The Words and Art of Sophie Lucido Johnson

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Drawing by Sophie Lucido Johnson

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 found the work of Sophie Lucido Johnson from the delightful article, How to Do 50 Things. This led me down an inevitable rabbit hole of consuming a large portion of her writing on Medium and her website. Sophie nails an effortless combination of writing and drawing that I aspire to, across all sorts of formats and styles.

Below are Sophie’s responses to some questions she was kind enough to answer for us about her work and process. Please enjoy and share.

Please tell us about the creative work you do.

The coolest thing I currently do is work as a contributing cartoonist for The New Yorker.

I also make illustrated essays, short comics, and other things that incorporate writing and drawings at the same time. My next book is called Dear Sophie, Love Sophie (Harper Collins), and it’s a full color, totally graphic work, which I am very excited about. 

What went into the decision to add artwork to your writing (or vice versa)?

I think brains enjoy texture. The part of your brain that deals with language, order, and logic, is different from the part of your brain that deals with images, feelings, and pictures. It’s nice to let both parts of the brain play while they’re taking in a work of art. The first time I sat down and read a graphic novel cover to cover, I noticed that I had this warm tickled feeling in a very deep part of myself. “Ah! My brain is so happy!” I thought. And I knew I wanted to make art like that. 

Also, I took a class from Chris Ware and Lynda Barry (yes I am BRAGGING!) that helped me solidify a foundational belief that I now hold about art and literature. Art benefits from taking itself less seriously. Creativity is served by access. Chris Ware asked if we would rather make one work of art that could reach one person who would pay $1,000 for it; or make (effectively) 1,000 works of art that 1,000 people could access for $1 each. He was making a case for comics. Comics take a long time to make, but they’re accessible; they’re for everyone. I love how comics artists spend so much time on their work, and readers spend so little time consuming it. It is a way of saying to the reader / viewer: “Thank you for taking the time to look at my work. I put a lot of time into it too, to make it worthy of yours.”

You have a wide range of styles and formats that all work amazingly well. How do you decide what direction to go in with an idea?

Thank you! This is a hard question to answer, although I think maybe the truest thing would be to say that I spend a great deal of my time staring out windows and at lakes. 

Is there one piece that incorporates your art + writing that seemed to resonate with people the most? Why do you think that was?

I get a lot of emails to this day about my first book. It’s about polyamory, and breaking standard narratives of what love is supposed to look like. Representation matters; there are so many people who have emailed me to tell me that they were grateful to see their kind of love written about somewhere in the world. I have had the experience of reading something or seeing something and thinking, “Oh my god! That’s about me!” and feeling so FREED by the recognition. It feels nice to not be alone in the world. 

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

Right now, I’m really into the idea of abundance, and I have always believed that there is no such thing as bad art or good art. So my point is: have fun while you’re making something. The idea that there is only so much success to be had and only one way to succeed is a lie about scarcity that benefits the status quo. Creating should be fun and pleasurable. Every type of writing and art has an audience. Only make what brings you joy.

What are your artistic tools?

[Note: this and the next question are answered so well on Sophie’s FAQ page that I pulled directly from there. Check it out for even more info.]

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of my work using Procreate on the iPad with the Apple Pencil. I use the brush Pencil 6B. I will own that I do a lot of tracing, and that I also stray from the tracing, depending on what I am trying to work on.

When I’m drawing by hand, my tools are:

  • Pencils: I like Staedtler with an HB lead softness (and while we’re at it, I have more than 5 Staedtler write plastic erasers).
  • Pencil sharpener: exclusively the Alvin brass bullet, which will change your whole life.
  • Pen and ink: I use a G-nib exclusively with any number of nib holders; I haven’t got a favorite. I like Speedball India ink, although I don’t know that it’s different than any other India inks.
  • Felt pens: I’m a Micron girl. I pretty much only use size 03, and I replace them constantly.

What artists do you like?

In no particular order (but you will notice these are pretty much all people who make comics, which I think is the holy grail of the art forms):

  • Lynda Barry is my religion. I have her tattooed on my bicep (along with Chris Ware, who is also perfect). Her philosophy about art and learning is the basis of everything I make and do. Start with “Syllabus” but then get “What It Is,” which is just the greatest book I’ve read in my life. I bought several copies so I could give them out to people. Then I ran out, so you’ll have to buy your own.
  • Chris Ware. I didn’t realize how wonderful he was until I took a class from him, but all that meticulousness and humor and sweet self-deprecation isn’t an act; it’s the real deal.
  • Jillian Tamaki. I shamelessly copy her style as much as and as best as I can, which is to say, incredibly often but not very well. “Super Mutant Magic Academy” is, in fact, my number one favorite book.
  • Eleanor Davis. “What Is Art” is the quintessential art school book, and it’s lovely and perfect. Eleanor Davis drew the background for my desktop. She doesn’t know that.
  • Sam Alden. Sam is a magician with light and shadows. His artwork is ALL OVER MY HOUSE (seriously: it’s in pretty much every single room, and my house is big), and looking at it makes me feel both jealous and whole.
  • Jessica Thompson. Full disclosure: Jessica is one of my best friends. But she’s also a genius who doesn’t completely know that she’s a genius yet, and so you can buy art from her pretty cheap still. I want to live in the world that Jessica draws.
  • Bianca Xunise. Bianca is the artist the world needs right now. Her work is gorgeous, challenging, and it is making change in the world. Follow, subscribe, hire.
  • Liz Montague. One of the only Black female cartoonists the New Yorker has published. Her work is vibrant, funny, and unapologetically itself. I am a big fan, and I can’t wait for her forthcoming memoir.

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