Laura Burke draws pleasing objects as if they were characters acting in a scene

We chat to the New York-based illustrator to hear more about her calming works, each made with layers of coloured pencil.

1 February 2021

We love to hear about an individual’s creative process, more so if that process is a little bit unusual. For Laura Burke, a printmaker and draftsperson living in New York, creating work involves a methodology that she thinks is a “little embarrassing”. It involves either listening to the Modern Love podcast and crying while she works on a piece, or if not that, she’ll listen to the same playlist over and over. “For whatever reason, listening to the same 15 songs on repeat helps me focus, as well as makes me sound insane,” she tells It’s Nice That. In all honesty, we’ve heard stranger and however an artist seeks to improve their focus or creativity, we’re all for it.

On a typical summer’s day, Laura will head to her studio for nine, but in the winter months the early starts begins to roll back. Once there, she’ll clip her paper to the wall and work at a table covered in hundred of disorganised colour pencils, mostly consisting of Prismacolor. “The most difficult part of a new piece is starting it,” she continues, “which I’m sure is relatable to many.” When the inspiration strikes, and before proceeding with the pencil to paper, she’ll choose an object she wants to draw. This kicks off a “balance game” between colour and composition, although her priority with every single piece is to make something that’s instantly pleasing and “gratifying” for the eyes.

Laura’s work is immensely satisfying to look at, with her drawings utilising an aesthetic similar to collage, where prints of vases, plates and crockery are embellished with detailed illustrations and paired with apples, colour blocked windows and tartan table cloths. She takes much of her inspiration from paintings which, in some ways, is an obvious reference considering her apt use of colour and composition. “My work is largely fuelled by looking at those I admire,” she says, pointing towards Milton Avery, Mary Fedden, Matthew Wong, Yvonne Jacquette, Horace Pippin and a “score” of others. Not only this, but Laura finds herself completely infatuated with both painting and ceramics. Particularly in reference to the Italian Renaissance and its method of pottery called maiolica – a tin-gazed pottery decorated in colours on a white background.

This type of pottery dates back years to a time between 1470 and 1530, and was adapted to all sorts of objects like dishes, bowls, serving vessels and jugs of all shapes, not to mention its use among sculpture, floor and ceiling tiles. Many of the illustrative designs would depict historical and mythical scenes, pictures that were also known as istoriato wares – that which is painted with stories. “They’re the most beautiful paintings done with glaze,” says Laura. “Anytime I’m in need of inspiration, I look at the Met catalogue of maiolica pieces and the pipes are cleared.”


Laura Burke: Grandpa's Buick. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)

A recent favourite of Laura’s is detailed piece titled Winter Party. With this one in particular, she only decided upon the meaning of it after she’d created it. “I started with the landscape vase on the left, and started to build around it,” she says. More and more the page filled up with lavish ornaments and intricacies, devoid of human characters and obvious narratives. “Eventually the layered colours and objects started to feel like people,” says Laura. “I'm always substituting fruit and flowers for people in my drawings.” The effect that this has on her work is mesmerising, where you’re not quite sure what the image tells you at first – and that’s just the way we like it. For Winter Party, however, the storyline began to evolve around the notion of a house party, conceived through the process of wearing down her pencils and layering, then layering some more. “It felt like people clumping together in different rooms, creating their own units within a gathering, looking and being seen.”

Then there’s Old Friends, another recent piece that she’s particularly proud of. In this one, Laura started off by toying with the idea of outside versus inside. Appearing to be split in half, the left-hand segment features two female characters seemingly amongst a garden. The right sees a vase decorated with a flowering scene. “The vessel on the right is holding an impressionist inspired landscape,” she says, detailing the context behind the work, “while the left is two people leaning on one another and sharing the moment.” Both are created with coloured pencil and oil pastel, first illustrating with basic outlines of the vase and the centrefold before being filled in.

Although seemingly complex at first, Laura’s pieces behold many detailed stories. All of which are encapsulated by a calming, appeasing aesthetic which we simply can’t get enough of. “My hope is that my audience will see each piece as a narrative,” she says on a lasting note about her work’s aims and goals. “I view the objects I draw as characters in a scene that the viewer is seeing by accident. They’re lovers and friends, playing out intimate moments that I hope can be related to.”


Laura Burke: Art History. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: Old Friends. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: This, That and the Other. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: Everything In One Place. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: Winter Party. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: Fruit/Flowers. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: For Matisse. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: For Matisse. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)


Laura Burke: Pocket Contents. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)

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Laura Burke: Table. (Copyright © Laura Burke, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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