Collaboration in the time of COVID

Text by Katherine Bernard
Images by Lily Olsen

Lily Olsen

Covid 1-9

  1. Answers. 

Hot? We don’t need these extra blankets in March. Weak? You didn’t eat much last night. Tired? This virus that we definitely do not have is a lot to process, everyone is anxious about the next two long weeks. Worried? Let’s make a list of things to do that we always meant to do, like painting, baking, watching the sunset, and taking pictures on the bed. Still hot? Don’t panic, there are many other things that cause a fever. Hot still? It could be anything. Still hot? All we can do is drink water, stay here, be hot, be still. 

  1. Days. 

March 16. Sweat. My sister, a doctor, tells us if we can’t hold our breath for ten seconds, come to the hospital. This is our only test, our only plan. Before (before?), we planned days together, days apart. Now, we won’t separate. Soon, we won’t be able to separate days. 

  1. Voids. 

There is no memory of Three. Three was three days of sleep. I don’t know if I brought water to her or she brought water to me. 

  1. Meals. 

Though we are hungry, we cannot taste or smell. Cooked green peppers are boiled frog skin, eating dry granola is like sucking on potting soil. Peppermint tea with thick slices of ginger and a floating lemon has the sensation of plain hot water. A shot of apple cider vinegar with potent droplets of oil of oregano: fiery water. A tequila cocktail with pamplemousse seltzer and lime: bubbly water. Truffle oil: thick water. Coffee: brown water. 

  1. Others. 

When are we a danger to others? We are a danger to others indoors, or outdoors. If we cough, or if we don’t cough. If we touch, or if we don’t touch. My landlord leaves ginger cookies and green tea outside my apartment door, along with a pair of gloves she shed after placing them down. Neighbors email: “We have been on lockdown for 9 days now and have been feeling good but of course this puts a monkey wrench in that security.” This being us, because we are not feeling good. We are a danger to others if we tell them or don’t tell them. We sit at the window and watch people cross the street when they see others.

  1. Weeks. 

A friend on the phone says it’s really Week 3 that we must worry about. People seem recovered and then plummet to sudden breathless death in Week 2. Or 3. 3. So she heard. She heard right, she heard that Week 3 you die, suddenly, probably, but there’s no way to know. But she knows, and now we know, better to know, she thinks, that in Week 3 we will die. 

  1. Senses. 

March 22, we see an article: “There’s An Unexpected Loss Of Smell And Taste In Coronavirus Patients.” Unexpected loss is the symptom of Covid-19 that we’re all experiencing. Loss of connection, loss of support, loss of money, loss of structure, loss of control. Without taste and smell, we start to eat sounds for comfort. Artificial rainfall tricks our brains into feeling at peace indoors: the weather told us to stay in. We drink light, going through tapered candles like bottles of water. 

  1. Numbers.

We still can’t taste, so tears are small water. 

  1. Returns.

Lemon returns, then ginger. Onions and pickle brine return. Garlic in the pan returns, and banana bread returns. Wine returns, toothpaste returns, burning incense returns. Anxiety returns and returns. Energy returns, so phone calls return, then showering standing up, then climbing the ladder to go to the roof. We cross sunsets off the list, and return to drink water, stay here, be together, be still. 

Lily Olsen
Lily Olsen
Lily Olsen


KB is a writer, actor and filmmaker based in New York. You can find her work in the New York Times, Dazed, Garage, SSENSE, and elsewhere. 

Lily Olsen is a New York artist. Her passion stems from over a decade of photographing people across the gender spectrum who identify within the dyke community. Her work can be categorized as a thought-provoking exploration of queer tropes and characters merged with authentic personalities in the community.


Andrea Lhotská

(Illustrator) Interview

Butch is Beautiful, 2020.

Andrea Lhotská is a Czechoslovakian artist and printmaker whose work centres around lesbian and particularly butch lesbian identity. Their favourite medium to work in is gouache paint, as well as lino printing. They have also self-published two riso printed zines and are currently working on a third.

We spoke with Andrea to get more deep into their creative process with illustration, zines, printmaking and butchness.

Florencia: Do you have a personal construct for what’s ​masculine​ and what’s ​feminine​? Have you taken those ​standards​ from society or have you deconstructed and created a ​new ​masculine, feminine or neutral standard?

I find it difficult to create my own constructs of what is masculine and feminine when society’s standards of what is masculine and feminine are so rigidly imposed on everyone. I disagree with most of society’s standards (like who decided that embroidery or funky socks or colourful cocktails are feminine? ridiculous!) but whether I like it or not, these standards affect how other people see me. I aim to be seen as neutral, but given that the body I which was born with is seen as feminine by default, I often express this through things people would consider masculine.  Overall, I think this quote from Claude Cahun sums up my relationship with the masculine and feminine the best: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me”.

F: When did you start representing these butch characters, people, and bodies in your work?

