Ali Burke - Artist Study


By day, Ali bakes treats for Twenty Below Coffee. By night, she draws and paints fantastical maps, geometric fauna, and whimsical flora. She’s wonderfully down to earth with an easy laugh. It was great to be able to hang out at her house where she creates and pick her brain.

Tell us about yourself - who you are and what you do.

I am Ali Burke. I am a gal who likes to sling around flour and sugar during the day at a coffee shop, and then I like to sling around paint when I’m at home. I also like to frolick around the fields and forests outside with Rob and Petra our dog… and Rob does most of the frolicking.

What kinds of things do you paint?

I tend towards things that are nature related. Maps have probably been my most enjoyable works. And most popular. I always get the most comments on those. I started out with the folklore maps of Narnia and Tolkien. I like those the best.

How did you start illustrating maps?

It mostly started with reading the Narnia books and seeing the maps in the beginning and being like “wow those are so cool” and thinking that they would look really cool with color and a little more life brought to them. I think actually before I did that Narnia one I just did a random nautical topography map, probably just because those are some of my favorite color schemes, the blues and greens.

One day I realized how much I hated spending money on cards, greeting cards, and man when you get a good one they are expensive, and you go through so many, or at least I go through so many, that I was like, “I should just start making these for free!” So I did and I do.

When did you first start creating art?

I’ve always been into art, even as a kid, with art classes in school and doodling and drawing at home, doing crafts, but once college came around and I didn’t have all the free time in the world anymore, I kinda fell out of it a little bit I guess. And just in the last year or two I’ve started to pick it up again, finding that I enjoy spending my free time doing that. I don’t know why I chose watercolor; I guess recently it’s maybe something that I hadn’t dabbled in much before, and it’s something new to try, and I just picked it up, and I like it.

When we moved into our house a few years ago, I knew I wanted to make a good amount of the artwork that would decorate it. Those two watercolors in the kitchen over the island (a waffle house and a donut hot air balloon) were some of the first pieces to grace our bare walls as well as some of my first watercolors. I've been slowly adding to it since then. So in addition to saving money by making my own greeting cards, making art to spruce up our home was the other main reason I delved into painting.

What do you like about the creative process?

I like the inspiration side of things, like finding inspiration from things in nature or even other artists. I love the way that the social community is these days, where you can see art from so many different people that it’s so much more accessible these days. I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and see something cool and think, “ooh that would be cool to try or make my own twist on.” Yeah I like trying out new things that I’ve seen other people do, or ideas that I get randomly when I’m walking around in the woods.

Who are your favorite artists?

Locally I would say McCal [Johnson] is the one that I look up to most because she’s somebody I actually know personally and I just like everything she does - like her watercolor and acrylics - and having her stuff up at 20 Below is really cool. She’s offered me advice when I’ve asked her so that’s been appreciated. And there are a few artists who I just follow on Instagram and to be honest I don’t even know all their names. There’s a girl from Australia and she makes a lot of lunar phases and moon pieces and stuff like that. There’s a girl in Minnesota who also I follow on Instagram whom I’ve never met in person, but she does a lot of really cool whimsical watercolor stuff where the lines are cool and wonky, and um, I really enjoy all of her stuff.

Describe where you work.

Where I work is mostly my living room or kitchen. Depending on how much space I need. For these larger map pieces I need the whole dining room table so I work in here and there’s a good bit of light. This is right off of my kitchen, which is pretty handy, but it takes up my whole dining table so it doesn’t stay here all the time, which means I have to pack everything up and put it away when I’m not using it.

Tell us about your kitchen table.

My kitchen table is a walnut table that my grandma saved up for diligently when she was newly married and finally was able to purchase it. Once she moved out of her house a couple years ago, she let me take it. And so it’s a family heirloom and it’s pretty rickety and it’s pretty stained and warped on the top of it, but I like it and it adds character and it’s special.

Why do you feel drawn to create?

It’s like a soothing outlet of creativity. I think in general I’m a fairly creative person and I like to get my hands dirty. I like seeing ideas come to fruition visually, so I just like seeing the end result of something that’s been stewing in my mind.

Where do you see things going? Do you have any ambition to do it full time?

I dunno. That’s kind of been the question lately. It started out as just a hobby and I still feel like it is. I don’t consider really myself an artist yet. I feel like I’m still just a hobbyist. But having my artwork up at 20 Below has been cool and it’s brought some income from it, which has led me to open up an Etsy shop and sell prints of my artwork. I’ve been thinking more about expanding that and not sure what it will look like or if it will go anywhere because I find it kind of daunting... but we’ll see.

What do you feel like you’ve learned from other artists?

I think just stretching myself and challenging myself to try new techniques or get some new tools that I’m not familiar with. One thing I’ve been branching out into lately is dipped pen calligraphy. I like trying things that may not be comfortable right away or knowing that might not turn out right away, knowing that they probably won’t turn out right away (laughs), but continuing to try anyways, and uh, just getting better.

What’s the last good book you read?

A lot of books that I’ve read recently are ones I’ve read before. We just recently went through theHarry Potter series again and the Narnia series again so that was really enjoyable.

And [Rob and I] just started reading Frankenstein, the old one my Mary Shelley. Frankenstein: or, a Modern Prometheus. Did you know that was the whole title? Yeah I picked it up and was like, “what is this? Is this actually the book?” And it’s been interesting. We’re about three-fourths of the way through and I’ve been enjoying it. I really like the writing style from that time period. Just from long ago, their writing was so eloquent and rich and weighty. I miss that.

What’s on your music playlist?

One of my favorite albums from this past month has been His Majesties by Prince of Spain. I discovered them through Spotify and that’s their only album and I really like it. I had it on repeat for like three weeks. And then just today I plugged in Yndi Halda’s brand new album, and no one’s ever heard of them but they’re from overseas and I don’t even know where. And they only had one album from like 7 years ago that was just amazing. It was four tracks long and like an hour long of just instrumental super rich ambient stuff. And just this year they released another one from outta nowhere and so I just started listening to it yesterday.

What are you inspired by?

I get inspired by people who are living their dreams and passions. And are living life fully, those who are not forgetting to have life in their years.