Illustrator Venus Libido on using drawing to challenge taboos and build a community
For illustrator Venus Libido, drawing isn’t just a part of her job, it’s also a form of therapy – a way to work through issues that matter to her most. Even though she only began illustrating last year, her comical, strikingly honest and sometimes controversial work has already attracted a following of more than 100,000 people on Instagram. But for Venus, her social following has become a community, with the platform acting as a safe space to exchange thoughts and experiences. As an extension of this, Venus also hosts her own panel events, where an audience is invited to discuss whatever is on their minds. Documenting difficult yet relatable topics has resulted in collaborative work with clients such as Glamour magazine, Vice, as well as support from the likes of Rihanna, who recently shared her work on Instagram stories. We find out about her working journey so far, from graduating with a degree in sculpture to working in prosthetics and set building.
Illustrator and Animator (2017–present)
Southampton and London
Fine Art Technician, Winchester School of Art (2017–2018)
Decorative Artist, Mathew Bray Decorative Arts and Furniture (2016)
Set Builder, George Lewin (2016)
Prosthetics Worker, Alison Jackson (2016)
Casting and Moulding, Curriculum Sculpture (2014)
Artist assistant for Studio and Site-Specific, Susie MacMurray (2013)
Casting, Moulding, Set design and Production Lucy McRae Loop PH (2013–2014)
Fine Art Sculpture, Winchester school of art (2011–2014)
How would you describe your job?
I have just gone full-time as an illustrator and newly self-taught animator, as well as using my social media platforms to address issues such as mental health, feminism, sexual harassment and equal rights for all.
I've worked for clients such as Vice on editorial pieces, and was recently featured in Glamour magazine addressing the topic of censorship online and its effects on women. Oh, and I also make dick candles.
What does a typical working day look like?
I am quite strict when it comes to set working hours, so am always up and ready to go for 9am. Most days I will draw until 10 or 11pm at night, whether it be personal illustrations, portraits or commissioned work. I also have to set time aside for any orders made through my shop.
I currently work from my bedroom, firstly because I'm broke and can't afford a studio or to move out of my parents’. And secondly, because I actually prefer to be in my own little space surrounded by my plants, books and my little doggo (a very cute little Frenchie).
“The best part of being an artist is being able to collaborate with other amazing creatives.”
How collaborative is your role?
For me, the best part of being an artist is being able to collaborate with other amazing creatives. My favourite project so far was my first animated music video. Working alongside the artist, I had total creative control, and we just made something so fun. I truly believe magical things happen when two heads come together!
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable aspect is being my own boss. As someone who has left a lot of jobs because of sexual harassment, not receiving equal pay or straight-up sexism, it’s empowering to be able to say no to people who aren’t right for my brand. For years I let people get away with it, so it really affected my mental health and self-esteem. But both of those things are slowly improving, because I have removed myself from people who made me feel like that.
The least enjoyable would be the amount of people who haven’t paid me for the work I've done. Chasing people for money is not fun and very stressful.
Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by work, and if so, how do you manage stress?
Yeah, I think sometimes I take on more than I can chew, but that's my own fault. I can't say no to people, and then I get myself worked up. But I am slowly learning to say no to the things that aren't beneficial or work that isn't paying me for my time. I also remind myself to take time out, which normally consists of me rewatching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for the millionth time.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I have two: The first was making my first animated music video with an amazing artist called Ashnikko [see below]. The song was called Invitation and was basically about creepy men who think it's ok to harass women on the streets. It was super-empowering and the end result was so funny. Ashnikko and I are very similar in our artistic ideas, so it just flowed amazingly.
The second was getting an email from Glamour magazine, who commissioned me to draw an illustration around censorship on social media alongside an interview. I was so excited to draw and discuss something I'm so passionate about, and for it to be in a magazine I grew up reading was the icing on the cake.
“The most important skill is always staying true to yourself and never losing your own personal style.”
What skills are essential to your job?
I think the most important skill is always staying true to yourself and never losing your own personal style. For me, it's a skill in itself to always be checking myself to make sure I'm happy with what I'm creating. I think when it comes to illustration, you don't need to be the best at drawing, you just have to be confident and happy with the outcome.
