Bursting with color and personality, Maggie Cowles’ illustrations evoke a welcomed feeling of nostalgia for food-related experiences. A seamless fit for Artful Living’s spring food issue, our cover artwork features a bright and poppy piece by Cowles that had us hungry to learn more about her process. In this exclusive interview with the Brooklyn–raised artist, we discuss the inspiration behind her creative work, her early career in fashion and her tie to Harry Styles’ most recent album.
What was the inspiration behind the artwork featured on our spring cover?
The goal was definitely to create something that spoke to abundance — a cornucopia! This felt fairly appropriate for spring: berries, flowers, little cakes and a farmers’ market haul. There’s something intimate about sharing food, and I wanted to express that in this drawing.
How did you get started in illustration?
Illustrating had always been on my mind, but truthfully, I never thought it was within my talent scope. I went to art school, but after graduation most of my classmates headed straight to work at Disney; I wasn’t really in that space. I’m glad it happened the way it did though. Working in fashion for a decade, learning to be on a team and how to achieve a common design goal are things I couldn’t have learned if I launched straight into a freelance career. I also think that working through different brand filters and reacting to trends on the fly subconsciously influenced the curation of an aesthetic that was personal to me.
What inspires your work the most?
The most obvious creative influence is food, though I do wish there was a better word for it. It’s at the core of all my work, and I frequently have to reference it verbally, but I cringe each time. It’s a clunky word, but nothing else in English captures the meaning the same way. “Sustenance” sounds clinical, and “culinary” feels as if it speaks to adjacent concepts rather than the subject itself. So, my answer is food and the sparkle in someone’s eye when a related memory hits them.
What kinds of concepts are your favorite to illustrate?
Food and memory, whether it stirs up something that was fleeting and fun or is tied to a passed-down tradition. Most of my work speaks to my own experiences because they’re always in my head waiting to come out, and drawing upon someone else’s experience can easily tip into something voyeuristic. Recently, I’ve been delving into the concepts of “home” and “finding home,” and I guess you could say food is almost like a map to that.
You’ve also worked with textiles. How does that intersect with your illustration work?
I received a degree in textiles from the Rhode Island School of Design and worked in fashion before shifting to illustration. For years, I worked on and ran print design teams. It was hard to be a small, creative print factory. There’s a lot of pressure to produce, produce, produce. I like to utilize simple print patterns in my work but, because of my former tenure in print design, it’s not a prominent feature. The day I’m painting de Gournay wallpapers with floral tablecloths, you’ll know some sort of healing has happened!
You have some international solo shows on the horizon. Can you tell us more?
Yes, I have upcoming solo shows in Tokyo and Paris. The French show is with a new gallery, Un jour une illustration. The woman behind the gallery, Joanna Journo, started out similarly to me in that she began sharing work on Instagram and gained a following by curating her collections of work. I think France has a special reverence for Journo, so she gained traction fast. She had reached out to me for permission to repost my work, and I ended up following along on her journey. After she opened a brick-and-mortar location, she asked if I would be interested in doing a solo show.
Looking to the future, is there a goal you have for your creative work?
A long-term goal for me is to create a book. Another hope is to repeat something I did last year. In 2022, my drawings started appearing in newspapers for Harry Styles’ new album, Harry’s House. I didn’t publicize this nor was my name listed on the illustrations, but I did experience a lot of social-media activity from followers who recognized my work and were able to piece it together. It was kind of exhilarating! So, if anyone wants to do a nameless stealth ad campaign — I’m here for it!