with social justice was a piece I created after George Floyd's killing called "Justice." Since I work in news, I was creating some graphics that were tied to the audio of his killing. I had to listen to his last words over and over to get the timing right for the graphics. It didn't really hit me how traumatic that was until I finished it. I drew "Justice" as a way to exercise my own frustrations of being tired and feeling like there was so much injustice in the world. I actually turned the comments off for this piece because I didn't even want to know what other people thought of it. I just wanted to create it for my own peace of mind, but people really started sharing it.
What is the inspiration behind your artwork?
My artwork is deeply rooted in joy, confidence, vibrance and positivity. As an artist who engages in forms of protest art, I think that many people are used to seeing more somber or raw depictions of the struggles of Black Americans in the artwork that is presented to them. Because I engage with joyousness and vibrance, my work may not immediately seem that political when you look at it. The work I create is not in any way disengaged from the realities of today or the injustices around us. It is very engaged with that and it operates through a rhetoric of joy in spite of that. My work engages with positivity and hope as a form of healing during a very complicated and traumatic time for so many people.
Has the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement influenced your artwork at all?
My art on its own exists in a way that supports the Black Lives Matter movement and that narrative, but it also exists in a way that honors my individual interests as an artist. I've noticed that when the Black Lives Matter movement was resurging there were a lot of non-Black artists who were suddenly creating images of Black people who had been slain. They were building credibility for themselves as artists because of their engagement with this. Although their intentions were clearly not out of malice, that is something that has never really sat right with me.
As an artist, I want my work to exist as a mechanism to support activists who are out in the world doing the harder work. Whenever I print "Justice," I do not feel comfortable pocketing that money. That money is donated to a specific cause that I may care about or a cause that is relevant at the time.
What advice would you give someone who wants to support Black artists?
You shouldn't follow Black artists out of an obligation. These are artists who deeply care about the work that they are creating. The last thing I would want is for someone to engage with my work simply because it makes them feel good to support a Black woman. I've been lucky enough to have clients within various industries who recognize the palatability of my work and genuinely want to be engaged with it. I have other friends who are Black artists who aren't getting approached as much as they were during the summer because the "hype" surrounding supporting Black artists has died down. This is unfortunate because these artists are so talented, and now they aren't being utilized as much anymore.
What does your creative process look like? Do you ever experience any creative roadblocks?
When I get an idea of what kind of composition I want to do, I usually push through and finish the entire thing. Once I have my direction, I am running with a lot of velocity. Composition planning is the hardest thing for me. My work is relational. If there's one character in a composition, I'm thinking about how that character relates to the viewer. If there's multiple characters, I'm figuring out how those characters relate to not just the viewer but also to each other.
There's some weeks when I don't draw anything. My best work comes out of specific feelings that I have or affirmations that are relevant to my life at the moment. One of my most recent pieces titled "The Giant You Were Meant to Be" is based on an affirmation that I'm currently living through.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
Nothing makes me happier than knowing that the work I create can have a positive impact on a complete stranger. I draw a lot of groups of characters and I want people to look at these characters and think about their own friendships, especially in these times where we are socially distant from each other. I want people to take away a sense of hope and courage. It is the human condition to spend so much time critiquing and second guessing ourselves. I want people to walk away from my artwork feeling like they are capable of living life on their own terms.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.