how-to by The Editors

An illustrated 10-step guide by The New Yorker's Liana Finck.

reading time 4 minutes

Liana Finck has made a career of being quick and funny. The New Yorker cartoonist puts out several amazing drawings on her Instagram account every day, showing that you can be professional and still remain weird and interesting. In light of all that, it’s relieving to discover that Finck also took a while to find her form. Today, she lays out the lessons she picked up along the way, in an illustrated guide for aspiring cartoonists.

liana finck

Find tools you feel comfortable with
Find a pen and paper that you enjoy working with.  It took me 10 years to figure out that I shouldn’t be drawing with a brush and ink because they’re too involved. If you’re a funny person, you should find a pen that goes quickly. If you lack confidence, find a thinner pen. A thick pen is a confident pen and it wants you to draw bigger. It’s a bit like: if you’re a shy person with a quiet voice, don’t sing on broadway; you should sing a quieter jazz song with the mic right next to your mouth; it will fit your personality better.

Be mad
This only applies to shy people. I don’t want an already overly assertive person to be more mad. I think a lot of good work gets made by shy people who feel a little outraged. I started feeling mad around the age of 28, when I started to be more successful, and it helped me a lot.  

Lie a little bit
You need to lie a little bit when you start. If you’re really anxious because you don’t know who you are, everything you say is going to feel untrue. But if you’re okay with that, you’ll gradually find your own voice.

liana finck

Don’t isolate yourself
There’s no structure for making art and that can be very lonely, so you need to figure out how to deal with that before you start. Imagine if lawyers had to figure it all out on their own! They’d have a hard time too. It’s not hard because you’re an artist, it’s because you’re not being told what to do, and you’re not being given a community. That makes it more important to seek out people doing the same thing as you.

liana finck

Meet other cartoonists
I recommend going to events where you can meet other cartoonists. The cartooning and comics world is not snobby. It’s very open and smart and welcoming of new people. Go to events and lectures and drawing circles and try to make friends. In New York, there’s a thing called the Comics Symposium. There are people of all ages there, from 16 to 60, and everyone’s a cartoonist that wants to be one. There’s a friendly anarchist feeling. It’s wonderful.

Settle on a format
Settle on a format that’s your home base. It’s like having a studio to work in so you’re not wandering all the time. You could say, New Yorker cartoons are my main thing, or comic books are my main thing. And then you can stray from there. But picking one thing at the beginning can help you figure out how to make a practice. If you’ve got to copy someone, copy someone who’s like you. You can learn from them how to do the things you know you’ll do well.

liana finck

Try different working environments
Work in a lot of different places and then stick with the one where you produce the most. Everyone is different in that regard. Ideally, I’ve decided, I would always work in a living room full of people that are talking to each other but ignoring me. That’s hard to find, so I work in cafes.  

liana finckLearn to say no
Never work for free, unless you’re just starting out and it’s great practice. Choose your bosses wisely. Don’t let your friend convince you to illustrate his unpublished memoir.

Don’t try to make work that you love
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Of course, you should work really hard, and don’t hand in anything you don’t care about, but if you’re working too hard, redoing the same thing over and over, I don’t think you should keep working so hard, take a step back and hang out with people. Having a day job can help you not go in circles. So can having a social life, exercise regimen, etc. Structure is good.

liana finck

Find your pace
I used to be a perfectionist. I’d work on one thing forever, until it was a palimpsest, mummified with white out. In college, I was trying to be Cezanne, which also wasn’t helpful. I had to figure out I was quick and funny. I figured out that I don’t care about faces, about drawing them in a lot of detail, but that I was good at capturing expressions. I discovered these things about myself through trial and error.

share article

Other how-tos

Most read