Olivia Spring, Sick magazine
Olivia Spring is the founder and editor of Sick, a magazine aiming to change the perception of sick and disabled people and increase their representation in publishing and the arts.
The magazine is brightly coloured and uses illustration throughout. ‘I started Sick with pinks and reds in mind, wanting to create a warm, inviting, colourful aesthetic not commonly associated with illness,’ says Olivia, who founded the magazine in 2019 in Norwich, UK and now runs it from Maine, US.
She shares her influences and inspirations as she discusses her week ahead.
What are you up to this morning?
I’m still feeling quite jet-lagged since getting back to Maine after travelling to Germany for Indiecon. I don’t really mind because it means I’m getting up earlier than I normally do, allowing me to enjoy parts of the day that I usually spend asleep. I’m starting my day with a cup of coffee in bed before going to hang out down by the water with my dog, Black Bean. We always either go for a walk or play in the yard before eating breakfast and getting on with the day.
Describe your desk and your work space.
I work from home, mostly between my desk and my bed. I have a beautiful wooden desk and chair, which used to belong to my mom and grandmother. My desk faces east and looks out onto my yard, decorated with weeds and overgrown grass, a beautiful maple tree, and a stream that winds out to a big lake.
In the warmer months, I try to work outside as much as I can; being in nature usually lifts me up a bit. I recently got a vintage cot for my porch which means I can be pretty much completely horizontal while working outside, which is very enjoyable.
Which magazine do you first remember?
There was a science magazine everyone used to get when I was in elementary school—I’m pretty sure it was National Geographic Kids. My first subscription was Teen Vogue, which I read for years.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
I’m currently reading issue nine, the health issue, of It’s Freezing in LA! and I’m feeling really inspired by the writing. The size, paper, and design are great, too—I keep picking it up just to feel it and flick through the pages.
Describe Sick in three words
A celebratory resistance.
The magazine has a very carefully crafted visual identity—bright, positive and expressive. Talk us through its development.
I started Sick with pinks and reds in mind, wanting to create a warm, inviting, colourful aesthetic not commonly associated with illness. After our first mini issue, we began building beyond this by supplying cover artists with our signature colours, and asking them to use one or two while incorporating something new. For issue two, Hayley Wall added a bold yellow and grainy-blue texture, which our designer Kaiya Waerea then used as the main colours throughout the issue, alongside our original pink.
All of our issues include a different featured artist who illustrate their own interpretations of written work, adding more depth to our title pages. We started using pull-quotes after the first issue, which I was initially hesitant to do, but am thrilled with how they have come out. We try to add something new or update a design element with each issue - you can see how the layout for poetry has slowly progressed through the issues, as well as our artist pages. In issue three I started doing a fill-in-the-blank style questionnaire for our cover artist & issue illustrator, which I think adds a nice break from the essays and a chance to spotlight the artist.
In our most recent issue, we published an e-mail correspondence between myself and Kaiya, featured the shortlisted books from the Barbellion Prize, and have a list of recommended books, zines, articles, podcasts and more relating to the body.
Has the focus of publishing the magazine helped you better manage your own health?
Since creating Sick, I’ve felt more comfortable in recognizing and stating my own needs, prioiritizing rest and care, and feeling less embarrassed or ashamed about these things. This is largely because I feel a part of a community now in a way I wasn’t before. I feel supported and encouraged by everyone I work with, and from being more in touch with the disability community via social media.
When there are requests for interviews, advice, or even just an Instagram DM, I no longer feel like I have to reveal a part of myself (‘Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been dealing with poor health’ or thoughts of ‘should I include this thing relating to illness in my answer or will they think it’s really weird) because people are reaching out because I am ill, because of the magazine, and so I feel that part of my identity, and my point of view, is appreciated rather than seen as uncomfortable, or taboo.
Highlight one story that sums up the magazine
‘The Rest of my Life’ by IAW, published in issue four, is a great example of an essay that sums up Sick because it’s more than just ‘this is what it’s like to be disabled’.
After being asked the ableist question, ‘Are you going to take that for the rest of your life?’ in regards to his testosterone, IAW realized that he views his trans and disabled identities as separate because his chronic illnesses are seen and treated as ‘feminine’ illnesses. He shares his thoughts on trans and disabled joy, which are very important narratives that deserve more understanding. He rejects the idea that disabled and trans people have miserable and tragic lives, instead celebrating bodily autonomy and the freedom found in living an authentic life. ‘My life-long medications aren’t something to pity,’ IAW writes. ‘They’re something to celebrate.’
What one piece of advice would you offer somebody wanting to launch their own publication?
Don’t rush it. Take your time, let your ideas sit and develop on their own, talk to as many people as you can, get lost in other books and magazines, allow yourself to dream, and question everything along the way.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
Resting. After a very busy few months, I’m looking forward to having nowhere to go and nothing urgent to do. I have a pretty hefty TBR pile I am eager to get into, and I plan to spend my days under the sun while I still can.
Designer Kaiya Waerea