INTERVIEW : WENDY MACNAUGHTON BY JOCELYN K. GLEI
San Francisco-based illustrator and artist Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrations have the improvisational quality of an observer, a lone wolf. She uses illustration to weave a facetious and compassionate homage to the mundanities and Seinfeldesque neuroses that tie us all together. As a sort of visual afterparty to Behance’s 99% Conference, Wendy’s collection Guts, Grit and Getting *%!# Done will be up in the gallery space at Ace Hotel New York May 9 - June 8. It’s an illustrated inventory of making ideas happen based on Wendy’s observations, insights and takeaways from the conference.
Jocelyn K. Glei, Director of the 99% Think Tank and Conference, interviewed Wendy about how to change your life by not doing yoga.
How would you describe your work to, say, my grandmother?
First I’d apologize. Then I’d tell her I draw from observation — of people, circumstances, places, life — and tell stories through pictures and words. And no, sorry Nana, not like Norman Rockwell.
You seem to have a particular fascination with pointing out the details — half-empty whiskey glasses, lonely sandwiches, etc. Why?
The little things tell the story — we get swept up by the big picture but I think the little unnoticed details tell us more about what’s really going on.
There are also quite a few pieces related to thinking too much and procrastinating… What’s your preferred mode of procrastination?
Let me think on that and get back to you. But really, folks. I know if I overthink an idea, it ends up spoiling it. Knowing that, the risk is over thinking not thinking about it. I guess I catch myself coming and going. It’s a challenge to put things aside and just have fun with an idea. That’s what drawing does for me. It clears my head out and I get to play — ideas come on their own.
You have a lot of sketches from attending book readings… what was the last great book you read?
I beg everyone to read Miranda July’s It Chooses You. Not only is she a great writer, but this true story is super relevant to people working in, on and around technology and who are interested in human connection and storytelling.
A lot of your illustrations seem to happen in transit (airports, events, street corners) — is there something in particular that’s appealing about transitional spaces and moments?
When in transit, people reflect, mull, worry, remember, sleep… These are all very intimate acts to be doing in a public space. And I love to eavesdrop. So I guess drawing in public is like visual eavesdropping on someone’s private time. It’s also very mediative for me. Drawing allows my brain to stop moving (see question above). Kind of like putting a baby to sleep in a moving car.
Who or what recently inspired you to do something differently?
At a conference recently a friend asked me what I was going to do the next morning. I said, yoga. He said, do you always go to yoga at home? I said, yes. He said, well since you’re not at home, why not do something you can’t do at home? And i did. And it ended up being a profound, life-altering experience.
(And sorry, I am not telling you what it was.)