How to Take the Gravel Road

If Found Return To Elise Gravel, translated by Shira Adriance. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462786.

Gene: This is Elise Gravel’s sketchbook. It’s got this nice elastic band on it, to hold it closed like a real sketchbook! Like the elastic bands on Moleskine notebooks.
Sarah: Yeah!
G: Do you know Elise Gravel?
S: Yes, I read her books Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken, I Want A Monster, The Rat
G: What is that series called…? Disgusting Critters! Did you read The Great Antonio?
S: Yeah!
G: I like her drawings, she has a very loose, fun style. This is her book about making art and creativity. It has an emphasis on just letting go and drawing. Look, the endpapers at the front are deer, with the most marvelously simple pictures of plants that I’ve ever seen. And the back endpapers…
S: (gasps) OH!!! Those shrimp are great! They remind me of Ed Emberley‘s drawings.
G: Yeah, very much so. The book is all done on graph paper. What I really like about Gravel’s work, I’ve realized, is her lettering. She just has so much fun lettering in different colors, outlining and coloring around words, she’s clearly having a great time. Basically she says that her sketchbook is just full of complete nonsense. After her kids go to sleep she just draws, paints, puts anything she wants to in her black notebook. It contains all her bizarre ideas, she doesn’t critique herself at all, and in the morning her kids look at it and they all have these crazy ideas about what she drew.
S: Aw, that’s great!
G: So she loves drawing monsters…
S: Awwww, those are wonderful!
G: Right? There’s little notes by them: “Donald who sings off-key,” “Jonas,” who looks like a broccoli stalk, “likes spinach,” “Amadeus who can count to four.” Here’s Albert, he’s a huge monster who eats anything except vegetables. It all just looks like a kid was having a great time with markers.
Sometimes there are little stories on the opposing page about the character she’s drawn. And she loves drawing mushrooms.
S: Oh, yes, little happy mushrooms!
G: Here’s two pages of grumpy things, including grumpy Elise Gravel…
S: (laughs)
G: …and grumpy E.T. There’s also grumpy invisible man, which I think is great.
S: Grumpy Elise Gravel is saying, “Well, I have the right to be grumpy, too. So there.”
G: There’s a grumpy sausage: “You’re not my friend!”
S: Grumpy E.T.: “I hate this planet!”
G: It’s like a little comic. Here’s a page of drawings of imaginary friends. I could go on like this for a while… Here’s a picture of Fabulous Worm Slippers for Sale.
S: It’s glorious.
G: So here’s her advice for drawing: “Draw all the time” is the first one. “There’s no magic to this work. The secret is practice.” It’s not like those books full of advice, nope, it’s just one page. It’s my favorite page in the book, other than this page with drawings of foxes…
S: (totally loses it over the cute foxes) Oh my God!
G: And here’s her page of terrible drawings.
S: “You see? Nothing bad happened to me! Everything’s fine.”
G: She swears she makes ugly drawings and this is her proof. It all gives the sense that she can’t stop drawing. There’s a list in the back of things you can draw in your own book, all the words written in the great Elise Gravel style.
This book made me laugh all the way through. It’s delightful.

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