The Two Margarets


When I teach comics I talk a lot about drawing as a practice of trust.  The more you draw, the more you learn to trust your instincts and your sense of being able to render.  In the beginning there is very little trust, so we try to control it, fearing our imperfections.  Often we reach to the eraser to help us feel more in control, but I think doing this actually slows the progress.  It’s like using training wheels to learn how to ride a bike.  You can’t know you are capable of balancing a two wheeler until you remove the little wheels that keep you upright.

I’ve always been “able to draw,” and loved to do it as a kid, so I continued beyond the years when a lot of my friends stopped.  Then it eventually became something else more complicated and while I had ability to draw, like most people I struggled to control how that ability showed itself.  As a result, my drawing was often stiff and calculating.  Through consistency and experience, there were times I grew in my abilities, but I still didn’t entirely TRUST them.  I see this in my drawings over the years–both the leaps and the rigid moments and I can pinpoint exactly when my drawing suddenly just…felt better.

I have had the pleasure of illustrating Margaret Cho not once, but TWICE for books.  As she is one of my favorite comedians, this has been a sublime opportunity.  I recently posted the two portraits, 6 years apart in creation, on Tumblr and was immediately struck by the differences in quality.  They are both fine portraits, expressed to their own unique ends, but I couldn’t help but see a marked growth in the second.

A16I can remember feeling like the first one for my book Great Gals was a PUSH for me artistically.  I had so far relied on images of people that had straightforward, somewhat static expressions for the portraits I had done in the past, but I loved this photo of Cho laughing.  I thought it expressed something true of her essence and energy, both as a comedian and as a personality. I can remember drawing it and literally holding my breath, thinking about it deliberately as something of a challenge.  When I was done I liked it.  I was relieved that it came off and I was so pleased with it, I put it on the cover.

margaret cho.jpegLast fall Zest Books approached me to make 35 portraits of feminists on a tight deadline.  I got them all done in a little less than 6 weeks. The challenge for this job was simply how to get these drawings done in time, not in whether or not I could render their faces accurately.  As a result, I think the second drawing of Cho is just more fluid, more confident.  All the portraits are.  I wasn’t worried about it–I trusted my abilities enough to get it done.

Looking at these two drawings I see my development in trusting my lines and it suddenly occurred to me what had happened between the two drawings:


The practice of making comics regularly has pushed me as an artist.  Any consistent discipline does, but the practice of making comics have asked me to draw things I NEVER would have.  They have asked me to draw things like CARS and buildings and environments–things I actively AVOIDED drawing in the past.  As I learned that there is NOTHING you can’t make a comic about, I have also learned there is NOTHING I can’t draw if I put my pen to it.  I am not saying that I make perfect drawings, I just trust myself more to rise up to the challenge. Essentially that’s all self-confidence is: a sense of trust that we are at the core basically okay. Comics have given me a sense of trust that YEARS of drawing never did.  What a gift!

Like I said, ANY regular practice will help with getting better, but if you’ve been curious about comics PLEASE JOIN ME for the next session of Writing & Drawing Comics that starts on Monday. I can help with that sense of trust perhaps you’ve been seeking.  It’s one of my favorite things to do–and it’s …(wait for it)…FUN.

If you don’t join us, let this be a note to just keep going. NOTHING is a better teacher than doing.  Keep going and know the work will always show you how to do it.

5 thoughts on “The Two Margarets

  1. I’ve been on the fence for weeks, and this post finally convinced me to sign up. You are lovely.

  2. You’re absolutely right. To learn anything involves that leap of faith. What you say about your progress with drawing has many echoes with my own progress with writing. It also chimes with how it was for me learning to swim last year at the grand old age of 58 – at some point you have to take your feet off the bottom of the pool and just go for it – even if it’s messy and ugly to look at, you will stay afloat and you will get better. 🙂

  3. The trust comes, in part, when your hand and your brain start to work together without the ol’ Monkey Mind getting in the way. You’ve been a tremendous inspiration to me – even if I am truly green with envy about your drawing skills – and seeing how you can bring a portrait to life with simply a blank piece of paper and a black pen is yet another reason for me to keep drawing.

    I don’t mind imitating. How else can you develop a style? It’s just too daunting to pick up that pen or pencil without the added burden of “style”. I also remind myself that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

    Draw on!


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