Illustrator Profile - Laurie Rosenwald: "I love to work"

By Robert Newman   Thursday January 12, 2017

Laurie Rosenwald is a New York City-based illustrator, artist, designer, and book creator. In addition to her many editorial illustrations for a wide variety of publications, Rosenwald has created animation, product design, and leads an ongoing workshop, “How to Make Mistakes on Purpose.You can see a cool video interview with Rosenwald here, where she talks about art, design, illustration, and her approach to storytelling. Rosenwald’s work is a mix of collage, drawing, painting, and more. She says “What I do depends almost wholly on what materials I happen to grab.”

I am a single, white, female, German Jew Homosapien. Design Crone? Delusional Genius? Adorable Pariah? Imaginary Swede?

I came out on Valentine’s Day, 2015, as a Bikesexual. Yes, I am in love with my own bicycle. His name is Jopo. He is white. He is Finnish. I have an identical Jopo in Sweden, too. She/he/it is black. Nota Bene: This has yet to be celebrated. Lavish floral tributes should be addressed to my Hudson Street address.

I am a Native New Yorker. I live both in Manhattan, and remotest Scandinavia. Mostly in NYC though. People think I live in Sweden full time. I DO NOT. So invite me to your super fun dance party. I am a superb party guest, and an excellent dancer. I will wash the dishes and take out the garbage.

My father was a talented sculptor, and an even more brilliant drunk. He was married four times, and never did get it right. He inherited lots of money so that he did not have to work. Because of these reasons, he never got anywhere. That’s why I was afraid to be an Artist—artist, with a capital A. It meant “failure.” I liked the idea of being, you know, practical and having a respectable job, but I am an artsy fartsy artist deep down and can’t help approaching even the most prosaic assignments in that way.

And I have to work very hard to support myself. And I’m very proud of my commercial work. I love working for clients as much as I love painting. For real. Even with all the changes. In fact, I think I get better every year.

Naïve fantasist that I was, back then I was trying to avoid the pretension of the fine art world in favor of an egalitarian design meritocracy of goodness and skill, which unfortunately existed only in my imagination. And the art world is, in its own way, more commercial, gimmicky and false. So this was politically misguided, pointless and stupid and I’m still paying for that mistake.

Indeed, there are saintly beings creating affordable housing out of windshields and reclaimed carpet tile. But they don’t make up for the vast majority of boneheads out there, like me, in it just for good looks. My dustpan is from Muji. But I’m not proud of it.

Admit. Good design is mostly for the educated few. Most of the world’s people don’t care about it—and why should they? They have bigger troubles, most of which design is powerless to solve. Cynical? Yes, but all idealists are.

And I’m so tired of all this twee, Lululemon smarminess. Platitudes are Fascism, in my opinion. If your shopping bag says, “Friends are Worth More than Money” on it, I think I’ll  shoplift this $118 Ready to Rulu Hoodie, just for spite.

It’s all fishwrap, I tell you. That said, I’ve written and illustrated three fabulous books:

All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem: An Inappropriate Book for Young Ladies* has withstood the test of time. It still makes me crack up. And in my view, that’s worth something.

My children’s book, And to Name but Just a Few: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue is colorific.

New York Notebook is being updated, even as we speak. It’s a guidebook, a notebook, and a blank book with useful stuff in it, all mushed up together. And I’ve just finished a How to Make Mistakes on Purpose book too.


I have been working since 1957, when I was two. Before that time I was mostly just playing. I couldn’t really draw at all.

I was a flunky at The New York Times Magazine, and then a ghost designer all over Condé Nast. I designed a zillion layouts for Mademoiselle, GQ, and many other magazines for 21 years. I designed the dummy for Self with Bea Feitler. This magazine I called  “Young Hypochondria Today.” It had, and has, articles like, “Your Breasts—What do they Mean?” Oy!

I was never on a masthead. Hey: I coulda been an art directa! Nah—I like to make stuff, and then be done with it. My own choice. I didn’t wanna go to meetings. Also, I care what I wear, but I don’t care what you wear.

Fiorucci, Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, New York magazine, Shiseido, Chronicle, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Paper magazine, Virgin, Warner Brothers, Sony, Nickelodeon, New York Rocker, Screw, and WET, the Magazine of Gourmet Bathing. Barbie magazine? Yes, darling, I have made sweet love with them all. And hundreds more. I smoked pot with Ettore Sottsass and got hit on the head with a bottle at Studio 54. I appeared in the pivotal role of “Woman” on the season five opening episode of The Sopranos. A role I was born to play.

In addition to both editorial and advertising work, I do a lot of animation lately, which is fun to write. Here is my channel.

And I have designed a huge line of products for the Japanese market.

