Joy Sikorski

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True Joy: A Tribute to Joy Sikorski (1952-2009)

The Legacy of a Best-Selling Author and Artist

By Chris Dunmire | Updated January 6, 2019

"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

twitterI was deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Joy Sikorski on August 18, 2009, at the age of 57 following a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer.

At the time, Joy and I were in the process of discussing ways we might work together to introduce her then-upcoming book How to Draw a Sailing Cat on Creativity Portal. She was excited about the possibility, but we ran out of time before it could happen. I didn't know she was ill.

Joy was the best-selling author of How to Draw a Radish: And Other Fun Things to Do at Work (1995) and other how to draw books featured 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.

In 2004, Joy gifted me the opportunity to interview her about her life as an artist and author (see The Joyous Interview below) and shared some of her whimsical drawing lessons from her books How to Draw a Clam, and Squeaky Chalk. She didn't know that when she said yes to my request, I was beside myself as it was my first interview with a best-selling author who was also a personal hero who influenced me greatly through her work (see Encountering Creative Joy sidebar). Joy also didn't know that her creative conversation would go on to launch a whole series of Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews on Creativity Portal with more than 100 creative professionals, artists, writers, performers, teachers, librarians, inventors, actors, authors, (and more of my personal heroes like SARK, Jill Badonsky, Natalie Goldberg, and Angela Cartwright) who have shared their inspiring creative journeys with our readers.

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, drawing is easy and fun and many have found a kindred spirit in the playful core of Joy's work that inspires creative expression at every age.

The Joyous Interview

Chris Dunmire Interviews Joy Sikorski (2004)

kiteQ: 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."

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?

pteroA: 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.

Joy Sikorski's How to Draw a Clam Drawing Lessons

"If you believe that one should always be on vacation as a matter of principle... this book is for you." —Joy Sikorski

How to Draw a Clam by Joy SikorskiHow to Draw a Clam: A Wonderful Vacation Planner is an instructional book, vacation planner, game holder, trivia book, creativity companion, and whimsical spiral-bound adventure all rolled into one that will keep young and old travelers busy for hours.

Joy Sikorski enthusiasts will enjoy trying their hand at 81 different drawing pages weaved between lessons on how to take a spontaneous vacation, the magnificent Bumpy Road game, real clam money, and a whole bunch of trivial fun!

From the Inside Flap: "A delightfully engaging cornucopia of things to do when on vacation — or when dreaming of being on vacation — for children of all ages, including adults.

"How to Draw a Clam takes you anywhere you want to go with creativity imagination and a terrific sense of fun. It offers short escapes (open a suitcase filled with sand, remove shoes and socks, wiggle toes in sand) and longer trips (take a nice walk). A whimsical survey examines the various types of vacations, from the adventurous to the vegetative. Possible accommodations are also considered: hotel, friend's couch, under a boat on a moonlit beach.

"How to Draw a Clam presents short tutorials on drawing deserts, cowfish, flip-flops, and more, and discusses exotic destinations, including beach resorts, ski resorts, and Ohio."

Lesson #7: How to Draw a Vacationer's Car Lesson

Don't drive yourself too car-azy with Joy's fun cartoony car automobile drawing lesson. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. Here's the step-by-step drawing lesson. Drive on!

Car Drawing Lesson

Lessons #24 & #25: How to Draw Dogs Galore Lesson

Everyone loves dogs! At least you can show your appreciation for them by 'drawing them' in with Joy's fun lesson below. Two for one: you have the choice of sketching up either a Scotty or Dachshund hotdog dog. Bark on!

Dog Drawing Lesson

Lesson #16: How to Draw a Cute Pig Piglet Lesson

Arnold Ziffel may have been one smart pig on Green Acres, but you can smartly draw 'some pig' yourself ala Charlotte's Web by hamming it up with Joy's piglet drawing lesson. Oink on!

Piglet Drawing Lesson

Joy Sikorski's Squeaky Chalk Drawing Lessons

"If you know how to write, you already know how to draw." —Joy Sikorski

Squeaky ChalkSqueaky Chalk: And Other Fun Things to Draw (And Do) When There's Nothing to Do! is not just an ordinary how-to drawing book. It's is a spiral-bound adventure!

Filled with simple drawing lessons, projects, and informational tidbits wedged between the pages of an adventurous story, Squeaky Chalk features characters and events laced into a story about Alexander Hamilton's Silk City, founded in 1792.

Written with the same whimsicality of How to Draw a Cup of Coffee, and How to Draw a Radish, Joy Sikorski explores imagination, art, and creativity through every square inch of this 152 page book.

From the Inside Flap: "Squeaky Chalk can teach anyone to be an artist! Featuring dozens and dozens of step-by-step pages and an activity and/or project at the end of each section, it lets readers test out their artistic skills at home or school. It's a great introduction to cartooning, a welcome rainy-day project book, and a cool way to bust boredom. With a compact trim size and sturdy hidden wire binding, Squeaky Chalk is a meaty 152 pages of activity fun! The special format makes it a great gift to slip into a backpack or sneak into a friend's locker. Here's an exercise in out-of-the-box thinking that is guaranteed to captivate children, parents, and teachers."

