Anna Lustberg is a New York City-based illustrator and creative entrepreneur who draws playful, relatable vignettes of everyday life. Ranging from simple one-panel comics to illustrations full of detail, the style and subject matter of her work are inspired by both her recent experiences and memories from growing up in the 90’s. She is the creator of Life is Short: A Coloring Book, various hand-painted murals in NYC’s Brooklyn and Harlem neighborhoods, the illustrator of a children’s book: Joyner & Magical’s Big Dreams, and much more. Anna has a number of upcoming projects in the works, inclusive of a virtual reality pop-up exhibition at the renowned Chinatown Soup gallery this spring/summer. Additionally, she and a business partner will be opening a brand new female-owned, one-of-a-kind multi-functional fine art and photo space in the South Bronx later this year.
Interview conducted by Kathryn Cooperman; edited by Tiffany Chan and Kathryn Cooperman. All images provided by Anna Lustberg.
What is your backstory? How did you get started as an artist?
I’ve been writing stories and illustrating them since I was four years old and was always known as an artist in school and among my friends. I would “draw” inspiration from what I saw around me in daily life that I was fixated on at the time, particularly friend groups, clothes and accessories, and activities of young women. It wasn’t until after college, where I majored in Communication with a minor in Art, that I first worked as a graphic designer and finally returned to illustrating. I was at a pivotal moment in my life, getting ready to move to NYC, when I started a daily drawing challenge on Instagram called @AnnaDrawsEveryDay. I made my friends and family hold me accountable, and I did do a drawing a day for a few years. It wasn’t easy at all, but it was a fun challenge and as a result, I created a ton of great work for my portfolio. Most importantly, I got very comfortable in my artistic style and developed my own process.
How did you develop your artistic style? What are some themes you typically draw upon?
I think my style developed from working within constraints. I’ve never had a studio space of my own, so I work from my desk at home and tend to steer clear of messy mediums like painting to keep my living space clean. Over the ‘Anna Draws Every Day’ years, I had a very narrow writing table that barely constituted a desk. As a result, my drawings were done on a small scale, just with pencil and pen in my various sketchbooks that could be as little as 5×7”. “Small” became the way I worked most of the time – while having to complete a new drawing every day (most often tired at night after work), I developed what I now call “vignettes,” which are simpler illustrations that don’t need or have any background details. So my work ranges from vignettes or “one-panel comics” to illustrations that are full of detail, which always take longer to complete.
Much like when I was younger, the content of my art during the daily drawing challenge and even now reflect thoughts, feelings, or moments from the day that I experienced personally or through a friend. My Bubby (grandmother) told me that seeing my posts every day on Instagram was like viewing my visual diary. I continue to draw upon real life experiences through my characters, most of whom are made-up but could be based on people I know. I view all of them as self-portraits.
What are some of the different mediums and art forms that you’ve explored? Do you have a favorite?
I thought about this recently. Hands down, my favorite medium is pencil. I appreciate being able to erase because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and also, I think my drawing style looks the best when it’s in pencil. Someone bought a framed pencil drawing I had on view in a group exhibition a few years ago. The coolest thing about being an artist is that you can always explore different mediums, and I intend to do that to continue to grow. My process goes from pencil to pen on paper, making a scan, and adding color to the scanned line drawing in Photoshop. I love that I combine traditional with digital mediums to achieve my look and easily share my work online – another development derived from daily drawings made for Instagram.
What do you love most about your work? Alternatively, what frustrates you as an artist?
I love that my work is a reflection of the world around me and my unique upbringing with exposure to so many cultures as a Jew from the ethnically diverse town of Teaneck, New Jersey; many people share that they relate to my characters. Connecting with others through my art is truly the best part and the point of me creating anything. And while the content is generally relatable, it’s frustrating when I’m second-guessing my idea and sabotaging my flow by fearing that no one will like or relate to it. By sharing what’s in your head, you can also get too in your head – that slows me down sometimes.
Another thing I love about working is getting lost in creating a piece. You know when you’re totally in the zone, and you look up and hours have passed by – no food, no drink, no breaks for long stretches of time? I relish that. Productivity is the best feeling.
Do you see a glass ceiling in your profession?
I do not view the glass ceiling as a barrier that a woman in the art world can not break through or get past. It’s there, as in ownership is majority male and therefore less opportunities for women and women of color in particular to tell their stories authentically, but I don’t think it’s a ceiling one can’t break through. I would’ve had a different answer years ago, but not today. I do not believe we’re truly met with limits when there’s the opportunity to make change or start your own.
Tell us about your experience illustrating the story Joyner & Magical’s Big Dreams.
If I had to sum up the entire experience in a word, I’d use “dedication.” In order to complete the book, which took me about a year to both create the artwork and design the layout from cover to cover, I had to be fully dedicated to working on it in all of my free time. Since it was to be self-published with the author, it was great that I had total creative freedom in my design and style choices. Seymone Kelly, the author, totally supported me and it was clear from the beginning that we shared a vision for the book’s characters. We met in-person often to go over drafts, ideas and planning, and it was all very exciting. As it was my first children’s book, I certainly learned the process and how much time and dedication it takes to put a project like this together. I am so happy for the experience, that I got to work with Seymone on bringing her story to life, and that we have a beautiful book to show for it at the end of a year of dedication.
Tell us about your upcoming exhibition at Lower East Side art gallery Chinatown Soup. Which works will be featured? Will this be your first time presenting your art in virtual reality?
My upcoming exhibition at Chinatown Soup will be a VR experience in collaboration with The Parallel that will take the viewer into my mind and my “world” of illustrations. Justin Muñoz (artist name: “Become” and co-founder of The Parallel) and I are working together to build and achieve this exciting, pretty mind-blowing experience. While this is a new instrument for me as an illustrator, The Parallel is known for pushing VR’s potential as an advanced technology to become another medium for art. I’ve had a relationship with Chinatown Soup for some years now and felt it would present the right environment to allow individuals to experience my illustrations in VR, or even beyond 2D, for the first time. The show is not yet titled and I don’t want to give away much at this point, but it’s scheduled for the weekend of June 25-27, 2021. You’re invited!
Tell us more about your startup – what will be your vision for the business?
My business partner Zoë Johnson and I co-founded Studio 3 NYC in the fall of 2020 and are gearing up to launch this year in the South Bronx neighborhood of Port Morris. Our vision is to be a creative community nexus for the arts that will support the careers of professional artists and creatives through event production, engaging exhibitions and educational programming. Studio 3 NYC’s multifunctional space will cultivate valuable connections in the art market and advance exciting projects. We truly can’t wait to bring it to life.
What are some interests outside of your field?
I’m a dancer and love staying active with yoga, barre, and HIIT classes. Going to dance performances, musicals, and live concerts (I now prefer intimate settings over my old festival days) are my favorite means of entertainment. I’m also into antiques and vintage clothing, accessories and furniture.
What advice would you give to an artist who is just starting out?
My advice to all artists is to be prepared: have the website, business cards, and online shop all ready for when someone asks about your work. When you’re first starting out, put yourself out there as much as you can. Consistently show up to gallery receptions or events where you’d want to exhibit, talk to and learn from people there, and get familiar with those you want to work with. Take as many opportunities as you can when you’re just starting out – later on, when you’re a bit more established, you can be pickier about where and how you present your work.