Lia Kantrowitz’s airbrush-style editorial illustrations embrace the surreal

Designer by day and illustrator by night, Lia Kantrowitz takes inspiration from old cartoons and ads to create work that combines garish characters with vivid colours

New York-based illustrator and designer Lia Kantrowitz describes her editorial work as loud and cartoonish all in an airbrush style. Her client list is impressive and includes the likes of The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Working Not Working and many others. 

Day-to-day, Kantrowitz works at Vice as a senior editorial designer where she illustrates header images for articles, as well as playing a key role in art directing and commissioning for the website. “It’s nice to have a hand in diversifying the site and expanding the community of artists we work with,” she says.

When she’s working on freelance projects in her spare time, Kantrowitz has gravitated towards editorial commissions as they keep her on her toes a bit more. “I like that they keep me informed with subjects I might not have otherwise read about, and challenges me to be more conceptual,” she explains. “I feel like that has to be a good exercise for your brain. I love working on briefs that revolve around mental health, relationships, and drug research.” 

Kantrowitz keeps her creative process relatively simple when working on a new project. “Image research, reading, and music all help start the process for me,” says the creative. “Then I usually collage together a composition and draw from there. Pulling inspiration from old cartoons, ads and books, Kantrowitz’s images are pumped full of bold, garish characters and brilliantly lurid colours.

From inflatable tube men to computer-faced colleagues, there’s a touch of the surreal to Kantrowitz’s work which adds an element of surprise to her illustrations. “I like drawing things based on what’s going on with me at the moment and what I’m listening to, I reference lyrics a lot,” she says. “If I can throw in a looney tune or muppet, I’ll be extra happy.”

Kantrowitz does experience creative blocks, however. “Pushing through a creative block feels like banging my head against a wall,” she says. “Sometimes it lasts for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. I can’t really gauge what causes it, or how long I’m going to be in it.”

While she’s not worked on a huge amount of freelance projects since the world has adjusted to lockdown life, Kantrowitz has tried to maintain a positive outlook by keeping herself distracted with different projects and staying in touch with the people closest to her.

“Trying new recipes, video games and movies has given me some peace of mind,” she says. “Life hasn’t stopped, it’s just very different at the moment, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself with what means you have.”