why people draw: elwood h. smith

Hello there!

Today is big day for the Hamster Wheel! I am posting the first interview in our series why people draw.” This is a series that is dear to my heart, as I love to pick the brains of those who enjoy drawing, draw as part of their job, find themselves doodling any chance they get, or simply have never outgrown a need to communicate through mark-making.  The idea to interview people from all different areas—artists and non-artists—came about several years ago, and now with this Blog, it seems like the perfect opportunity to make it happen.

I will be posting a new interview every week, and see how that goes.  I am so excited about the people who have already agreed to be a part of these interviews, and am finding them to be super open to talk about drawing. Our first guest is a perfect example.  Elwood H. Smith was kind to accept my invitation, amidst the installation of an exhibition and lots of other projects. It was so neat to be in touch with him for this interview, which we did over email, and to now be able to share it with you.

I hope you will stop by the Hamster Wheel often, and discover the many ways in which people approach creating through drawing, the mutiples definitions “drawing” can have besides the one we can find in the dictionary, and to get an insight into what gets “ drawers’ ” hamster wheels spinning.  As always, consider yourself invited to share your comments, thoughts and observations (I especially encourage those you have on drawing, of course!).

On President’s Day, Thom and I went to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA to go see Elwood’s World, an exhibition of the work of illustrator and cartoonist Elwood H. Smith presented by the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.  There we got to see, in person, the works that Elwood has created over the years for periodicals, ads and children’s books–his self-promotion materials, by the way, are awesome!   That’s one of the things I find so fascinating about his style and his approach to humor—his work can be appreciated by all ages, and has so many applications!

poster for elwood's exhibition (photo by carolina pedraza)

Humor and drawing are very much tied together in the way I work, so it was incredibly fun to see his drawings up close for several reasons.  There’s always movement of some sort in them (whether as little sweat drops, or multiple movement lines), making it easy to imagine them as animations.  So it’s no surprise to learn that animation is another area in which Elwood works (and you can watch some of them in his exhibition). His use of color is gorgeous, and so on target. I wish I had that sense of color!  Seeing the works in front of me made me realize how bright and crisp the color is (more so than seeing the illustrations reproduced in print), and how it matches the images and the humor so, so well. And Elwood’s ease with words in his illustrations is the icing on the cake!  It’s witty, can be found everywhere—it’s on signs, billboards, arrows, hats, etc.—and best of all, speech bubbles are not limited to people, so he puts them over inanimate objects, something that always makes me smile!

ELWOOD H. SMITH (tah-dah!)

And now (drum, drum, drum)…Elwood H. Smith shares with the Hamster Wheel, his thoughts on drawing and creating. Thank you Elwood!

elwood at his opening, norman rockwell museum (photo by janet marlow)

HW: What’s your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

EHS: I remember crawling over pages from the Detroit Free Press Sunday Comic Section at a very young age. I was mesmerized by the characters and colors. I’m sure I began trying to make pictures like that not long after and haven’t stopped since.

HW: Where is your favorite place to draw?

EHS: At my drawing table, which is in my studio. My studio is actually a 14′x14′ bedroom, filled to the gills with stacked stuff. It also houses my high-end stereo.

shot of elwood's chaotic studio (photo commissioned by roll magazine; photo by matt petricone)

shot of elwood's taboret with his pelikan watercolors (photo courtesy of elwood smith)

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

EHS: I have no other marketable skills, so drawing has saved me from working at a factory or in an office where I would be, at best, mediocre. Making pictures has allowed me to become really good at something that doesn’t sully the environment or hurt others. My work might even bring them joy in this often hard chore of living.

elwood as a guest speaker at the 2006 national cartoonists society, chicago, illinois (photo courtesy of elwood smith)

HW: Who are 2 current illustrators whose work you enjoy? Why?

