John Cuneo: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday May 12, 2014

 Q: Originally from New Jersey, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Woodstock. NY?

A: I have lived in Denver and San Francisco as well. I think of myself as a city person but may have to recalibrate that image now that I've spent a decade here inWoodstock. NY. I miss the stimulation of the city and should get into NYC more often, but I'm a pretty solitary person and this is as good a place as any to sit at a table and draw. Besides, I'm told that it's really pretty outside.

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

A: I've always drawn (I was one of those kids). We weren't a museum family, and any art or illustration I saw was in newspapers and books. My naive and entitled presumption was that kids like me eventually got "a job" drawing pictures that would be reproduced on a page somewhere, surrounded by type.

Golf Digest reportage from the Masters Tournament. 

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: I've always got some sketchbooks going. Among other things, I use them for practice, to document my neuroses and obsessions, and to reconnect with the tactile pleasure of making marks on paper. I'm fairly obsessive about it and would work in them exclusively if it wasn't for  deadlines and mortgages.

All my stuff is done on paper and I don't think I have Photoshop. I worry that if I had the technical option to make changes or "fix" images, my OCD would go nuclear and I'd wind up chattering to myself, hunched over a laptop tweaking flesh tones for a week.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Any current, unfinished sketchbook I guess. Also some original art from friends and colleagues. If my wife pops in, she goes to the top of the list. In the summer, the AC unit is pretty vital.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: The theatrically mournful tone and blunt predatory nature of the Walrus and the Carpenter in L. Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass really messed me up. Tenniel's drawings here are peerless, which didn't help.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: John Cheever's personal journals and Geoff Dyer's essay and review collection, Otherwise Known As The Human Condition.

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

A: My influences are in constant rotation and new ones are added to the list all the time. A book capriciously pulled from the shelf can propel me down a rabbit hole of craven envy or divine inspiration. Currently, Ronald Searle, Friso Henstra and David Hughes have prompted a good portion of both.

Personal sketchbook drawing

Q: What was your first professional assignment and how did you get it?

A: I don't recall, but my first legitimate magazine assignment was from Martha Geering at Sierra Magazine, to whom I'll always be grateful.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: For a jump start, I'll often scroll through Richard Thompson's blog.  Years and years of incandescent brilliance there. Also,  the superb daily drawings of Oscar Grillo. Jillian Tamaki's  and  are wonderful and efficient ways to postpone the inevitable.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: For me, drawing for assignment is rife with anxiety. I envy those folks who express excitement and optimism at the beginning of a job. I am honestly hoping not to disappoint.

Q: What is/would be your karaoke song—and why?

A: Excruciating self-awareness prohibits me from the abandon required for this kind of fun. That said, in a perfect world, and with enough vodka, Al Green's Let's Stay Together is my jam.

Q: What is your hobby?

A: Pacing.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Lamb chops and a case of Barolo with family and friends. Iced poppyseed cake from Just Desserts in SF. Placemats to draw on.

Rhino and Poacher, for Fragile Planet exhibition. 

John Cuneo is a magazine illustrator.  His work appears in most major publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, GQ, The NY Times, Garden & Gun, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones and Town & Country. Two collections of his personal drawing have been published:  nEuROTIC (Fantagraphics), and  this year, an eponomously titled collection published by Goya: LP Series.

His work has received 9 medals for the Society of Illustrators and in 2011 he received the Society of Illustrators Hamilton King Award.  

Last year, he was one of 7 illustrators featured in the Delaware  Art Museum exhibit, State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle; one of his drawings hangs their permanent collection. He's been the subject of a Communication Arts mag feature; his drawings are included in American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, and the Society of Publication & Design annuals as well as many magazines and satirical publications abroad. Drawger