July 6, 2022

How to Draw All The Unread Books Weighing On Your Conscience

[music chimes]

Hi, I’m Amy Kurzweil,

and I’m going to show you how to draw literary cartoons.

[jazz music]

Tell me a few of your own top literary inspirations,

or favorite works of literature.

[Amy laughs]

Such a hard one.

I always feel like a hack writer

because I don’t have an answer to that question.

Like, literally every book I read I’m like, this is great.

I just like books.

I just like everything about books.

Is there a particular reason you think

why you are drawn to drawing cartoons about literature?

I think because being a cartoonist for me

was a bit of a surprise detour in my life.

I always wanted to be a writer.

And then I discovered drawing eases the pain of writing.

That was this revelation

that made my life a lot more pleasant.

[jazz music]

Here we have a very erudite, but silly mouse

who is holding a little crumb of a cookie, a madeleine.

And the mouse is thinking,

And suddenly the memory returns.

The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine,

which on Sunday mornings at, dot dot dot.

And the caption of this cartoon is

If you give a mouse a French cookie.

Something that was funny about this cartoon

is so many people don’t understand it.

[both laughing]

This cartoon is a mashup

of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past: Swann’s Way,

and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

What’s the Seinfeld episode

when Elaine confronts the New Yorker cartoon editor

about the joke not making sense,

and he’s like, I liked the cute cat, sue me!

I think that’s exactly

something that I try to keep in mind

is okay, if we’re gonna make a Proust reference,

you gotta get animal in there too.

Have you actually read Proust?

So something that’s funny

is that I actually don’t think I’ve read

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

[both laughing]

But I have read, I have read Proust.

I read Proust in grad school,

and it’s pretty good, like five stars.

[Amy laughs]

So tell me a little bit

about how you go about drawing a character

from literature, and in particular,

a character that’s been drawn

by another illustrator before.

[bells ding]

[pleasant music]

[Amy] All right.

I’m going to ink some characters

from literature with my death grip.

My teacher in kindergarten

tried to get me to hold my pencil not like this,

but I defied good teacherly instruction.

So here we have Proust in bed.

Yeah, he’s got his hair sort of matted to his forehead

’cause he hasn’t gotten out of bed in a while.

For fine line work, I like to use this Copic Multiliner.

I like having two different kinds of tools to work with.

I think it just makes the lines more dynamic.

My wash here is a mix of black and white watercolor.

And I like to use wash to give form to my drawings.

I’m not so concerned about realism,

like where the light is coming from,

but I use wash to create contrast,

and to draw the eye to what I think

is the most important part of the image.

Next character.

I’m drawing a different literary mouse.

This is Stuart Little from one of the first books

I remember my mom reading to me.

What I know about Stuart Little

is that he’s a New York City mouse,

and he’s human-like.

So obviously, he wears clothes.

If you want something to be cute, just give it big eyes.

And I’ve got this diamond ring here with Stuart for scale.

Lastly, we have a character

we’ve all seen before.

So the question is, how do I make it my own

while making it recognizably a wild thing?

So one way I do that

is by clearly referencing

the Maurice Sendak wild thing

with its basic shape.

So, we’ve got horns,

hairy lion mane, round eyes, toothy smile.

But my version is more simple.

I’ve got less crosshatching than him.

My eyes are a little bigger, a little less teeth.

And I add some anachronistic signature.

In this case, my wild thing

is wearing floaties and going swimming.

And I add this thought,

just in case there’s any confusion about my influence.

[upbeat music]

So, here we have a bookstore.

And in the window, we have several signs.

The first one invites you at three p.m. to meet the author.

The next sign invites you at 3:10 p.m.

to tweet negative reviews at the author.

The next one invites you at 3:25 p.m.

to meet the author’s disappointed parents.

And at 3:30, you’re invited to meet the author’s spouse

who has raised the author’s children

on a single earner’s salary.

So, you’ve written books.

A graphic memoir, with one more in the works,

and also collaborated with your dad on books.

Is this at all inspired by your experience

out in the world, promoting things you’ve written?

I don’t know why you would think that.

[both laugh]

I definitely wrote this cartoon

after my first book came out.

And I do feel like I worked on a book for so long.

You know, it took me like seven or eight years

to write my first book.

I was pretty young as I was working on it.

And all I could think about was getting published.

You know, it was just, and I think this is the condition

of a lot of authors, especially young authors,

where they’re just like, I’m just gonna write a book

and it’s gonna save me.

Like, it’s just gonna deliver me

into all the things I’ve ever wanted.

