Ellen Weinstein on Superstition

By Peggy Roalf   Monday April 2, 2018

Ellen Weinstein, whose editorial illustrations are something of a way of life for print readers, is also an in-demand speaker at workshops and events from Beijing to Bogota. Her recent book, Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity  (MoMA 2017), is about to be partially eclipsed by Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals and Practices of Extraordinary People  (Chronicle 2018),  which hits stores this week. Last week Ellen found time to answer this Q&A for DART readers.

Q: What opened the Pandora’s box of possibilities that resulted in this wonderful book,?

A: Thank you and the inspiration for the book came from a story I was illustrating on superstitions. Some of the behavior described in the article sounded eerily familiar to me and I set out to investigate the subject further after the piece was done. Once I started paying attention to the subject, I began noticing superstitions, rituals, and practices everywhere. At an author’s book event, he shared that he had a publishing day superstition. I heard an interview on NPR with a famed musician who spoke about his pre-performance ritual and it kept going from there.

Q: Who was the first notable you decided to check in with, and why did you choose that person?

A: Bjorn Borg was the first, since I started with the Playoff Beard superstition and discovered its origin. I created a few images of different known figures’ superstitions as a side project and submitted the Bjorn Borg piece to American Illustration, it got in and I took it as a lucky sign.

Q: How did it go once you got on a roll? Was it, like, contagious?

A: Once I was in the flow of researching and creating images, it was hard to pull myself away but I am always working on multiple projects at once.

Q: There are lots of sports figures here—how did that come into play? Are you a major sports fan?

A: There are a good number of sports figures but even more writers in the book. I actually love watching certain sports just for the superstitions, like baseball and tennis. I love seeing a batter step up to the plate and go through a specific routine of touching their helmet or necklace and making specific movements.

Q: Do you think fear of failure is an element in embracing superstitions and pre-performance rituals?

A:Yes, I do think fear of failure is very common across professions, geographic borders and time periods. The desire for success was a common thread among the subjects for the book, along with a passion for their work. If one doesn’t care about the outcome, there is no need to cultivate a practice for good luck.

Q: Did your family—especially your grandparents—engage in superstitious rituals of any kind? As a teen, did you have any particular superstitions?

A: Interesting question! My upbringing as a Jewish New Yorker does have an element of “don’t take your victory lap until the race is done and won.” My grandparents who emigrated from Russia would engage in superstitions such as not bringing baby clothes or furniture into the apartment until the child was born, or until the kid is grown and off to college, just kidding on that last one.

Do you think superstitions are an elemental part of childhood?

Having grown up in New York City, I was superstitious about venturing by myself into certain areas or taking the subway alone, late at night. The success of that particular ritual is the fact that I am still here to share it. I have had certain practices that I engage in throughout my life and I think almost everyone wants to have a sense of control over what is out of our control.

Q: Who was the most surprising individual you discovered who shared this bent?

A: There were a good number that were surprising and challenged my own assumptions about that individual. One of the most surprising was Michael Jordan, who continued to wear his University of North Carolina basketball uniform shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts throughout his career. He started the NBA fashion change from mid-thigh shorts to longer shorts to cover up his Tar heels uniform. I love that he stuck with the superstition and imbued the shorts with that lucky power.

Q: What are the most often relied upon superstitions/rituals you feel affect your work and life?

A: My primary superstition is that if I publicly share my superstitions, they will lose their power. I don’t discuss projects until they are officially done out of fear that it will jeopardize them. I also like to contain the energy for a current project.

Q: What’s your next book project?

I am going to stay on brand and point to the answer above, thanks!!

Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals and Practices of Extraordinary Peopleis this week, April 4, at Powerhouse Arena, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. 28 Adams Street (Corner of Adams & Water Street @ The Archway, Brooklyn, NY [Dumbo]  The book launch event link:


Ellen Weinstein is an illustrator/author and regular contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Pentagram Design and many others. She was President of ICON8 The Illustration Conference and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. Ellen has won numerous awards from American Illustration, Communication Arts and the Society of Illustrators. She illustrated the children’s book “Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity” published by MoMA. Her book “Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals and Practices of Extraordinary People” published by Chronicle Books is available everywhere April 3, 2018.
Book at Chronicle:
Amazon: 2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1520378905&sr=1-2
To see more work:



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