EHS: I love the work of Gary Baseman because he works way outside the box and has been successful doing so. Gary Taxali also works in an unusual, very graphic style and has been successful in the commercial arena as well as the gallery world. But it’s not fair to name only two illustrators whose work I enjoy, because I am in awe of so many artists, like those old cartoonists (Billy DeBeck who created Barney Google and George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat) who influenced my style and illustrators who influenced me when I first began my career as a full time illustrator (R.O. Blechman & Seymour Chwast.) And I could list an arm length’s page of artists who are my peers and those younger illustrators who inspire me to grow and stretch.

HW: If you could write a recipe for your drawings/artwork, what would the ingredient list be (read like)?

EHS: I’m not a master draftsman, so my recipe would be heavy on ingredients like: Imagination, A Healthy sense of Skepticism & Irony, Characters With Soul & an Unwillingness to be Cruel. I don’t like cornball sweetness, but I also don’t like my characters to be mean-spirited. They are all eccentric, but never overtly cruel.

the new york times, july 12, 2010 (image courtesy of elwood smith)

HW: What do you do when you’re not drawing?

EHS: I love music and play decent guitar when my chops are up. Believe it or not, I have a life that very often has nothing to do with art. My wife, Maggie, who is also my rep, my creative partner and business manager and I dine with friends, watch cable TV, change the litter boxes of our three cats and live like any other normal, eccentric couple.

HW: What has it been like living with another artist? In what ways, if any, have you influenced each other’s work?

EHS: Maggie’s fine art, her beautiful, delicate, Dürer-like drawings are as unlike my work as possible. No influence on each other whatsoever. But in recent years, Maggie has become an excellent graphic designer and has learned to design and build websites. I think we have some small influence on each other when it comes to certain typographic applications and she loves to get my opinion on her designs. I’m the typical male, so I tend to rarely ask for her opinion on the graphic design for my work and I never ask anyone for input on my illustrations. Art directors and editors, of course, impose their thoughts on my work all the time. Good advice occasionally, but in my opinion, I’m usually right and they are misguided souls.

HW: What gets your hamster wheel running? (what gets you itching to draw?)

EHS: An assignment. Either a self imposed project (art or animation) or a job from a client dangling money in front of me. I also doodle incessantly when I’m on the phone and I Magic Tape the best of them into a sketchbook.

Elwood shares a collection of those doodles in his exhibition, so if you get a chance, go see Elwood’s World at the Norman Rockwell Museum.  Thank you again Elwood!

Here are several links where you can see more of Elwood’s illustrations, animations, and children’s books.


Elwood H. Smith’s little cybernest: Elwood’s World
Elwood Smith’s website
Elwood on Illoz


Green Monkey on Drawger


Elwood’s Vimeo Channel
The Amazing Elwood short

Additional link:

Elwood’s World The Art and Animation of Elwood H. Smith at the Norman Rockwell Museum

Some of the books Elwood Smith has illustrated:

Stalling by Alan Katz
Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver
Catfish Kate and the Swamp Band by Sarah Weeks
See how they Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman
The Truth about Poop by Susan E. Goodman
Gee Whiz! It’s all About Pee by Susan E. Goodman

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

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6 Responses to why people draw: elwood h. smith

  1. elizabeth duffy says:

    His work is so whimsical–great article!!

  2. Carolina says:

    Thank you Elizabeth…Elwood’s work really is fun. My favorite part in this interview is his description of the types of characters he develops. It sure comes through in his work.

  3. Thom Cole says:

    Without question I’m biased, but this blog post is outstanding!!! It was great fun to accompany you to the Rockwell Museum and learn about Elwood Smith. Really nicely done!

  4. Carolina says:

    Yay! So happy you like it! I always enjoy knowing what you think…let’s hope for more trips to see good exhibitions (and more great interviews)!

  5. Thank you for joining us at the opening of Elwood’s World: The Art and Animations of Elwood H. Smith. Your blog is wonderful and we appreciate your highlighting Elwood’s art and exhibition, on view through May 10, 2011. We hope to welcome many of your readers!

  6. Carolina says:

    Thank you for your comments Stephanie…we sure did enjoy the exhibition, and working with Elwood was so easy. I also hope anyone who reads about his work here will go see the show!