June 13, 2013

Kyoorius Knocks: Wendy MacNaughton

“Wendy MacNaughton’s first tattoo was drawn and inked on her left forearm when she was 19. It is a diagram of her argument against the post-Freudian psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s “Mirror Theory”. She was probably wrong. What the tattoo does prove is that Wendy, like most 19-year-olds, used to take things very seriously, and that things change.”- This is how Wendy MacNaughton gives us a glimpse of who she is on Pen & Ink, a blog about tattoos and the stories behind them, which she started with Issac Fitzgerald.

MacNaughton is an illustrator and a graphic journalist based in San Francisco. Her most well-known series is ‘Meanwhile‘ in which she draws quirky, funny and subtle instances depicting life and times of people in San Francisco and the stories are narrated in the voices of the people she talks to and interviews. This series is a fantastic example of her graphic journalism work and it has also been folded into an anthology, published by Chronicle Books.

She has studied fine art/advertising and social work. She has worked with an ad agency in SF before moving to Rwanda briefly to work on a campaign. Once she moved back to SF, she eventually started her regular ‘Meanwhile‘ series for ‘The Rumpus‘. She has also illustrated Lost Cat, A True Story of Love, Desperation & GPS Technology, by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton and The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Wine, by Richard Betts.


Read on to know a bit more about her. 

At what point were you absolutely sure that this is what you want to do?

When I was little I had this drawing workbook that I would use after school. On the front of it was a picture of a little kid, my age at the time (maybe 8) and he was drawing with a plate of cookies and glass of milk in front of him. I remember pointing at that picture and telling my mom, “That’s what I want to do.”

Then, about 25 years later, I made the decision again, worked my butt off to get myself in a position to do it, and now it’s what I do.

Do you believe in having role models?
Skill, work ethic, determination – those are all separate parts, and it’s rare to find all the elements you admire in one person. So you have to be careful not to conflate one dimension with the whole. Don’t mistake talent for lifestyle, skill for integrity, style for kindness.

In the past I have had heroes that I thought embodied everything I wanted for myself. However, upon meeting them, I had to rethink what it was that I admired. My respect for their work never faltered, but my idealization of who they were as people changed.

So yes, I think it’s good to learn from others examples. but be wary of heroes.

What kind of music do you listen to? Does it play any role in your work?

It varies depending on my mood. In my studio, I listen to a lot of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Neko Case, Decemberists – then some times Phillip Glass, Sigur Ros – and a lot of public radio and podcasts – This American Life, RadioLab, On The Media, 99% Invisible, Design Matters with Debbie Millman.

Would you say that you have a particular style in your work?

If by that you mean ‘Can it be identified upon sight?’, I think so. I’ve been told that a lot but I don’t know what I would call it.

How would you describe what you do to a child?

I notice things in the world you might not otherwise see, then pay really close attention to it with a pen and paint.

Describe your work desk in one line. If you had to keep just one single item at your desk, what would that be?

Paper, pens, watercolor paint, brushes, water, computer, scanner, printer.

One item that I would keep is  a bag containing all these things.

If you had a time machine, where would you be headed?

Into the future. It’s bleak, but I’m curious.

At what time of the day do you feel most creative/productive?

I come up with good ideas around 11 am, but work my best late at night.

What would be your second dream profession?

The other professions I’ve had before. I’m lucky. I’m working in reverse order.

What has been your most challenging project so far? Can you tell us a bit about it.

When I work on stories like the one I did on 6th street in SF, I stand on the street and observe and draw for days until something happens with someone to click, to start a conversation, and then I can begin to understand what direction the story might take. Every story is a different challenge, and that work is the most rewarding.

sf2 sf

Is there any dream person/company that you would like to collaborate with in future?

I miss working overseas – and I would love to do something with international NGOs or CBOs (Community based organizations) to tell the stories of the work they are doing. But I’m not going to say more than that as I don’t want to jinx it.

What are you upto right now?

I am in turbulence flying from SF to NYC.


Find her on Twitter @wendymac

Tumblr: wendymacnaughton.tumblr.com


Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at sales@kyoorius.com.  You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at editor@kyoorius.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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