The first ever butch I ever drew was a character I created back when I was much younger, unhappy and still in the closet. At the time she was almost an alter ego, someone I wanted to become without knowing it yet. My first bigger project involving butch characters was a comic book which never saw the light of day – it was much too ambitious for me to pull off with my skills at the time. I’m hoping to return to it one day though, when I’m more confident that I can actually finish a project of that size. I’m still very attached to the characters and story, and storytelling through art is something that I’m trying to work towards.

F: Can you talk about the origin of this in your drawings and how this repetition of the theme started?

I really started centring my art around butch characters and people around a year after I had started identifying as butch. I realised that I almost never saw anyone like myself even in art and media made by other lesbians and sapphic women, and it was something that I desperately wanted more of.  For me art is not something I do by profession, just something I do in my free time alongside university. So the subjects of my art are usually based on my whims and whatever I feel like doing at a particular time, which means that when I began making butch art it was mostly for myself. It was only after my first zine sold out that I realised that it wasn’t just me who wanted more butch representation and visibility, which really drove me to continue centring my art around butchness. This led to other projects such as the second butch zine, or the series of portraits of real life butches which I am currently working on. (the zines:  and the portraits:

Jeanette: You mentioned that you have made zines, gouache paintings and lino prints. Can you expand on how you decide which medium to work with and why?”

I use each of these mediums for a different purpose, so when I decide to begin a piece of art, from the beginning I already think of it in terms of the medium I will be working with. 

Butch Zine #1, 2019.

Zines are best for when I want to make several pieces of art centred around a single theme, and when I want to make art that’s accessible for many people to physically have. My preferred zine format is an A3 sheet folded into an eight page zine, which I’ve used for my two butch zines. It allows for 6 small illustrations and a big poster, which is the perfect format because in one zine I can share both my drawings as well as things that I’ve learned about lesbian history. 

Lino prints have to be made up of two colours only, and the design needs to be easy enough to carve out of a block of lino. This means that they’re best suited for simpler designs, often something like posters or graphics. I personally love the challenge of adapting a photograph or idea in my head to a black and white print. What I also really like about lino printing is that it again is quite accessible as it allows for multiple prints to be made and many different people can have original prints at home. 

Butch Zine #2,  2020.

And gouache is a clear choice when I either want to paint directly from a photograph or make something more like an illustration, when I want to paint a full scene. It allows for a lot of detail and colours, which is well suited for portraits and other more realistic paintings.

J: Is the inspiration for your drawings folks you know or are friends with?

I’ve never been lucky enough to have a lesbian community in real life, and all of my butch friends I’ve met online, usually through my art or as penpals. So it’s actually the other way around – rather than community inspiring my art, it was my art that brought me more of a community and friends. But as I’ve connected with more people online, they have definitely had an influence on my art and especially my second butch zine.

J: I notice that a lot of the positions of the butch lesbians differ, how do you decide what positions to put their bodies in, and why?

The way I decided on how to position someone in a piece of art depends a lot on whether I’m working from a fixed reference or not. 

A series of portraits of butch lesbians, 2020 – (in progress)

For example for my Butch Portraits series, I asked people to submit a short text along with photographs which I use to paint portraits of them. In that case I don’t have much choice in terms of positioning – the only things that are up to me are how to frame the portrait (i.e. how close up I paint), as well as the choice of photograph I use if someone has submitted several. I usually make my choice based on how the position and body language complements the story which the person is telling. For example one person wrote about their path to reconciling being both strong and soft, and I chose to paint them with flowers, which are typically seen as something soft and feminine. One day I’d like to work with people physically and photograph them for my paintings myself, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet. 

Butch lesbians dancing, 2020.

When I’m not working with a fixed photo reference, such as with my zines, all of the positioning is left up to me. I usually start with a quick sketch or idea. In the zines especially, I try to include a variety of different positions and settings – I want to show us as people going about our everyday lives, with friends and family and partners. Once I vaguely know what position I want, I either look for references online or take them myself with my phone and people around me. Usually I’m unable to quite match the positioning that I wanted initially or I discover something that will work even better, so the references I have available also influence the position in which people end up in my drawings. 

Self-love, 2019.

J: What is important for you to be seen and represented about butch lesbians?

For me it’s mostly the diversity of what butchness can be. I feel like even when butch lesbians are represented in media, which is already super rare, they’re usually shown as these tough physically strong people who don’t show much emotion. But we’re so much more than a stereotype – yes we are tough, but also soft and silly and shy and nerdy and loving. I want to go beyond stereotypes in my art. In my zines especially, I try to show different ways of being butch, so for example in my two zines I’ve drawn butch partners & their child, someone enjoying a book and cup of tea in bed, and butches who’ve had top surgery. That’s another thing that isn’t talked about much: not all butches are cis, many have complicated relationships with their gender, or are non-binary. All butches have their own way of being butch and I wish that was represented more.  

Andrea Lhotská is a Czechoslovakian artist and printmaker whose work centers around lesbian and particularly butch lesbian identity. Their favorite medium to work in is gouache paint, as well as lino printing. They have also self-published two riso printed zines and are currently working on a third.You can find Andrea’s work on their instagram , and purchase original lino prints and other art in their webshop.