An Interview with Corey Wash: The Artist Turning Her Life Into Comics

“START WITH A SEED. PLANT DAT BIH. KEEP IT WATERED.”

What you just read is a line from one of Corey Wash’s comics drawn with a Sharpie on emerald green paper, posted on her Instagram page.  The seed could be a literal plant seed or an idea; this versatility is a common trait of Corey’s work, which leaves much of the interpretation up to the viewer. Her relatable comic creations, which often feature a ballsy character named Willoughby, cultivated an organic following for the Baltimore born artist who currently lives in Los Angeles by way of New York City. 

The ding of the elevator reaching the 9th floor jarred me out of a daydream. I had arrived at Corey’s apartment in downtown Los Angeles. Armed with my film camera and audio recorder, I traipsed down the hall, led by the smell of incense, to Corey’s apartment door. As she opened the door, light spilled out of the studio apartment she shares with her partner, MeLo.

illustrator and artist corey wash
Photos by Emily Berkey

The sound of The Internet mingled with the incense in the air as MeLo lay on their bed working on his laptop and Corey doodled while sitting in one of their marigold chairs. Next to her lay MeLo’s trumpet and the green bass her father gifted her. Their space serves as a live-in studio — Corey’s canvases and colored paper lay on the floor and find homes pinned to the wall, markers, brushes, spray paint canisters, and cameras are strewn about.

A reminder to self scratched on cream paper resides above MeLo’s keyboard. “LIFE IN LA” reads the title. “WHY AM I HERE?” Corey asks herself. “TO EXPAND + GROW” she answers in Sharpie, mirroring a common theme in her comics: the planting, cultivation, and growth of a plant…or perhaps a person.  

I moved an ashtray filled with the remnants of joints, incense, and a few dried roses, and sat my recorder down. “I’d like to draw my answers to your questions,” declared the artist. So we began. I asked questions and she drew her answers assuredly and without hesitation. The following are the comics she drew in response to my pop-quiz.

How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?

You use a lot of green, orange, yellow, and blue. Why these colors?

“This is a circle of different vibrant stories. I like to use those colors because they’re vibrant and they all have some type of connection to the story. Green represents nature, yellow represents the sun, then blue and orange. They tell vibrant stories and depict everything going on in my life.”

Sometimes the letters in your cartoons are backwards. Do those words have a different meaning?

“I like this question…it’s just because he’s facing this way. I started doing it because they were having conversations, so if they were facing each other their words were going towards each other. Occasionally I may make it have a meaning… like maybe the person talking some BS has backwards words, but it’s usually not that.”

Your social media feeds are littered with positivity. You encourage self-love, mind-expansion, and you’re always encouraging other women. You’ve created a really unique following because of this positivity and the rawness of your art. How have you been surprised by the impact of your work on others?

“I’m drawing me being surprised like oh shit y’all fuck with me? This is me at a public event and people from Instagram.”

Willoughby is really direct and sometimes brash. Some of these cartoons seem like the perfect outlet for that comeback you came up with two hours too late. Is the creation of these cartoons cathartic for you? Have they ever caused conflict amongst close friends?

“Hmmm. Yes. [Laughs]. You just reminded me of something. The purpose is I want my cartoons to be the full focus. I know people want to know more about the person who makes them, but I care more about the message I’m trying to portray within them.”

Are there versions of these pieces of art that the social media world doesn’t see?

Corey smiles and silently nods, then offers a slow, “Yeah.”

Let’s talk about the juxtaposition of the cartoons. Willoughby is this whimsical looking character. The words on the page are sometimes dead serious and really raw. Is this juxtaposition on purpose? A reflection of your everyday life?

“This one is like pretty much yes. I do it on purpose. I feel like these are abstract characters and abstract art catches your eye and pulls you in.”

corey wash art

Willoughby is about 2 years old now. Do you see them developing and finding their voice? Can you see how you’ve evolved as a human through Willoughby?

“This is the drawing that started the cartoon series…this grow plant and travel plant. Then I started placing Willoughby into place then he grew into doing shit. He makes art and talks and has a to-do list. He’s hella active and shit. Willoughby evolved from being a stand-in to being the main center of attention.”

Corey Wash

I saw you at a live installation recently. You were sitting on the floor of a small, dimly lit room, doodling on the colored paper that lay on the floor. The room was filled with plants, paper, and marker. You were creating all night…how do you continue to have inspiration for that? Did you come in with ideas or were you freestyling?

You’re from Baltimore, spent some time in New York, and now you’re living in Los Angeles. You originally wanted to be a model…You’re now a music video director, stylist, model, muse, photographer, guitarist, designer. How do all of the worlds of art you’re a part of collide?

“These are all of the outlets and they all kind of have the same message.”

You’re friends with a lot of creatives, specifically musicians. How does your friends’ work influence yours? What do you listen to when you’re drawing?

You’ve mentioned you have a book series in the works and an installation coming to LA in May. Can you tell me more about these?

I hear you’re headed to NY at the end of the month to work on a few new projects.  

Connect with Corey Wash:  Instagram | Twitter

All original illustrations by Corey Wash.

Photos by Emily Berkey.

Emily Berkey

Emily Berkey is a freelance journalist and film photographer currently based in Los Angeles by way of Portland, Oregon. A few of her favorite things include: sitting down for intimate conversations, unedited photo shoots, and helping artists share their stories.