When I set out to make the original Great Gal calendars, drawing the portraits of the women I admired, I felt that I was at last finding a way to actively engage with the inspiration so many of these women and their images ignited. I have always been deeply affected by images–and the women I was inspired by, Virginia Woolf, Lynda Barry, Joan Jett, etc. littered the walls of my bedroom, but were infuriatingly just STUCK there. I wanted to ENGAGE with them somehow not just stare at them and wish I was them. Drawing their portrait seemed to unlock the door in this way. I felt I was DOING something with that inspiration instead of just getting HIGH on it.
I started drawing cookbooks when I thought it would be fun to copy The Joy of Cooking. I don’t think I’m alone in finding something inexplicably comforting and pop arty about the red lettering. I’d never drawn a book before, and felt scared to try it, but when I did something like a *POP* when off in my brain. It was a rough, quick drawing, but it touched something in me that had been waiting to be lit off–and just like that I was HOOKED.
Cookbooks have always had a humurous and fanciful place in my family kitchen. My folks’ Pam and Gary have a great collection–some of them useful and worn out, like The Joy of Cooking or the James Beard New Cookbook; some of them just for the novelty of them, like the R. Crumb cookbook or the Jell-o cookbook. As I have mentioned before, books are very important to me, but like the pictures of the women I posted on my wall, sometimes I just have had NO IDEA to do with what they give me. I feel like drawing them is a new way to engage with their visual inspiration. For years the two volume Gourmet cookbook sat unopened on Pam and Gary’s shelves until I decided to look at them. Inside I found a treasure trove of adorable language and incredible sounding dishes. Brandied Oranges, anyone? Sure I’ll have that after some wine soup and Egg Balls Parisienne! I was so in love with these books, with chapter titles like “Song of the Soup Kettle,” that I set out to write a novel with the language it used. Three drafts later, it never worked–but I got to keep the cookbooks and I still find them inspiring. Now I can draw it!
The cool thing I can tell is that it’s already changing my skills as an illustrator. I’ve always wanted to be better at lettering and at drawing non-people, and drawing these books has deeply impacted how I look at book design, fonts, and all kinds of things that probably means NOTHING to anybody else, but gets me so so giddy. Plus, I know I am on to something when I enjoy it so much that I don’t care if anyone else does. Also, when that *POP* goes off in my brain and when something about what I am working on GLOWS.
Last week, in search of a first edition of a James Beard cookbook I went to the Bonnie Slotnick Cookbook store in the village and OH MY LORD. PEOPLE—it was like entering a HEROIN DEN. Wall to wall of OBSCURE and GORGEOUS cookbooks, my eyes nearly FELL OUT OF MY HEAD. SO MANY visual delights–I wanted to take them all home. I didn’t find the James Beard book, but I found a 1946 copy of the Joy of Cooking, and INCREDIBLE red and white covered Betty Crocker cookbook from 1950, and a beautiful June Platt Cookbook (drawings forthcoming). When I came home so STONED and OUT OF MY MIND with inspired desire, Graham took one look at me and said, “I’m a little scared.”
(Me too, honey, me too.)