And you really don’t think about what happens after,

which is like, just life continues.

[gentle piano music]

Books are hard because there are so many of them.

One of the best pieces of comics advice I ever got,

I was trying to draw a brick wall,

and a cartoonist who I admired told me,

Don’t draw every brick.

I’m thinking of these books

more like the outlines of buildings that are far away.

I’m not finishing my lines.

What matters about my bookshelf

is not what it looks like, but what books I have in it.

So I am going to label a few of these books,

not every book, that would take forever.

Next, I’ll use the wash to give some form to this shelf,

shadows around the books.

But I can stay loose with it,

because this is still in the background of the image.

And sticking to my don’t draw every brick lesson,

I’ll just color in a few spines

just to give the sense that the books are different colors.

Next I’m gonna draw a stack of books,

which is something I really hate drawing

because of the perspective challenge.

It helps me to start with the little curve of the spine.

Then from the curves,

I create these receding lines.

One set of lines goes one way,

one set of lines goes another way.

I’ll loosely draw the pages

with some swipes of a fine line pen,

and put these books on a little table.

I’m gonna label just the top book.

This is a book I’m reading now

by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Next, I’ll move to the main figure in the foreground,

using a thicker pen

because this is the subject of the image.

And I’ve got this reading chair.

I think it’s important that your reading chair

is either comfortable, or stylish.

In this case, my chair is neither comfortable nor stylish,

but it is inexpensive.

The thickest book on the bookshelf in my home,

personally I have not read,

but somebody is responsible for this thing’s existence,

and the fact that we have to lug it with us

every time we move.

It’s called On What Matters by Derek Parfit.

And of course, volume two is thicker than volume one.

Definitely can’t fit everything that matters

into one volume.

So we have my partner studiously reading about what matters.

And not pictured is me off scene

drawing cartoons somewhere,

which we all know is what really matters.

[upbeat music]

So here we have a man

in front of a large roll down slide thing.

And he is presenting, somewhat sadly,

to a group of executives

who are attentively looking at his PowerPoint presentation,

which is titled The Poetry of PowerPoint.

And the label in this cartoon is, Executive MFA.

This is, instead of drawing literary characters here,

you’re drawing sort of pseudo-literary people.

But how do you draw sort of the MFA student type,

the corporate type,

and then how do you combine those two?

So that was sort of a fun challenge.

I mean, so like this guy who’s droning on,

he’s just wearing a regular black suit,

but his tie has got a little bit of this pizazz.

This is in black and white,

but maybe his tie is like yellow and purple.

You know?

And then you know, this woman who’s wearing glasses.

She’s got these perfect literary round glasses,

even though she’s wearing like a kind of buttoned up suit.

And then this other woman across the way,

I imagine that she has shocking dyed purply gray hair.

These are buttoned up corporate types,

but they’re longing

for some more soulful, literary experience,

and this is what they get.

You know, I had to hide their literary quirkiness

in these like very small details.

[bells ding]

[jazz music]

Now I’m gonna be drawing some literary characters,

meaning these are the kind of people

you might meet in your MFA program, or in The Strand.

I think I’ll start with the woman

from my executive MFA cartoon.

I’m gonna draw her how she would prefer to present herself.

She’s got a cool turtleneck.

She’s wearing this distressed skirt.

Kind of halfway between a denim skirt and a plaid skirt.

She’s obviously carrying a tote bag from you know where.

So here I’m using the wash to create contrast

and balance in the image.

The lighter hair balances with the lighter skirt.

Darken up the sneakers to balance the sweater.

This next guy is definitely someone you’d meet

in your short story workshop.

He’s weirdly tall, and skinny.

He’s wearing a pretty plain outfit.

Plain T-shirt, jeans folded up.

He’s got a fauxhawky haircut,

raised eyebrows, glasses, of course.

Experimental facial hair.

He’s got a pencil behind his ear,

and a Moleskin in his pocket.

And he’s making a point.

He has many, many points to make.

Our last character here might be my favorite.

This is potentially the teacher of your poetry workshop.

She’s an older lady.

She’s got fuzzy, long hair.

She’s got this big comfy, flowy sweater,

lots of jewelry, just chunky, drippy jewelry.

She’s got reading glasses

that she actually needs.

She’s got eyes with lots of dramatic eye shadow,

and she’s wearing

just the most comfortable sneakers she’s got.

After years of sitting and writing, she’s got back problems.

So, she really needs to protect her back

with comfortable footwear.

[jazz music]

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