My Brush with the New Yorker: An Extremely Brief Memoir
In May 2018, I was working on my senior year capstone project, Smooth Operator. As I was creating illustrations for this project, I began to think that the subject matter could be good for The New Yorker (TNY) cover. While doing research for Smooth Operator, I found that it was super hard to find media representation of women relaxing that wasn't presented through the lens of a male gaze. All of the images of women wearing bathing suits and lounging at the pool or the beach depicted mostly white women with long hair who were slim, free of body hair, and posing seductively. It was a bit frustrating, because when I think about my friends enjoying a relaxing summer day, we don't look like sexy swimsuit models. We just look like friends enjoying the moment and feeling comfortable with each other in our bodies. I feel that showing women being happy in their bodies is super important in media. I also want to depict women enjoying each other's company and friendship.
I had worked with TNY Art Director Françoise Mouly (FM) on two previous occasions when I had created images used for the back covers of Resist Vol. 1 & 2, and she had occasionally emailed me for ideas for TNY covers that related to women's lives and the resistance movement. My parents had a subscription to TNY when I was growing up, and I had always been a big fan of the cover illustrations and cartoons (I know this makes me sound like a fancy child, but I also enjoyed Sally Jesse Raphael and eating spray cheese straight from the can). I've also always admired the work of Charles Addams, who was a frequent TNY contributor and creator of The Addams Family. My family owned a book of his cartoons and illustrations that lives in my book collection now, and I still enjoy flipping through it as an adult on days when I need a laugh.
So, I built a rough mockup of my cover idea, and sent it to FM, with little hope of any exciting outcome (I try to be realistic about this stuff).
After a few days, I didn't hear back, so I put it to the back of my mind. Finals were approaching, and I had recently agreed to work on a very labor-intensive pro-bono freelance project. I figured my cover idea probably wasn't Stinktown, USA, but maybe it just wasn't right for TNY. Instead of agonizing over the unknown, I tried to just focus on the work in front of me. And with finals, my class portfolio show prep, building my personal portfolio to be ready for graduation, and my freelance project, here's how I was feeling ALL OF THE TIME:
About 3 weeks later, I received an email from FM saying this was a good topic and it could make a good cover. I FREAKED OUT. She did warn me that this idea may be a little too "far-out" for the Editor-in-Chief, but that she'd have me create the cover and I'd be paid a sketch fee regardless of whether it was published or not. I had to google what a sketch fee was and I was extremely excited. She gave me a timeline of two weeks to submit the final illustration for review. She also sent me some of her own ideas to re-think composition and figure placement:
At this point, I was wading through finals, that big ol' freelance project, building my personal portfolio, and working on my school's portfolio show prep (I had volunteered to splice together 3 hours of short motion clips my classmates had created, as well as designing and animating opening and closing title sequences for each clip). Needless to say, I was the most swamped ever in the history of my being swamped. Several of these projects were super important, because other people depended on me to do good work. It was very challenging, and I probably didn't do my absolute best on some of my finals, and my personal portfolio website looked like crap for awhile, but I got through that insane time and didn't die or murder anyone, and I'm still proud of all of the work I did during that period.
FM had asked me to render my cover illustration in the same paper cut-out style I had used for the Resist! illustrations. I was able to get my first draft to her in 6 days. I added the additional figures of book-reading gal and hand-dipping ponytail gal, and I also created a background of grass and topiary. I was especially pleased with the way the water and pool bottom turned out:
After two days I heard back from FM with edits. She asked me to simplify the figures, and also talked about how much body hair each woman should ideally have for the image. She also called my image "quite lovely" and I was like: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Here was her edited version (she's a dang genius):
I submitted my final edits three days before the deadline, and I was really pleased with the result:
And then it was time to wait.
Over the course of the summer, I emailed back and forth occasionally with FM's very helpful assistant, Genevieve. There had been several (less hairy) summer scenes up for consideration, so while they still definitely wanted to use my image, it would depend on a variety of factors. In the end, I learned during the second week of August that my illustration would not be used for a cover. I won't lie, when I received that message, I was a crestfallen. I had been doing my best to prepare myself for a less-than-desirable outcome, but I still had so much hope. I had been checking my email compulsively for the past two and a half months to hear the final decision, and it would have been a serious dream come true to get a TNY cover the summer after graduating from school. I spent a day feeling bummed, and my sweet husband took me into the city for takeout Poké and we drove back home to our apartment in the suburbs and made fun of Bachelor in Paradise while we snuggled on the couch and enjoyed seaweed and salmon.
And when I woke up the next morning, I didn't feel so sad. And actually, I felt pretty good. I didn't get the cover, but I had gotten so far! I had taken a risk and put myself out there to one of the most important art directors in the world. This woman whom I admire so much had not only liked my idea, but she had then invested time and energy into helping me accomplish my goal. And ultimately, I learned some great lessons about taking direction, working fast under tight deadlines, managing stress, being patient, taking rejection in stride, and not being so hard on myself when I don't reach my goals. The fact that FM believed in me and thought I have what it takes to be a cover illustrator for TNY was just the cherry on top (aside from getting a cool portfolio piece out of this project).
So, overall I'm going to give this experience a 10/10. I don't have a cover to frame yet, but I do most definitely have an invoice for my work as a freelancer for The New Yorker from Condé-freaking-Nast which I am going to frame and also probably make commemorative plates out of (just kidding, we'll see).