Salman Ansari from Quick Brown Fox

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Drawing by Salman Ansari

This interview is part of a weekly series that focuses on creators who live at the intersection of writing and art. The goal is to provide inspiration and practical tips for anyone looking to add more visuals to their work.

I first stumbled on Salman Ansari’s work when Nate Kadlac (our first interview!) recommended his newsletter, the Quick Brown Fox. It’s full of fantastic writing about creativity and embracing your inner polymath. Salman also illustrates his newsletter and essays with an amazing and distinct visual style.

His writing is brimming with personality, wisdom, and a great sense of visual creativity. Please enjoy the interview below where he talks about his background, process, tools, and advice for creators.

Tell us about the creative work you do.

I work part-time building software at a friend’s AI startup, but the majority of time is split across a number of creative projects. Given that I have “free reign” over these, they vary a lot from week to week. A key part of my lifestyle is embracing my inner polymath, and pursuing lots of different interests. Most of my creativity goes toward writing (newsletters, essays, short stories, lots of tweets) and drawing (illustrations, comics, animations), and finding ways to combine them.

How long have you been visually creative?

I’m not sure! I used to draw a fair bit in art class in elementary school days… but I never kept up with it. Then, a few years ago, I was taking an extended period of time off after startup burnout. I am a huge fan of animation (both in terms of film, as well as implementing animations in software I build), and so I really wanted to learn how to animate. I decided to learn how to draw first, and really got into learning a lot of different areas of illustration. That led me to draw comics, and eventually some short GIF-style animations.

What was your thought process for incorporating original visuals into your work?

I started with drawing comics for fun. I’d just have silly ideas for a joke or punchline, and make a comic and share that.

Example of one of Salman’s comic sketches

In parallel, my writing momentum had picked up and I was publishing newsletters and essays consistently. I struggled to keep drawing regularly given how much time I spent on writing. So, I decided to use blog posts as a prompt for drawing — I try to draw a comic for almost every essay now. I would describe the art style for those as “characteristically messy”. Mostly I’m so tired from all the writing, that I try to get the comic sketched, illustrated and colored in less than an hour. It’s not very clean, but I’ve found that the message matters a lot more than the perfect lines. People tell me it’s my “style” now, and I giggle.

What tools do you like to use for creation and publishing?

I spend a lot of time taking notes, and have tried lots of different tools for that — Bear, Roam Research, Obsidian, etc. A regular journaling and note-taking habit is a key part of my creativity pipeline — it helps me reflect on my thoughts, build self-awareness, and make creative plans. Pretty much everything I do comes back to a note I wrote somewhere.

As for drawing, I use Procreate for almost all my illustrations. I’ve also recently resumed playing with physical paper and pencil, colored pencils, paint markers and such. I use physical tools more intentionally to take a break from devices, or when I want a physical artifact (lately I make drawings for nieces, nephews, etc.). For animations, I also use Looom and love it.

Is there one image you are particularly proud of? What was the process from start to finish on creating it?

Honestly, my fox avatar character is still my favorite: 

I did a little thread a while back showing the process of how I got to this version, which became the mascot for my Quick Brown Fox newsletter.

I always remember the first versions that were so messy as a reminder that good things come with practice, but also that each of those was a unique character in their own right. I’ve drawn many other things that are more realistic or more detailed, but there’s something special in creating a character you love.

A close second is this animation of Quick Brown Fox zapping away (“exit, stage left!”), in which I took an animation of Road Runner as inspiration. I love how the cloud of smoke turned out, and just the general feel of it.

Are there any creators who work at the intersection of writing and art that inspire and motivate you?

  • Ralph Ammer: His blog explores the nuances of visual communication, and the power of drawing. Lots of incredible lessons there!
  • Rekka Bellum of Hundred Rabbits: Her drawings and stories are so whimsical and wonderful. I find them incredibly inspiring when intermixed with her life’s journey and work, wandering the seas on a boat while making incredible tools and sharing ideas with the world.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to start (or continue) adding visual creativity to their work?

Just start! It is obvious advice but there really is something to be said about the power and energy that comes from momentum when you just get into something.

I’ve also collected my best advice for writing into a free online Writing Guide, which has advice for overcoming creative blocks, getting started, etc. that I think can apply to any kind of creative work.

The truth is that so many other voices are already out there filling our feeds, often without the best of intentions. And that’s why I try to encourage folks who are more thoughtful to publish their work. I recently published a newsletter video sharing this plea: Stop Hesitating, Start Publishing.

My advice on visuals specifically would be to find prompts that help you stay motivated to keep drawing. The toughest thing about visuals is that you need to practice to get better, so you need consistent prompts.

I sincerely hope to see more creators share their work, and I’m embracing my own role in supporting other creators. If you’re reading this and want to bring a question or thought that I can help with, please reach out! My DMs and email inboxes are always open.

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