The Art of Making Art: Lucy Knisley


A book tells a story with words, and a sketch or painting depicts a story with pictures. A comic strip tells a story with words and pictures. Lucy Knisley of Evanston (pronounced “nigh-slee”) creates comics for which she writes the story, draws the pictures and colors the pages. She creates complete visual stories ready for publication.

Lucy Knisley in her studio.

His books, or graphic novels, are considered by publishers to be middle-aged and young adult fiction and are targeted at readers ages 8-18.

His first seven published books were fictionalized memoirs of his own childhood.

To date, Knisley has published over 15 comics. She also does other professional illustration work, speaks at Comic Con and other conventions, and works with school groups of young adults.

Most of his work is done in his home studio and on his porch. I know this setting well, because quite transparently, I met Knisley when she and her husband bought my house.

The studio on the third floor is a large west-facing room with lots of light and a walk-in closet. Knisley has a work table used for painting and crafts, shelves filled with her books as well as books written by colleagues she admires, and a closet full of supplies. She writes and draws in an ergonomic, properly adjusted chair with an attached desk surface.

Lucy Knisley’s studio as described by the artist.

Tools of her art include an iPad where she scripts the stories in Microsoft Word. She uses Blackwing pencils and plain paper to sketch out scenes, then color the artwork digitally or with watercolor paint.

Some of artist Lucy Knisley’s books.

Knisley typically works on multiple stories at once. She says she rotates several plates so she can constantly switch from editors’ requests to illustrations. Normally, she completes one book a year, but she lost childcare during COVID-19 and had to extend her publishing schedule.

His latest comic apple crush, is the second in the Peapod Farm series. It was released this year and is available from many book sources The first in the series, Springboards, was on the New York Times bestseller list. Recently, during a book signing at Booked, a local Main Street children’s bookstore, the books sold out quickly, but they now have more in stock.

Knisley begins creating his art after taking his son to school. Work time is 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but during this time she also rides her bike, where she contemplates her plans.

To start a comic, she has a first conversation with her agent, with whom she has worked for more than 15 years. It’s time to think about the next project that will ultimately lead to another book proposal for a publisher.

If accepted – which has become more likely now that previous books have sold out successfully – it’s time to start working with an editor on a story, which is like a script for a play, showing what what the characters will say and indicating what they will do. The script is loose at this point and will expand in detail as Knisley draws and presents it.

“At the Bookstore” by Lucy Knisley.

With the story established, Knisley now begins the visuals for the comic. She lays out each page in panels which are the little boxes that organize each comic book page.

A given page can have 1 to 9 panels. Five or more is typical, and a one-panel or full-page panel is called a “cover page”.

In each panel, as needed, Knisley drops word bubbles where the script will be added, which helps him establish a rhythm for the story.

Then she draws the scenes and words in each panel chapter by chapter. At this point, her main focus is on perfecting all aspects of the story.

There are no colors added yet. This step can be done digitally, but she prefers to do it manually using pencil and paper. However, when it’s done digitally, it’s easier to send it to your editor. It is a compromise that Knisley decides for each work.

When she’s happy with a chapter, she sends an online copy to her editor, and the editor edits it. Once they’ve fully agreed on the details of a chapter, it’s time to “ink” and color. Knisley goes over all the pencil lines with an ink pen, then the book is colored.

Lucy Knisley’s studio and her color palette.

Knisley says that in the past she’s done coloring herself usually in watercolor, but she knows she’s a slow colorist and publisher demand for new work is high. So, she recently hired a wonderful colorist who can color the comics using whatever color palette Knisley selects.

After all chapters are completed, all pages of the book are sent to the publisher and there is a wait time before the book is published. While waiting, the cover is designed and all interstitial pages – not story content – ​​are completed.

Knisley says she’s always wanted to be a writer and an artist, so her job is a perfect fit for her. Since moving to Evanston, she feels lucky and amazed to meet many other female comic artists who live here, and that “Evanston is a huge comic book town.”

To see his books, you can visit the Evanston Public Library. Or her website at www.stoppayingattention.com where you can both learn more about her and buy her comics. Her Instagram is @lucyknisley