Aura Lewis
Aura Lewis decided to turn her illustrations into a meaningful career. Photo courtesy of Aura Lewis.

Sometimes the path to a fulfilling career isn’t always direct. For artist Aura Lewis, it took several job changes and 18 months in Argentina before she found her way back to her first love: illustration.

“I drew and painted all through my childhood,” Lewis says. “But I was told that it’s a hobby, not a career.”

After graduating from college, she started a professional journey that led to stints in architecture, psychology, and graphic design, the latter seeming to be the closest thing to a “drawing job” that there was. And while Lewis loved certain aspects of working as a graphic designer, the role also revealed a truth: For her, creative and artistic fulfillment was still elusive. Something was missing.

Women's March 2017 illustration by Aura Lewis
Women’s March 2017
Hanging Heart illustration by Aura Lewis
Hanging Heart

Then her husband accepted an opportunity to live in Buenos Aires for 18 months, and Lewis quit her job to join him. With time on her hands to explore, and with an urge to figure things out professionally, it was here, in Argentina, that Lewis began to draw and paint again. Suddenly, it all seemed so simple. She realized she wanted to become an illustrator.

“It was scary, but it felt so right,” Lewis says.

Upon the couple’s return to New York, Lewis started an MFA program in illustration and embarked on the route back to doing the thing that moves, inspires, and fulfills her: making beautiful and meaningful pictures. It’s been a whirlwind ever since, and in the best way possible, as evidenced by the release of two books of her writing and illustrations. “Gloria’s Voice” is set to launch March 2018, and “The Illustrated Feminist” is scheduled for release in 2020.

“I like to work alone, and I do my best work in my home studio.”

What inspires you to create?

So many things! It could be anything that sparks my interest or makes me feel something: an article, a passage from a book, a meaningful conversation, a lecture, people on the subway. Sometimes it’s as simple as a color combination that makes me want to create an image. I’m often inspired by my watching my daughters play.

What’s a typical day like for you?

In the mornings, I try to get big things done: writing, painting, brainstorming. In the afternoons, when I’m less focused, I mostly do digital work. I love listening to podcasts and lectures while I work, except when I’m writing. My schedule changes depending on what projects are on deadline, but I make a point to draw something every day. I like to work alone, and I do my best work in my home studio. That being said, a few times a week I meet with creative friends to work on various collaborations, which I find very inspiring and good for my soul.

What are the biggest challenges that come with being an artist and an entrepreneur at the same time?

My biggest challenge is finding a balance between being an artist and a mother. I am constantly trying to find a way to be present and bring my best self to each role, without compromising either. Honestly, I think that a perfect balance is not possible, but rather a constant dance—sometimes one part needs more attention than the other. I’ve learned that the best way for me to stay balanced is to create strict boundaries between being an artist and a mom. I have a home studio which I try to keep as separate as possible. I almost never work in the evenings, which is family time. This helps me devote my undivided attention to each part of my life.

Do you find it difficult to nurture your creative spirit while also addressing the business side?

Yes. At times, I wish that I didn’t have to do any of the promotion and business side of things. I feel it distracts me from creating. I find it stressful to market myself to others, as it brings up feelings of inadequacy, which are definitely a distraction to my creative spirit! I try to allocate times of the week to business and self-promotion, though it’s a side of being an artist about which I have a lot to learn.

Photo Shoot illustration by Aura Lewis
Photo Shoot
World War II illustration by Aura Lewis
World War II

What feelings do you hope to inspire in the viewer?

First of all, I hope that my art makes the viewer feel something. I don’t want them to stay indifferent. I want the image to resonate with their experience somehow, and at the very least, make them smile. In addition, I hope to give the viewer some value. Maybe my illustration tells a story, conveys a historical fact, or imparts an idea or collective experience.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you do?

I’d be an actress, a dancer, or a detective.

What was a moment when you were very discouraged, and how did you get past it?

There are lots of moments when I feel discouraged, so it’s an ongoing project to stay motivated and keep creating. Small rejections, or even silence, or no new projects, can often feel discouraging. I think what helps me get past it is that I’m optimistic by nature. I tell myself that every day I get a little better. I try to imagine what I would tell a good friend who was feeling the same way. I try to be gentle with myself and immerse myself in a new illustration. Sometimes it’s nice to get the instant gratification from posting on social media, you feel some love, and it helps to get past the discouragement.

Tell us about your next big project.

My biggest project at the moment is working on my next book, “The Illustrated Feminist,” which is a curated selection of moments from American feminist history from the past 100 years. I am creating more than 100 images, plus doing all of the writing and research, so it’s a lot. But I love it!