By Chris Dunmire | Posted 1/30/05 | Updated 6/1/21
"I hope my legacy is to let everyone know that they can draw, it's easy and fun! And to be silly, which helps in everything in life." —Joy Sikorski
Joy Sikorski (1952-1959) was the bestselling author of How to Draw a Radish and other how to draw books found in Starbucks and at art museum bookshops across the nation, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Tampa Art Museum, and Salvador Dali Museum.
Enjoy a sampling of Sikorski's whimsical style in this fun collection of how to draw lessons from her books, plus insights about creativity and being an artist in this exclusive Creativity Portal interview. Learn more about Joy's books through the links below:
hover to pause lesson
Q: In Squeaky Chalk you write:
"I worked in my father's factory at an early age. I sharpened pencils and played on the typewriter. Meanwhile, out in the back, big pots of metal boiled. Later in life, I picked apples in an orchard. Now I write and draw."
Q: Have you always been aware of your creativity, or was it something you discovered later on in life?
A: I've never questioned my creativity from our earliest days my mother gave us pencils and paper to keep us busy. There were six children, and Mom went to school as a commercial artist, so she passed that interest along to us. In fact, Mom would unroll white shelf paper along the table and give us a big box of crayons, and we could play for hours.
Q: When did you first get interested/started in writing and art?
A: When I was 5 or 6 years old, my much-loved grandparents moved to Florida and we children couldn't visit them as much as we once did. We started writing letters to them. These were my Mom's parents I think she inherited her creativity and good humor from them they were absolutely heavenly in our eyes, warm happy people who loved us and encouraged our creativity and play. At some point I started a newsletter and had my brothers and sisters contribute to it. Every month or so I would send Nana and Grampa an edition of "The Daily Dribble," with a bouncing basketball as it's logo. Why a basketball? I have no idea!
Q: What inspired you to write your first book, How to Draw a Radish? How long did it take to complete it?
A: One evening I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. My husband Nick Sunday and I had stopped in the museum cafe in between galleries. I showed him some of my drawing lessons things I did on a chalkboard at work to entertain my colleagues and Nick said I should put them into a book. I did! It took about 6 months to assemble them all and design the pages.
Q: How did you feel when your book was accepted by the publisher, and when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
A: I was delighted of course, that How to Draw a Radish found a publisher, and very thankful to the friends who pointed me in the direction of Chronicle Books. They have been very supportive and encouraging, and a perfect place for my creativity. I designed the cover myself, and in fact was alarmed that they gave another person credit for it. That person's role was to add a green spine and to change the typeface somewhat, making the "a" between "draw" and "radish" a strange dark red color. There's always a little bit of angst involved in book covers. I let it go, though.
Q: How does it feel like to be a published author and see your books gracing the shelves of bookstores and coffee shops?
A: I feel lucky, especially knowing from the inside how very difficult it is to get through to editors and publishers. It's really sort of a miracle, and it definitely depends on knowing someone on the inside. I also feel a bit silly when people make much of me and my books. "It's only me!," I tell them.
Q: What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
A: Keep at it, don't give up, and publish it yourself until you find someone who will publish it for you.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: Edward Lear for his persistent silliness, Charles Dickens for his wonderful writing, Kamalo Kupihea (a surf instructor in Maui) for his goodness as a teacher, Greenpeace and the Central Park Conservancy for their mission, my grandparents Nana and Grampa for all goodness and sweetness, my Mom for her completeness, my husband Nick Sunday for his creativity and hard work, all my readers and fans for their appreciation and their talent. I also like the word "Ahimsa", which means, "love embracing all creation" that's a wonderful guiding word.
Q: What other creative projects are you working on?
A: I have a daybook that I published for 2004, that I am sending out to publishers as a sample for 2006 perhaps. Stationery coming out from Galison/Mudpuppy in the fall, and a few more projects with them. A project for a museum too soon to speak of now, and a class I conducted last week at a historical society/museum which was very much fun, and an upcoming arts fair.
Q: If you had to choose another line of work, what would it be?
A: Something to do with the sea — a ferry boat captain or oceanographer in Maui.
Q: What do you do to unwind and relax?
A: I read, right now Dickens and Charles Mayhew and William Hickey, and I love boat rides, and I love strolling about in New York City.
Q: What is an unknown fact about you?
A: I have a very nutty mother-in-law, Frances, upon whom is based the Frances character in How to Draw a Cup of Coffee. I would love to do a video documentary about her.
Q: If you could leave your readers with one legacy, what would you want it to be?
A: I hope my legacy is to let everyone know that they can draw, it's easy and fun! And to be silly, which helps in everything in life.
I first discovered Joy Sikorski as a young adult through a small-town newspaper review of her book, How to Draw a Radish and Other Fun Things to Do at Work, long before Amazon and ebook downloads were a click away.
Intrigued, I got hold of a copy old-school style: requesting it from the library. It was worth the wait because while reading it I was highly amused, and after, forever changed.
It wasn't just the whimsical drawings in Joy's book that pulled at my inner artist and fed my creative spirit. It was the lessons she taught through the pages on 'having fun at the office' that helped me see that growing into adulthood didn't mean life had to get all serious now. She wrote fun books for others to read, but first had fun creating them. Joy gave me permission to play.
If you pick up any one of Joy's books, you'll find her infectious creative spirit emanating from the pages with a childlike sense of adventure and good humor. Whether it be one large confetti, bonus clam money, folded game boards, or pastel pteros, Joy shows us how to find (or invent) things that keep life interesting! Squeaky Chalk prompted me to take out my old pastels and make a fun mess and the 3D Ptero sculpture below.
Embracing Joy's lessons early on also influenced the trajectory of my career path towards a more creative one. After I started doodling her cats and flowers on my office whiteboard, I soon went back to school to learn graphic design. Creativity Portal was launched in 2000, and nine years after reading her first book, I found Joy online, thanked her for her influential creative mentoring, and asked if I could interview her for the Web site.
In 2005, Joy gifted me the opportunity to interview her about her life as an artist and author and share the whimsical drawing lessons above from her books. This creative conversation went on to inspire the Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews series on Creativity Portal which has grown to over 100 interviews with writers, artists, teachers, coaches, and other creative professionals worldwide.
In 2009, Joy and I were in the process of collaborating on ways we might work together to introduce her then-upcoming book How to Draw a Sailing Cat when she passed at the age of 57 following a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer.
The last question I asked Joy in the interview was, "If you could leave your readers with one legacy, what would you want it to be?" to which she responded:
"I hope my legacy is to let everyone know that they can draw, it's easy and fun! And to be silly, which helps in everything in life."
Yes, Joy makes drawing easy and fun and many have found a kindred spirit in the silly, playful core of her work that inspires adventure and creative expression at every age.
A final amusement: Through all the years I've been writing about Joy Sikorski, my spell check has prompted me to substitute silkworms for sikorski. I smile at the thought of her name change to Joy Silkworms and can easily imagine the squiggly little creatures she'd have nibbling on green foliage in one of her leafy-larva drawing lessons. —Chris Dunmire
Create your own mini Jurassic Park with this creatively fun Pterodactyl paper sculpture based on Joy Sikorski's Ptero drawing lesson.
As you can see, you don't always have to limit your playful drawings to flat paper! To make this fun Pterodactyl sculpture, follow the step-by-step directions below.