Fans of Joy Sikorski won't be disappointed as they learn how to draw an assortment of characters and items that ultimately become embedded in the storyline of the book. Over 67 drawing lessons illustrate the simple techniques to drawing dinosaurs, cats, horse, beaver, kite, boat, fairies, snow, sled, and more while learning techniques to adding color to the drawings with artist's pastel chalk. A wonderful introduction to cartooning!

Are you up for an adventure in drawing? Try some sample Squeaky Chalk drawing lessons right now!


Lesson #8: How to Draw a Twitter Bird

twitterDo you enjoy watching birds fly or listening to them sing? If so, you'll love drawing Joy's fun little twittering bird that can both soar and sing!

This little bird existed long before the social media, so don't be fooled by Twitter bird imitations! See what I did with my twitter bird chalk art drawings after the lesson? Twitters make colorfully fun greeting card covers when surrounded by music notes.

Hear them sing? Twitter, tweet, tweet!

Twitter Bird Drawing Lesson


Lessons #10 & #11: How to Draw a Diamond Flying Kite with Flowing Tail

This whimsical drawing lesson by Joy Sikorski is a great primer in kite making. Learn about the basic construction of a diamond shape kite by drawing one yourself. Fly away!

Kite Drawing Lesson

Kite Tail Drawing


Lesson #25: How to Draw a Pterodactyl

Not quite Jurassic Park but more Flintstone-like is this flying bird (which is really Pterosauria, not Dinosauria). Learn how to draw your own Pterodactyl with Joy's fun drawing lesson, and then look and see what other Ptero fun you can have!

Pterodactyl Drawing Lesson

Chris Dunmire's Din-o-mite! Pterodactyl Paper Sculpture Project

Create your own mini Jurassic Park with this creatively fun Pterodactyl paper sculpture based on Joy Sikorski's free drawing lesson.

3D Sculpture of Pterodactyl Flying BirdAs 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.

Materials Needed:
  • Thick colored paper for your flying Ptero
  • Newspaper and shredded colored (or painted) paper for the nest
  • Three or four of thin craft wires to hold the Ptero in place
  • Pencil
  • Thick black marker
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue

  1. Pterodactyl Flying BirdUsing Joy Sikorski's above drawing lesson, draw a Pterodactyl on thick colored card stock or reinforced construction paper (construction paper glued to card stock). Draw with pencil first, and then outline the picture with a thick, black marker.

  2. Cut out the Pterodactyl, leaving 1/8" empty border around the black outline.

  3. Build the nest by sculpting a base with plain newspaper and then gluing shredded colored paper inside and out.

  4. Attach the Pterodactyl to the nest by gluing or taping the thin wires to its back and sticking them deep into the nest.

  5. Optional: Add some "empty" decorated eggs into the nest and you have yourself one fine Pterodactyl Momma!


Enjoy a sampling of Joy Sikorski's whimsical style in this fun collection of art lessons from her books Squeaky Chalk and How to Draw a Clam that includes a rolling vacation car, flapping Pterodactyl, long-tailed flying kite, dogs galore, cute piglet, and original twitter bird, along with insights from her interview about creativity, being an artist, publishing a book, and the legacy she desired to leave behind through her work.

Joy Sikorski

Joy Sikorski Interview

How to Draw a Vacation Car

How to Draw a Vacation Car

How to Draw Dogs Galore

How to Draw Dogs Galore

How to Draw a Cute Piglet

How to Draw a Cute Piglet

How to Draw a Twitter Bird

How to Draw a Twitter Bird

How to Draw a Kite with a Tail

How to Draw a Kite and Tail

How to Draw a Pterodactyl

How to Draw a Pterodactyl
and Make a 3D Ptero Bird Sculpture

Encountering Creative Joy

RadishI first discovered Joy Sikorski as a young adult through a little newspaper review of her book, How to Draw a Radish long before Amazon and digital downloads were a click away. Intrigued, I acquired a copy the old-school way: at the local library. After reading it I was forever changed.

It wasn't just the whimisical drawings or weaving of words in Joy's book that altered my perceptions, specifically about shedding childhood wonder, 'growing up', and the expectations I had for myself as a budding adult. Rather, it was the way Joy's infectious creative spirit emanated from the pages that spoke to me, revealing the importance of lifelong authenticity as an indelible foundation.

She demonstrated that while growing older meant taking on more 'serious' adult and career responsibilities, it didn't exclude enjoying a childlike sense of adventure and good humor. Yes, creativity, play, and fun (even at the office) are truly ageless expressions we can choose to engage in and celebrate at every stage of life.

When I embraced these lessons early on, the trajectory of my life path changed into a more creative one. Creativity Portal was launched, and nine years after finding her first book, I interviewed Joy Sikorski for this web site because of her influential creative mentoring (see The Joyous Interview).

If you want to embark on a creative adventure, especially one that involves more childlike play, doodling, drawing, and artistic expression, I highly recommend taking a tour through Joy's books.

A final amusement: Through all the years I've been writing about Joy Sikorsi, 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.