Keep Drawing: Freelance Illustration Advice from Kawaii Not

When I first started editing for HOW Books around a year and a half ago, the first book I chose as an editor’s pick was Meghan Murphy’s Kawaii Not, Too: Cute Gets Badder. If you’re not familiar, the book is Murphy’s second collection of Japanese-inspired cute comic strips of inanimate objects saying some pretty crazy stuff (based on her popular web comic www.kawaiinot.com).

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 8.51.58 AMKawaii Not is funny, slightly subversive, off kilter, and–most of all–cute.  If you’re the kind of person who’d love jokes about pretzels that are twisted in more ways than one and chocolate that, um, isn’t chocolate, then Murphy’s unique brand of humor is definitely up your alley.

I had a chance to catch up with Murphy. It’s been more than a year since the last book but she’s still churning out comics… and stationery… and t-shirts… and whatever else she can adorn with a cute illustration. 

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It’s been a year or so since your second Kawaii Not book came out. When did you start Kawaii Not?

I started Kawaii Not in June of 2005. The name just came to me one day when I was doodling, and it seemed like too interesting of an idea not to explore further. After that it was mostly a personal dare – just to see if I could to it. The rest has been pure learning while doing.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Absolutely everywhere! Especially cute stationery sets, food packaging, cartoons & comics, retro advertising… and basically anything I think I can put a face on.

Tell us a little about your creative process.

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Kawaii Not author and illustrator Meghan Murphy

It mostly revolves around sketchbooks. Anytime I have even the smallest piece of an idea I write it down. Then I end revisiting and re-working all the stuff I’ve scribbled until something resembling a comic starts to emerge. I usually have 2-3 half-filled sketchbooks floating around at any one time.

Every once in awhile an almost fully formed perfect idea will just pop into my head. Like all muses, though, the kawaii one is fickle.

What other work do you do aside from the comic strip?

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 8.59.07 AMI’m also a freelance illustrator and designer. I’ve done work for newspapers, magazines, clothing lines, websites, and all sorts of other places where art needed some doing. I like being flexible, since you never know where the next job will come from… or where it will take you.

Tell us a bit about your illustration background and philosophy.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always known that I wanted to do something with illustration and/or design. I attended an narts high school, then went on to earn a BFA in Visual Arts and a MA in Computer Graphics Design.

Of course, now I draw talking farts and crapping rainbows for a living. But I figure that just means I take “cute” so seriously that I needed a Master’s degree to do it true justice.

I think my illustration philosophy is “just do it.” It is way too easy to get stuck in your head, start doubting your skills, and tie yourself in knots. Start somewhere, anywhere, and keep drawing until you find your way to the heart of your illustration. You might burn through a dozen pencils and stacks of paper, but if you keep your hand moving you’ll be fine.

What advice do you have for freelance illustrators?

Keep drawing! Especially when it’s not for a client or project. Keep your art juices flowing ’cause you never know when you’ll need them.


For more fun comic strips check out Kawaii Not, Too, available at MyDesignShop.

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