Friday, April 21, 2017


These penguins are dedicated to my favorite one-year-old M (friends' baby), who took a particular liking to the book about the penguin ("企鵝!") in a set of animal board books. That's my fake Chinese calligraphy in the top left.

Upon setting out to draw these penguins, it occurred to me that... I didn't actually know what penguins looked like. If asked to draw a penguin, I would draw something like this:

Ceci n'est pas un manchot.

That had been my concept of penguins since childhood when we had dome-topped sippy cups from Taiwan disguised as penguins--one, pink, and the other, baby blue. A short, squat, upside-down U with no neck, wide-set eyes, and a wide, ducky mouth. I've been drawing penguins like this all my life. Just last week, I drew a bunch of penguins for M, and they aallll looked like this.

It wasn't until I googled "penguins" that I made the earth-shattering discovery that PENGUINS LOOK NOTHING LIKE THIS. I'd been brainwashed by cute Asian merchandise into thinking penguins were dumpy creatures! What had I been drawing all my life??? ... Fine, things weren't quite so dramatic, but I did register the thought that the penguin-shape that I'd been drawing resembles a penguin as much as a heart-shape resembles a biological heart. So I decided to reinvent my penguin-drawing self.

I thought I'd try out something more Quentin Blake or Jean-Jacques Sempé-esque. I've been practicing gesture drawings this week in order to loosen up and add life to my characters, which tend to be stiff and Sanrio-esque. So I started with a gaggle of gesture drawings:

I wanted to caricaturize the flop-over neck of emperor penguins tending to their young, the thin pointy beak, and the long sleek body. The resulting representation of a penguin:

Ceci n'est pas un manchot.

Now instead of a ducky face, he has the face of a narwhal.

In any case, it was fun to explore new ways of representing something in the world instead of just sticking to old habits and conventions.

Ducky-face penguin is still really cute. I'll still use him when dumpy-cute is called for. Also, if you ever need a penguin, you must check out Oliver Jeffers' no-nonsense guide on how to draw a penguin. ;)

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