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Today I was interviewed by children’s book author Mindy Hardwick, on the topic of mentoring. The interview is up on her blog today! http://mindyhardwick.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/carla-sonheim-interview/

Thank you, Mindy!


In the interview I mentioned John, an 80-year-old out of Florida who first wrote me in November after finding my work online. He bought “Drawing Lab” and sent me some cool drawings! Then, in late December he wrote the following:

I just spent several days reading/living with ALL of your post on the Snowball Blog.
It was a very wonderful trip.  Thank you ever so much!
However, I fear I am copying your work and that bothers me, and it only slightly better than not drawing at all.
My hunch (said Quasimodo) is this must happen to you frequently.
I know you are very busy, but could you point me to something you may have written on the subject?
John F.

* * *

Dear John,

I can’t remember specifically writing about this before. I definitely should clarify my thoughts, though, and thank you for the opportunity to start the process by writing to you!

I’ll start by saying that I really don’t think there is anything new under the sun. We are all copying each other, taking inspiration from those who inspire us! For me, the art that has inspired me are the works of Picasso, contemporary illustration, Outsider Art, children’s art, Iranian children’s book art, and Dr. Suess (in “The Cat in the Hat,” for example, there is a tiny illustration of the two kids with surprised expressions that really amazes me, as the faces are about as big as a green pea! So much expression with just a few dots!).

Especially when first learning, it is easy to create works that are similar to the artist you might be currently studying. It’s kind of similar to the experience you might have had at school where you read an author with a specific voice, and the next essay or letter you write has some of the sensibilities of that author. Or, when you go to Texas and suddenly find yourself talking with a little bit of a twang. This is normal and temporary, and I don’t think you should worry about it. What happens next is that you will find another artist you admire, and those sensibilities will be incorporated as well, and then another, and then of course (and most importantly), “YOU” will dominate the process: your experiences (what interests you), your media likes and dislikes (pencil vs. crayon vs. paint vs. computer?), your physical health (shaky hands?) — all these will mix together to create your own “John F.” style.

In fact, like life, the YOU is so strong of a force that your own drawing and painting style CAN’T HELP but develop and be unique.

(I should point out that from the drawings you have sent me, I can already see a style that is very separate from mine. Your Santa Christmas card, for example, was amazing and something I couldn’t have ever done! It was a mixture of Picasso’s one-liners, cartooning, a tiny bit Carla, and mostly YOU! )

John’s Santa:

You might have read this on my blog recently but it bears repeating here:

From “Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice” by Ivan Brunetti:

“We all begin by imitating the styles of our favorite cartoonists, much like apprentices observing a master. Your own work will likely be derivative for quite some time; constant practice, however, will make your work unique.”  —

So I think my advice is to try not to worry! Just draw. Look for other artists that resonate with you, and try to copy their style for a session. Ask yourself what you like about a particular artist’s style, and compare it to what you know of yourself and your personality. File it away. Then, draw from life and your imagination and your wealth of experiences and memories. Have fun!


P.S. Oh! I should add the drawings of Saul Steinberg to my list of inspirations!


UPDATE: After seeing today’s post, John sent this drawing… fantastic!