photo credit: Rick Meyerowitz
Maira Kalman is an artist, designer, author, illustrator, and photographer, among other things.
What inspires you?
Books (Sebald, Nabakov, Austen)
Music (Handel, Bach, Mozart, Monk)
Travel (India, Russia, Israel)
Odd moments and great people. Humor. Anyone that is funny inspires me.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
I have carried a sketchbook/journal since I was 18 years old. And I always carry a small camera.
How do you arrange your workspace?
I have a studio that has music and windows and organized reference material and a million books and lots of paint and brushes. No phone. No computer.
Are there places or things you avoid because they sap your creativity?
I avoid malls. They are deadly.
How do you create the best circumstances for inspiration, serendipity, ideas?
I try to take long walks and breathe deeply and stare at people going about their lives. I drink coffee and stare some more.
What do you collect, and how does it inspire you?
First and foremost I collect books. Those are my treasures and if I had to give everything up, I would in a second, but not the books.
Then there are all the collections of odd ephemera. Old notebooks, boxes, fezzes, cafe napkins, moss, doll clothes, interesting packaging.
Inspiration comes from shape, color, text, misuse of text, humor, honesty of intent. All of those things play in making something.
The endless possibilities are always encouraging.
Can you say something about found objects and how they inspire you?
First of all a found object is free. And that is always exhilarating. It was waiting for you and you took it. It had a life and now the life continues. You may pass it on to someone. Or forget it for years and then refind it in a box. It is mysterious and yet tells a story.
[My sons Dominic and Jack love Maira’s books for children, especially her books about Pete and Max. Jack, who is eight years old, wanted to ask one of the interview questions. — L.P.]
(Jack’s Question:) What do you weigh? Just kidding! What is your secret for drawing?
My secret for drawing is not a secret. It is sitting down and drawing. I do the best I can which means I try not to do it right but just to do it as I feel and as I see.
Getting it right is not a good goal.
The biggest secret is perseverance. Just not stopping no matter what.
Though I do stop to run and play tennis so I won’t weigh too much.
But that is a whole other story.
I do everything I do because I love to do it, even when I worry or am confused or slightly in despair. Those feelings usually pass. And then the next day is there.
Always a good thing. The next day.
Maira's TED talk
The Principles of Uncertainty
The Elements of Style Illustrated
Maira's New York Times column
Julie Saul Gallery