How to Make a Drawn Story for the NYT
Plus a chance to have YOUR drawing featured by the New York Times
Helloooo Grown-Ups Table! Hope everyone is enjoying some sunshine and finding time to make stuff this weekend. I loved seeing everyone’s Five Finger Drawings over at the #DrawTogetherGUT hashtag on instagram. Many of you took the assignment further and used colors, different mediums, etc. Amazing. And some of you are working on your Delight Drawings and Grids. Awesome. You can always start, stop, return to and share any assignment at any time. Art is not linear. And! Before we start this week’s adventure, I have a quick question for paying subscribers:
Thank you wonderful humans. Okay, ready? Let’s do this.
How to Make a Drawn Story in the NYT, Step by Step
For the past week I’ve been working around the clock on this drawn story for the New York Times. It came out yesterday. You can read it online here.
Creating stories like this used to be my full-time job. I had a weekly drawn column in the NYT while I also had a monthly column in California Sunday Magazine. But it’s been a long time since I’d put together a story like this under deadline. I’m not gonna lie, it was a challenge. I hadn’t used those muscles in a while, and I’d forgotten how much time and effort it takes. But I’d also forgotten how much I love doing it. Formulating the idea, the research and writing, the drawing, playing with layout and lettering… even the hours of scanning felt good.
This week, I’m taking you through the making of a drawn story step by step, then inviting you to create your own drawn mini-story on Fun. And get this: the NYT Opinion may feature some of your DT GUT member drawings on their instagram account! If you want to skip past the step-by-step and get straight to the assignment, scroll to the end.
Step 1. The Big Idea
I believe the best ideas fall from the sky (aka they appear suddenly, from out of the blue, while we are doing/looking at/reading something else.) I try to write those ideas down in a sketchbook before they disappear like a dream. If I do, when the time is right, I turn the idea into a thing. In this case, I had the idea to do something on our need for more fun these days after rolling down a hill in Astoria, Oregon. Weeks later, the NYT approached me to do an Op-Art piece. I suggested How to Have Fun Again, they approved it, and it was on. (Note: If people want to talk about pitching ideas for publication, we can totally do that that in another GUT.)
Step 2. Sketch Layouts
While most things you make for a newspaper has to be created for both digital and print publication, I always start with the print. At this point, I haven’t actually written or drawn anything yet, but have a rough idea of what I want the finished piece to contain, and a sense of the feeling I want it to convey, so I start playing around with what the layout might look like. What story does the layout tell? How does make you feel? How does it move your eyes around the page? Honestly, my finished pieces almost never end up following an early layout, but it gets me thinking about the story visually.
Step 3. Research and Write
Writing is hard. When I’m doing my drawn journalism work, I spend a long time talking with people. Those conversations become the backbone of the text. But in cases like this piece, I had to write. Ugh. I tend to meander, and over-estimate how much text can fit in a layout. Rule of thumb: It’s about 1/3 of what you think. Thank goodness for editors, including NYT’s Joanna Pearlstein and my wife, writer Caroline Paul, whose red pen is gold.
Step 4. Draw the pictures
Finally. The art part. Here’s how I do it:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to DrawTogether with WendyMac to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.