Drawing is my default go-to activity: I doodle to pass time, on napkins in restaurants, on the subway, when I’m bored or annoyed, and when I just straight up have nothing better to do. It comes from this obsession with capturing moments and recording everything that’s going on around me, even if they’re kinda mundane: Most of my sketchbooks also serve as journals, so I have many self-portraits where I’m just sitting around and feeling feels. But I also think of all this as constant practice.
I find faces to be the most difficult thing to draw…
…so I’m always trying to draw everybody I see. I didn’t go to art school and sometimes get hung up on the stuff I might have missed out on there, so when I decided to become an illustrator, I set out to teach myself all the stuff I thought I should know. Drawing humans was at the top of this list, so I started putting myself through these weird little invented art classes: Sitting in Tompkins Square Park all day drawing strangers was how I figured out how to draw people that looked like actual people, rather than invented cartoon characters.
Even though it makes me feel shy, I always ask if a person minds before I start sketching them. I’ve tried surreptitiously drawing people from behind sunglasses, but it feels too creepy and invasive, and it’s much easier to do a portrait of someone if you can stare at them shamelessly.
It’s usually easier to draw someone if I already know them and can boss them about. Most of my friends are used to me saying, “OK, just try not to move your right arm for the next four minutes,” by now. Larry is my favorite/least favorite person to draw. I met him about four years ago in Tompkins. We struck up a lasting friendship where we find each other somewhere in Tompkins every couple of months, then sit and rant about everyone and everything while I draw him.
I like it because he always looks amazing, has a very symmetrical, but interesting, old-guy face, and is the most patient and still model EVER, without even being asked. But I also hate it because he’s difficult to draw, so I always fall short of how great he looks in real life. It’s aggravating. I have probably 50 portraits of Larry in various sketchbooks, but this was the FIRST time I’ve ever been able to make a detailed drawing of his face…and it looks nothing like him.
I also have, like, a billion doodles of friends and relatives sitting on buses and trains. Jake rolls his eyes whenever I start to draw him, but I can tell he doesn’t really mind.
Just as I was coloring that picture of Jake (with tiny watercolors and a Japanese brush pen like these–you can also get one for like five bucks at decent art stores everywhere; I highly recommend them for on-the-go painting), the HOTTEST MAN I HAVE EVER SEEN sat down on the train opposite me, enthused over my portrait, and insisted I draw him until we reached his stop. I was extremely happy to have 15 minutes to baldly stare at such a perfect specimen of humanity, but I didn’t get very far. I tried to explain that he was just too extraordinarily good-looking for me to draw his face right, and he blushed ’cuz I’m a cheesy creep.
Even though my friends are mostly cool about my sketching them, I’m always paranoid that it’s also kind of IRKSOME, and I try to go as quickly as possible. Sometimes I like drawing people who won’t sit still—like my buddy Jeff, who probably wouldn’t have posed even if I’d had the guts to ask him, but was perfectly happy to let me draw him playing the sitar. He had to keep moving his limbs all the time, so I had to be a little bolder and faster with these pencil lines.
In addition to whatever sketchbook I’m working on, I always carry around a tiny Moleskine for doodling, writing down ideas, and making hysterical lists. These are very messy. They’re filled with pages of minuscule writing and a lot of hastily sketched scenes.
I’m always trying to get better at perspective, sizing, and distance by recreating the places I see for later reference. I draw pretty slowly, so a lot of pictures in these little books are unfinished: rushed mixes of pencil and pen, with random splashes of color on the stuff I most particularly wanted to remember!
Graph paper, like in school math books, is GREAT for figuring out how to draw a vanishing point. I found a couple of checked notebooks at my grandma’s house last year, and since then, it’s become my favorite kind of paper when I’m trying to block out comics or practice perspective.
Here’s me trying to do just that with this landscape of the Manhattan skyline, as seen from a Brooklyn rooftop. I hate this drawing, but it’s part of the process. Hopefully, I’ll nail this scene once I’ve drawn it 19 more times.
Graph paper is also good for drawing FONTS, aka my favorite thing to illustrate, ever, of all time. When I was at school, I passed the time in class by tricking out my exercise books with weird lettering, rendering my headers and dates in drippy goo or weird 3D Helvetica. I could literally sit around all day and just practice drawing fonts over and over again. I find it hypnotically engrossing.
I saw a font kinda like the one on this page on an Urban Outfitter’s shopping bag when I was 16, and I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since. I can’t remember what I was so sad or angry about, but I’m sure writing it out in this font made me feel better! Drawing letters is an outlet when I feel too crappy to draw or think of anything else. Typography is my SHIT. It makes my mouth water.
I also have a LOT of pages that look like this: almost blank, save for a few tentative ideas. Here, I was jotting down a mental image I had for the illustration for Krista and Lola‘s queer-centric Sex Crylebration from earlier this year!
I doodle a lot of angry selfies where I’m a monster. Aside from fonts, my favorite things to mindlessly doodle are eyes, sea creatures, stars, hands and feet, and pictures of myself throwing up with my eyeballs hanging out of my head. I don’t really know why this is, although my friend Mauro once told me that the things we doodle reveal the deepest wishes and/or fears of our psyches…jeez.
There are also a disproportionate number of half-finished “2 DO,” “LIFE PLANS,” and “IDEAS” pages dispersed throughout my sketchbooks, like this one from a year ago…which I’m definitely about to fill up any day now. ♦