Do you run any self-initiated projects?
I have my own shop where I sell prints, candles, and pendants. I also run a monthly T-shirt design with Everpress, and try to produce one illustration for myself every week to post on my socials. Normally it will be something that's been bothering me that week, or that I feel is important to talk about. I also run a panel talk every couple of months called ‘Help a Girl Out’, where I invite women to come join in a conversation, designed around whatever the audience wants to discuss.
How important would you say self-promotion is to your job?
It is really important, especially when it comes to making sure you get to work with people you’re interested in working with. I recently got myself a manager, as I am so terrible at self-promotion and putting myself out there. I find it all a bit intimidating sometimes, so I really needed the extra help. However, Instagram is a great way to self-promote and to get your work seen. It's been really great for me to create a safe space online for people to see my work and react to it.
You’ve build a really impressive following on Instagram, do you have tips for anyone wanting to grow their social media presence?
Collaborate with other artists, create work regularly, don’t be afraid to share your work, talk to people doing similar things to you and help each other out.
What tools do you use most for your work?
The main tools are pencils, paper and a rubber. I hand-draw all of my drawings first and then scan them into Photoshop to edit them, using a Wacom tablet. I really enjoy perfecting the image on paper first as I'm better at drawing freehand then digitally. I also come from a sculpture background, so I'm still learning the technology side of things.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to be an artist, I was never any good at anything else when I was at school. As soon as I left school I did an art foundation and then went straight onto an art degree. Even while I was studying I worked in a zoo as a face painter to earn extra cash.
If I didn't become an artist I was going to be a professional figure skater. But after skating for a few years I found out I had a disease in my back called degenerative disc disease, where the discs are crumbling in my lower back, so that ended my skating dreams.
“Drawing was a way for me to better understand my emotions – it became my own personal therapy.”
How did you get into drawing?
After going through months of therapy and not really noticing a difference, I decided to take up drawing. This was a way for me to better understand my emotions – it became my own personal therapy.
Venus Libido was born as a direct result of experiencing self-doubt, mental health related issues and I believe by sharing my story through illustrations that I can help others who are also going through similar situations.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I have a degree in fine-art sculpture, so it hasn't helped me in technical terms. I have thought myself how to illustrate and animate over the last two years. However it has helped me in terms of the best approach to researching and finding inspiration and developing a personal style to also making an idea into something physical.
What were your first jobs?
I started my first job while I was still studying, as I knew I had to get ahead of the game before I graduated – Susie Macmurray, building chainmail from scratch and on some site-specific installations, then Lucy McRae and Loop.pH.
I then went on to work for a company making silicon moulds and doing resin pouring, where I also got to work on a few Madame Tussauds bodies. I think getting my foot in the door while studying was the best thing I ever did, and I would recommend to anyone who is serious about working in the art industry to intern before you graduate.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is making sure you always stay active and always producing your own work. Some days the creative flow is dry and it is hard to focus and produce work but its always important to never force it but to never give up. So far the biggest challenge personally was making a music video when I had no idea where to begin. However I got through it with determination and hard work and it really did pay off.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes! and so much more. I started Venus Libido as a project for myself and now it just keeps growing and growing. I have always wanted to help others with their mental health in some way or another and my drawings do just that. I’m over the moon.
“I have always wanted to help others with their mental health in some way, and my drawings do just that. I’m over the moon.”
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
I think, when it comes to illustration, it’s very important to develop you own personal style. Work on it as much as possible and perfect it until you’re happy.
I have spent the last two years drawing every day and I’m now at a stage where I'm happy with my illustrations. I would also advise creating some form of social media platform, whether it be a website, Instagram or a blog so you can post your work and share it with companies and agencies to look for representation. Also, a good portfolio is always important.
If you could recommend one resource that has inspired you, what would it be?
For me, because my work is quite comical at times, I'm really into comedy and films, so I watch a lot of comedians and Netflix series. Reading and listening to podcasts is always useful for sparking ideas, and I'm a massive fan of Roxanne Gay and Silvia Plath. But also, try and attend events and engage with like-minded people. I have learnt so much through talking to people on Instagram and listening to others talk.
Interview by Indi Davies