• Steven Heller

Ink and Earth

In addition to making editorial illustrations for magazines and newspapers, Jonathan Twingley has been a senior lecturer in the illustration program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia for the past dozen years. He has always been a big believer in making a lot of drawings and paintings when nobody’s looking, which is where these catalog collections fit into his work. I was so taken with them, I asked him to discuss his process and outcomes.

The ongoing collection—as well as an ever-evolving portfolio of work—can be found on Twingley’s website and Amazon.

How did these sketchbooks start, and what is the reason for publishing them? Sketchbooks as an end in and of themselves have always figured into what I do as an artist. My mom was a college librarian and my dad was a high school art teacher, so perhaps the idea of making pictures in books had something to do with that.

I began this ongoing series of physically printed booklets—consciously or subconsciously, I can’t be sure—as a kind of antidote to all of the work I share on social media websites. There’s something fleeting and disposable about things that only exist on LCD displays. And while small printed collections of drawings and paintings are hardly timeless, they’re at the very least asserting themselves in the same physical world that you and I inhabit.

You’ll note that I don’t characterize this venture as “self-publishing” and don’t even refer to them as “books” but rather “catalogs.” They’re creative outlets and promotional pieces at the same time, in the spirit of Feliks Topolski’s Topolski’s Chronicle or Seymour Chwast’s series The Nose. The low cost of physical printing—and increasingly high quality—may yet usher in a new millennium of print, one beset by many of the same challenges of content delivered on the internet, to be sure, but still, Words and Pictures on the printed page.

What do you want to communicate through these drawings? Is it the passing scene or a deeper metaphorical goal? The drawings in these catalog collections are either observational drawings, or drawings made of that world we can’t see with our eyes. Illustrations for Unwritten Essays, for instance, is a collection of visual puns or nonsensical arrangements of characters and things—doodles given form, you might call them. The drawings in New York Stories: Sketchbook Drawings Illustrated With Words, on the other hand, are drawings based on reference material I shot with my iPhone while out and about in New York City. These drawings are factual, shall we say. Then I “illustrated” the drawings with short written passages, sort of guessing at what people in the drawings might’ve been thinking, or what might have been going on in a particular fleeting NYC moment.

I know you worked as an assistant for many years with Brad Holland. There is a touch of similarity to his more casual work in the lettering and line. Were you influenced by him in this way? In 1996 I moved to New York City from Bismarck, North Dakota, to attend Marshall Arisman’s graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Kelynn Alder was filling in for Carol Fabricatore’s Drawing on Location class while Carol was away on maternity leave. We were drawing in Tompkins Square Park one week and Brad joined us, as he was friends with Kelynn. Brad and I sat on a park bench and drew a pigeon together for a while. We started chatting. Then we went across the street to a bar called Doc Holliday’s and drew the bartender. She was the only other person in the place besides the two of us (it was early on a Friday afternoon, after all). To be honest, I wasn’t very familiar with Brad’s work before I met him, so any influence (and how could there not be) was acquired first hand. And the thing with Brad that some people might underestimate is he’s almost as good an artist as he is a person, which is saying something.

How would you describe the satisfaction you’ve derived from these drawings? The drawings are everything to me, really. It’s a silly/romantic sentiment, I understand, but making drawings as a means of processing the world is critical. I’d rather draw than eat most of the time, but we have to eat.

How indeed does this work relate to other things you are doing? It gets back to the whole making-a-lot-of-work-when-nobody’s-looking thing. The banjo player in the first drawing in New York Stories, for example, was cast as a paranoid academic in an illustration I made for the Chronicle of Higher Education last year. One never knows how these things will cross-pollinate one another. It’s important to not think too hard about it and keep moving the pen.

PRINT is back. And soon, we’ll be relaunching with an all-new look, all-new content and a fresh outlook for the future. Stay tuned.

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