Art / Books / Illustration / New York

Maira Kalman illustrates herself. A talk with an imaginative mind


Maira Kalman’s self portrait

A daydreamer who dances with words and images to find beauty in the mundane, Maira Kalman let her witty spirit splash in the tempera colors and come out with creative solutions while embarking in the discovery of the wonders of life. To an external observer, her prolific art looks like the immediate and fresh outcome of a serendipitous intellectual adventure; yet it must have taken a lot of time, patience and discipline to become Maira Kalman.

You have been raised in a very cultivated family. Were your parents artists as well?

My father was a diamond dealer. My mother was a homemaker. But my sister is an artist. So clearly there was something going on that helped us think we could do that. There was a lot of humor. Many stories told. A sense of wonder.

When did you realize illustration would become your profession?

I thought I would be a writer, but did not like my writing. So after I left college I decided it would be good to tell my stories in pictures, like Saul Steinberg and others.

Once you said that one of the biggest motivator in your life and work is fear. Could you tell me more about this mental process and its outcome in your work?

Fear and boredom too. Fear of being bored. Of wasting time. Of not being who I am. Working is a very exhilarating process. Tiring and worrisome of course, but also, besides love, there is nothing that gives you that kind of elation.

Once you told your agent that all you wanted to do was to sit in a corner of the city and watch people. How has the city inspired you and your work over the years?

The city is my garden. Though I do love to go to actual gardens. But watching people go through life with courage is very touching. The daily tasks have a real dignity about them. And are endlessly fascinating. And the fashion is fantastic.


Maira Kalman – Illustration for “The Elements of Style”

I think of writing and drawing as a dance. They work together and flow back and forth. Paintings inspire and delight. Looking at paintings helps to look at the world and vice versa.

A recurrent subject you seem to inform your work is dogs. Can you tell me more about it?

I love how much love they have in them. And they are often very funny. And good to paint. And there are a lot of them everywhere. And they are very important to humanity.

The most famous of your collaborations is the one with Rick Meyerowitz. How do you like working with others on a specific assignment and how do you “share” the canvas?

I collaborate with few people. And usually I am working on my own for my part of a larger project. But with Rick, he and I can be totally honest with each other and make the other one do better work. So that is fun. And rare. In the end things never look how they were conceived, they just change.

The New Yorkistan - Maira Kalman & Rick Meyerowitz

The New Yorkistan – Maira Kalman & Rick Meyerowitz

Do you work from home or do you go to a studio? Is there a moment of the day when you think you are more inspired to create?

I have a studio to go to. Usually the deadline that I have creates the inspiration. But I am not a night person. I never work at night. So early in the morning, after my walk, is a good time.

What are the illustration techniques you prefer and how do you feel about working in digital?

I sketch with a pencil or pen and then I paint with gouache on paper. It’s very simple. I do everything by hand, in my studio with brushes and paint, surrounded by music. I adore that. I am not really interested in the computer.

What are your favorite colors on the palette?

Blue, white and pink.

Did motherhood have an influence on your work? What changed since then?

I started to do children’s books when I had little children. There was a very festive and inventive feeling in the house. Lots of building things and pretend. Lots of music and dancing. They were very inspiring to me. And still are.

In your work is there something you would like to do and you haven’t done yet?

Truly not. I am doing exactly what I would like to do and dreamt of doing. Very lucky.

2 thoughts on “Maira Kalman illustrates herself. A talk with an imaginative mind

  1. Pingback: My Imaginary Board of Directors | Crooked Perfect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s