I have no parents, pets, children, brothers or sisters, and no “significant” other. This makes me disturbingly, spontaneously social, and annoyingly last-minute. I am extremely attached to, and loyal to, my fantasmo friends, who come from different worlds, sometimes literally. Many of them don’t know each other. They are all fantastically significant, to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve spent at least the whole summer on Sweden’s rocky west coast, because I want to have my cake, eat it too, and then I want more cake. Nature is part of that but I am embarrassed by this—because darling, everything you see I owe to exhaust fumes and New York City tap water. And yes, I speak Swedish like a native New Yorker.


My Chrystie Street studio rent increased by $1000, so next stop GowanaCrownDumbBushGreenewickJerseyburg. I do have a pernicious allergy to manbuns, but it turns out there’s an app for that.

I loved that building, but it became full of model agencies, and artists can’t afford it now. The Lower East Side, like more and more of New York, is a touristy faux-hipster mall. Tourists have turned my beloved and soulful city of New Yorkers working into a glistening shopping center overrun with strangers spending. I despise tourists, although I am always nice to them and helpful with directions, because it makes me feel superior when I advise them you have to switch to the C at West Fourth. But in my mind I am mercilessly obliterating these benighted cretins as they wait patiently in line for cronuts. I’d like to dip them in hi-fructose corn syrup, dunk them in Panko, herd them all into the Times Square Applebees and burn it to the ground.

See this if you dare.

But I still love New York, and everybody in it. I’m a lifer.

I run on mostly on vitriol and Chobani Coconut Yogurt.

The medium is literally the message. The kernel of the poodle! What I do depends almost wholly on what materials I happen to grab. Sometimes it’s colored paper (which I make myself with gouache) or squeeze bottle paint or scratching lines out of wax, or using a lumber crayon, or Caran d’Ache Neocolor 1. Or casein, homemade milk paint, or a dip pen with a Waverly nib and Sumi ink on paper towel or Denril. I also use photo-collage in a very basic way. I never really draw in any program, I just combine digitally the things I make with my digits. Almost everything I do is both computer-strict and handmade gooky and organic. I love the fight between order and chaos.

I have two obsessions: makeup and art supplies. Or maybe that’s one obsession. Color is my pash. Especially vermillion and cobalt. And viridian, ultramarine and cadmium lemon. And Burnt Umber with Rose Madder. The more lethal, the better. A  soupçon of lead white makes a refreshing amuse-bouche.


Fifth grader on way to Menemsha softball game, circa 1966, but with way more eyeliner than is appropriate. I’ve been dressing like an elderly French pirate clown since about 1989. I’m in red and white stripes, red Kangol flat caps and U.S. Navy-issue “cracker jack” bellbottoms in winter, and “Landlubber” bellbottoms in summer. I love jumpsuits, and shop by typing “wide stripe,” “1970s NWOT” or “sailor shirt” into eBay, with a $30 limit. I woke up one morning last May and my hair was royal blue. Where’s Waldo? Right here. Apropos nothing, I briefly dated a Finnish stevedore, but it didn’t work out.

For this, grasshopper, I am still waiting. Looks like I have to keep trying to create my own, as I am a plant without a gardener. I’ve noticed a lot of successful people have a devoted wife. Just sayin’.


My father’s closest Martha’s Vineyard friend was Bil Baird, the puppeteer. I hung around his studio. Bil and Cora produced and performed the fantastic yodeling scene, “The Lonely Goatherd” in the The Sound of Music. I responded to Bil’s style because it was cartoony and funny. More than my father’s, whose work was more abstract. As current artspeak would have it “Charlemane, Snarkey Parker, Bubbles La Rue, Groovy the rabbit disk jockey, and Slugger Ryan were major influences on Rosenwald’s early work.”

Also Jay Ward, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Also my ex-husband.

Even though my father was an artist, and my background “artistic,” at 15, I experienced something that had more meaning for me than any museum, any painting, possibly could.

Although “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby” (Penn Jillette) I call this revelation “The epiphany of Utrecht.”

It turned out my boyfriend Bruce had met some chick in Holland named Anneke on a bicycling trip the summer before—and suddenly she turns up at JFK, fun and pretty as life, expecting to pick up where they’d left off. But there I was. Sophisticated kids as we were, we attempted a three-way. This resulted in nothing but teenage laughter, and the realization that Anneke and I were meant to be friends.

Naturally Bruce was behaving insufferably. Two girlfriends, indeed!  Who did he think he was, King Carrot? So we dumped him for the time being. I visited her in Holland, and we were invited to visit a friend of hers, a woman who lived—squatted, I guess—in an abandoned factory building on the banks of the Oudegracht, the old canal of Utrecht. On the rough concrete walls of her place, dozens of long antique nightgowns, all of them flat, starchy and white, were hanging in even rows, all the way up to the vaulted ceiling. This was 1970.

