Veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Liza Donnelly was at New York’s Museum of Natural History yesterday afternoon on assignment for CBS News, live-drawing-reporting what she saw as crowds gathered there to watch the eclipse. She talks about the experience and shows some of the results here.
As the CBS Resident Cartoonist she roams and live-draws, here, there and wherever. A recent drawing of hers in The New Yorker [shown at the end of this post] prompted my checking in with her, for the record.
Immediate full disclosure: Liza Donnelly and I are not just New Yorker cartoonist colleagues, we are also wife and husband. Checking in with her might seem a cute conceit, but as you’ll see, she’s a cartoonist on the go; I actually do need to check in with her several times a week to be reminded of where she’s going and what she’s doing.
Below: A Donnelly drawing of eclipse-watchers at The Museum of Natural History
Michael Maslin: In the intro I refer to you as a “cartoonist on the go” …is that accurate? If it is, can you talk about what that means?
Liza Donnelly: Yes, that’s true. Although it sounds like “cartoonist” is my main identity. I’m also “writer on the go,” “public speaker on the go,” “illustrator on the go,” “author on the go,” “wife on the go,” “mother on the go…” I’ve been with the New Yorker for decades, but because of the nature of the business, I have had to do a lot of other things as well. Since starting at The New Yorker, I have cleaned stalls at a stable, worked in a bookstore, I was a teacher briefly (kindergarten and college age, simultaneously). Now, I am Resident Cartoonist at CBS News— as well as drawing cartoons for The New Yorker. I think I have finally found the perfect combination.
MM: Let’s stick, for now, with the Resident Cartoonist at CBS News. I’ve seen you on the set of CBS This Morning, live-drawing (as shown in the above photo), but you also live-draw outside of the studio. What’s one favorite assignment, so far?
LD: I really loved being at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last year, drawing all the people, workers and speakers. Maybe the best so far was being sent to Washington to spend a day live drawing the White House press room, reporters and a press conference [a drawing from that experience appears below]. We’ve (my producer and the CBS This Morning team) have been making videos and I have been teaching myself animation to use for my work with them, doing political cartoons.
MM: You grew up minutes from the White House, and in the earliest moments of your professional career, had thoughts about becoming a political cartoonist. Now, in 2017, you find yourself in The White House, drawing the President of the United States for CBS News. I imagine you must’ve had somewhat of an out of body moment there.
LD: Going to the White House as an editorial cartoonist to draw what I experienced was such a dream come true….although I never could have dreamt of it. It was an honor and it was thrilling. I am a political junkie and have great admiration for the press. When I was little, I wanted to be a political cartoonist in part because I grew up during Watergate, the Civil Rights marches, the women’s movement, and so many horrible assassinations. I wanted to help and I felt the only way I could would be through my ability to draw.
MM: I’ve seen you on CBS This Morning, standing in their “green room” drawing the program’s guests on your tablet — it’s obviously such a different experience than most cartoonists have, at home, sitting at their drawing boards. Can you describe what it’s like working live, surrounded by all the hub-bub of television news? (below: Ms. Donnelly live-drawing on the CBS This Morning set. Photo by CBS correspondent, Jeff Glor)
LD: I love it! Watching the action of putting a news show on the air is fascinating to me. Not only the camera people and producers coming and going, but how the news is written, the subtleties of delivery, word choices etc. Meeting people in the green room is both exhilarating and nerve wracking–some big celebs come through and I am often star struck. I have to steal myself to extend my hand and say hello. But I don’t mind drawing under this pressure, sometimes I simply fade into the woodwork and don’t get noticed. It’s almost calming for me to be slightly on the outside of something that’s happening, and recording it with my pen. I have found this repeatedly no matter where I am live-drawing–the Oscars, the DNC, the White House. If people notice me, and start asking me questions about what I’m doing, then I get somewhat flustered. But I manage!
MM: When you wear your public speaking hat you often travel far afield from the New York City/Metropolitan area. Can you mention just one place you’ve visited and talk briefly about your experience there.
LD: The furthest afield I traveled for a speaking invitation was Singapore, where I gave a talk, MC-ed and live-drew a conference for a bank. When I got there, the room they gave me was high up in a hotel which had a great view of the city. The next day the view was totally gone because of the smog!
I also traveled to New Delhi for a live-drawing gig for the Hindustan Times annual conference. What I loved about drawing people in India–and not just the conference, but outside in New Delhi– is the colors they wear. The conference had mostly male speakers (most conferences do, unless it’s about gender!), and I know from experience, drawing men speaking at conferences involves using a lot of black and dark blue for suits, and some color for ties. In India, men and women often sport very colorful clothes, and beautiful fabrics. I drew a very famous yogi at the conference — he had so much fabric and hair everywhere– it was in some ways a challenge because his body shape was not discernible. I just had to draw fabric and hair and put in his distinctive eyes and nose, and get a feel for his movement and hand gestures.
I did not meet him, but when I returned to the states, his people got in touch with me to thank me and let me know how happy he was with the drawing. People love to be drawn, I have observed. For me, it’s all about capturing a feeling for what I am seeing, so that my viewers can experience it close to the way I experienced it.
Below: Ms. Donnelly’s latest drawing in the New Yorker.
Liza Donnelly Born, Washington, D.C. New Yorker work: 1982 – .
Key book: Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons (Prometheus, 2005). Edited: Sex & Sensibility: Ten Women Examine the Lunacy of Modern Love…in 200 Cartoons ( Twelve, 2008). Co-authored with Michael Maslin: Husbands & Wives ( Ballantine 1995), Call Me When You Reach Nirvana ( Andrew & McMeel, 1995), Cartoon Marriage ( with Michael Maslin) (Random House, 2009), When Do They Serve the Wine?( Chronicle, 2010). Women On Men (Narrative Library, 2013). Donnelly also wrote and illustrated a popular series of dinosaur books for children ( Dinosaur Day, Dinosaur Beach, Dinosaur Halloween, etc.) all published by Scholastic. She is the CBS News Resident Cartoonist. Website: http://www.lizadonnelly.com