Why People Draw: Matt Davies, Political Cartoonist & Picture Book Illustrator


In 2010, I launched a website for my creative projects called Wacky Shorts Creations. As part of that website, I started writing a blog about drawing called The Hamster Wheel and did a series of interviews on Why People Draw. I remember I enjoyed the correspondence with others who like to draw, and loved learning different points of view about drawing from people in a variety of disciplines. I learned about the many approaches to the same activity—that of drawing, or making a mark. I let that website expire, so there's no way to access the interviews. I would like to start posting them here in my new website so you can enjoy them!


The first time I learned about Matt Davies (pronounced: Davis), was not in the newspaper, but from an email from the Westport Arts Center (WAC) in Westport, CT.  Matt was having an exhibition of his editorial cartoons there, and would be giving a talk later that week. Matt is one of the best presenters I had heard speak.  He is laugh-out-loud funny, engaging, tells great stories, and that night, he even drew some political figures the audience was eager to see.  Matt is also very kind and grounded, which is always impressive in a person who has done a lot in their career.  I enjoyed his talk so much, that for the following year’s Draw On! (a program I coordinated and ran for The Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT), I asked my contact at WAC if they could share Matt’s contact information with me.

Matt (@MattDavies) ended up doing hilarious evening presentations for Draw On! on two consecutive years, the second one with his friend and fellow editorial cartoonist Scott Santis (@sstantis).  Audiences loved him in both. 

Here is editorial cartoonist and children's book author/illustrator Matt Davies in his own words. It was such a pleasure to work with Matt on this interview from March of 2011. Thanks [again] Matt!


HW: What's your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

MD: I honestly don't really know. I can't remember not being able to draw. When I was about five or six, I got in big trouble at school for illustrating an age-inappropriate poem about the Queen. To my detriment, the art was so carefully and lovingly drawn that my teacher could see exactly who was depicted, and what was going on. I grew up in England where that sort of thing was frowned upon—unlike corporal punishment, which was actively employed—and it all ended very badly. But I definitely learned an early lesson in the breathtaking power of art.

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

MD: It means that I have both an escape, and a voice. 


HW:  What part of your day is spent sketching and drawing, and what part is spent infusing your brain with what's going on in the world so you can draw about it?

MD: I spend a majority of my time thinking, and reading: Trying to find the angle that no one else would think to depict. I am always fearful of producing obvious things. While all art is at least tangentially political (the second you publicly place a mark on a piece of paper you will piss SOMEONE off), mine is deliberately overtly political. I take issues and events and try desperately to make sense of them. Like a columnist, I practice opinion journalism except I actually draw my conclusions, so to speak. 


HW: Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, do you find that you write or draw more in it, and what is its purpose?

MD: My sketchbooks are a mess. I use them as sounding boards so there's a mixture of writing, word associations, and incomprehensible squiggles. Except when I am trying to perfect a caricature, the art in them is blisteringly rudimentary. That didn't used to be the case. Over the past twenty years I have learned not to waste time on tight pencil sketches, as I found that recreating the spontaneity of the virgin line in ink was impossible, so now I pretty much ink without pencil. I like to feel it gives my ink lines movement and life.

HW: Who are 2 current illustrators whose work you enjoy? Why?

MD: I honestly can't limit myself to only two. There are so many cartoonists and illustrators whose work I admire. I have spent this winter writing/drawing a children's book, and have been really paying attention to what's out there in that field and the standard of artwork is often delightfully astounding (and pretty intimidating). 

HW: What do you find is the easiest thing about seeing the world through humor and funny images? What do you find is the toughest?

MD: I find that I can say so much more through humor. People are far more likely to absorb a message or opinion if it is wrapped in wit.  And I can't honestly think of a downside to that, except for perhaps there was this one woman at my office who used to say every time she saw me: "so, what's funny?" I know she meant well, but it really misunderstood—and completely glossed over—what I do.


HW: If you could write a recipe for your drawings, what would the ingredient list be (read like)?

MD: Take one whole fresh social and/or political issue, a one gallon jug of chaos, four pounds of daydreaming, an ounce of ink, two ounces of white out, a teaspoon of panic and a grain of irritation. Mix together indiscriminately, place on highly heated deadline for two to three hours and serve with a garnish of smirk. Serves millions.

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running? (what gets you itching to draw or create?)

MD: One of the best feelings I can imagine is when I have conjured a really solid idea that I know works well, and includes a drawing I know I will enjoy doing, and can't wait to finish and get out there for people to see (I wish every day could be like that). I walk on air on days when I reach that point by, say, lunchtime...


Other places online where you can find more about Matt and his work:












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