I had never seen a loft before. What really impressed me was the idea that you could live any way you wanted to. You could move into some kind of industrial bunker and stick some nightgowns on the wall—just because you liked it. That was the real meaning of what it meant to be an artist. An artist is defined not only by the creation of things, but a truly original way of thinking and living.

It just occurred to me why I don’t excel at meetings. Once you say,“Just because I like it that way!” to a client, game over. You’re never supposed to admit that.


Living? Larry David. In my view, comedy, when it’s great, is the highest form of art. Curb Your Enthusiasm is an improvised masterpiece. Also John Morton (of W1A), Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Larry Charles, Tina Fey, Paula Pell and Robert Carlock. And Eddie Izzard. I love to watch Q.I. on YouTube with Stephen Fry or Sandi Toksvig. And Only Connect.

German painters of the 20s: die Neue Sachlichkeit. Max Beckmann and Otto Dix. And of course Matisse and Picasso, Stuart Davis, and the underrated Marcel Jacno. I have kissed Tomi Ungerer. Also I love to listen to Arrested Development, Q.I., W1A and 30 Rock as mental diffusion dither. Also, my wonderful students. I have been teaching on and off at SVA and Parsons for 25 years, but would love to teach at Cooper Union or Yale because those students are so gifted.  I have incredible letters of gratitude from former students.

Loneliness, boring Mac issues, not learning cool new stuff from other people. On a bad day, I feel like the Unabomber. On the other hand, I do love to be alone. I’m good company. But now Brian Collins has generously invited me to be artist in residence at Collins—which is great. Everyone there is smart! They do branding in a very good way. I’m teaching “Mistakes on Purpose” there this week, and working on some new cosmetic brand packaging with them, too.

I did this animated cartoon for AD Len Small at Nautilus.

Whatever I am doing at the moment. I love to work. I get all emotionally involved but know I shouldn’t. It’s embarrassing, but if I’m any good, that’s the reason. Passion. I’ve never ever done a job I’m not proud of, that I did just for money. Actually, I really should start doing that. All this Integrity is incredibly impractical, and I am not an heiress.


An old, craggy but reasonably healthy super funny smart talented creative kind honest fascinating single heterosexual man contacts me about some project, but really it’s just an excuse to meet me because he likes and understands my work. We fall in love, grow even older gracefully and die together spooning in our sleep when we are 100.

David Bowie. He bought me a cheeseburger. Read: Art Directors I have Known, Loved, Respected and Reviled.

Miroslav Sasek, William Steig, Richard McGuire, Chip Wass, Tomi Ungerer, Anders Wenngren, Lene Due Jensen, Ralph Steadman. James Flora! Richard Giglio, too. Antonio Lopez was a genius, and I was briefly his assistant. Saul Steinberg, Al Hirschfeld. Alexander Girard and Paul Rand are so good people call them artists or designers—never mere illustrators. Think on’t.



The brilliant author David Sedaris and I collaborated on an animated app for iTunes: David’s Diary.

I teach an incredibly popular creativity workshop called “How to Make Mistakes on Purpose,” or “What to do when it’s too late to get burrs stuck on your pants and invent Velcro all over again.” It has been held for Google, Ikea, Artek, ADC, AIGA, Eden_Spiekermann, Meredith, and Starbucks, among many others. It is not a creativity workshop. Trying to be creative works about as well as trying to be charming. It’s not just for designers. Anybody can do it. In Canada, a herd of elk showed up.

And yes, in the past I have done standup. Comedy is like prostitution without the sex. Or the money. Or the respect.


I don’t. I try a bit with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter but my followers know me already. How do you reach the ones who don’t?  Send a singing telegram? A corned beef hashtag? A Snapdragon? I’m such a Twit.

In terms of social media presence, I hide my light under a bushel. If a bushel is not available I hide my light under a barrel. I spend all my time making stuff, and none on “getting it out there,” for the same reason I don’t go to the gym, iron, or eat kale.

People do find me that have loved my work for ages, and finally get a cool client or editor that will allow something original to see daylight. But right now I need to be found by the smart young creatives. I would like an agent who can work with product licensing and more design-related work, as I do many things that aren’t exactly “illustration.” Better yet, a business partner.

Give up now. Save yourselves. Illustration hasn’t been a viable profession since 1839 when Louis Daguerre introduced the camera.

If you want to be creatively fulfilled, be free and have fun—more than you want a steady income, family, stability, anything—you can listen with a grain of salt. And yes, I know that is not an expression, but I don’t care. That’s how I roll, baby. I love to complain, but frankly, I have more fun than anybody. Because I love to work, and I work every day.

See more Laurie Rosenwald illustrations, new work and updates:
Laurie Rosenwald website
Instagram: @rosenworld
Twitter: @rosenworld
Amazon Page


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