We love Australian Singer-Songwriter Courtney Barnett’s rambling music and adore her album artwork—illustrations she’s done for the albums herself. On July 21st, Sugarlift and Mom + Pop are hosting a pop-up gallery of Courtney’s artwork—including art from her debut record, behind-the-scenes photographs of the making of the album and new photographs from her tour. 

We love Australian Singer-Songwriter Courtney Barnett’s rambling music and adore her album artwork—illustrations she’s done for the albums herself. On July 21st, Sugarlift and Mom + Pop are hosting a pop-up gallery of Courtney’s artwork—including art from her debut record, behind-the-scenes photographs of the making of the album and new photographs from her tour. Sugarlift Galleries will be selling the prints on their online store, as well as holding the prints in their Bushwick space for the two weeks following the event. A portion of proceeds will go to the Marine Conservation Society.

We got a chance to ask Courtney a few questions about her illustrations, and how her visual art fits into the larger picture of her work.

Rachel Cassandra: Can you talk about the evolution of your drawings? Have they always paralleled or accompanied your music?
Courtney Barnett: They haven't always gone completely hand-in-hand. They probably came together strongest when I started recording music and then designing the album covers, single covers, and t-shirts. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist, but then I became obsessed with guitar, and was much better at it than drawing. It all comes down to expressing ideas. Sometimes it's easier for me to present an idea with words or sometimes it’s easier visually.

How does your illustration process compare to that of creating music?
The start is similar. Everything starts as a sketch. A sketch of a sentence, the sketch of a shape, the sketch of an idea. But whilst the illustrated sketches don't stray too far from their origin, the writing and the music evolves into a much more layered process. I guess it's practice.

Did you consider other album artwork for any of your albums before deciding to use your illustrations? What was this process like with the record companies?
Oh yeah, I spent a looooong time working on album artwork. I even considered incorporating photography or collage. But I settled on the most familiar thing to me, line-drawing. I find great pleasure in the consistency of all my albums and singles sitting together as a visual collection. I've slowly introduced color into the pen drawings, but that's the only difference. As for the record companies... Well, everyone has their individual opinions but ultimately, it's my art and I am in control of it. I work with cool people though, so even though I don't like being told what to do, when people do have opinions, they're normally very valid and constructive and do not compromise the art. Also, I run my own record label in Australia, so I have to put on both hats and be fair.

The illustrations from "A View to a Gig" feel very much like an illustrated journal. How do your drawings factor into your observations and what you process in your physical environment? Are they exercises or deliberate content with the intention of an end product?
They definitely weren't originally intended for publication. It was a journal thing, like an illustrated photo journal. I wouldn't even call them illustrations. I'd call them sketches, doodles, marks on paper. Later on, when I gathered them all together, I thought they looked so beautiful as a collection that I should re-do them and put them somewhere, publish them somehow. But when I tried to re-do them they lost all their charm, so they stayed as the ratty, coffee-stained originals.

I love that on your website viewers can add color to your ink drawings. What was your intention with this?
I kinda liked that it had no purpose except that people might find some enjoyment from it. I enjoy it ‘cause it kinda feels like MS [Microsoft] Paint and reminds me of when we got our first computer.

You chose to include a hand-drawn zine with your album. Do you feel connected to other zine makers?
When I was a little kid, I started making these things, not because I saw other people doing it and was inspired, but because it was cheap, easy and fun. When I eventually did see other people doing it, I was ten-times-more inspired to keep doing it.

How do these images relate to the album itself?
The chairs? Well it was a process. What comes first, the name or a visual idea? Which one directs the other? I kept zigzagging between the two. When I finally decided on a name, I started playing with ideas and the chair was one avenue I went down, trying to replicate the simplicity and meditative nature of the sentence, plus the literal "sitting" element with the chair.

When you're touring, do you have a chance to get out and see any art?
Yeah, sometimes! I try as much as I can. I went to see Picasso and Miro in Barcelona last year. If I'm short on time, I just try to hit up the big galleries. A couple of highlights have been the Portland Art Museum, the New York Met, Tate Modern, Sydney MCA, and whenever possible, the Brett Whiteley museum in Surrey Hills, Sydney. There's always one element in any museum, no matter how big or small, that will inspire me.

Did you choose the Marine Conservation Society to benefit from your show? How was it chosen?
Yeah, I chose it. When I released Kim's Caravan as a 12", I wanted to highlight the dire situation of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. Everything takes time, whilst we're also running out of time. That song is about feeling completely helpless about that situation, but any helpless situation requires tiny steps in order to mend. Everybody has a voice and it's important to use it to fight for those with a less-loud voice. Nature doesn't have a voice at all, so it's extra important for us all to fight for it. 

For more information about Courtney Barnett, visit courtneybarnett.com.au