TasteMakers NY: The Illustrations of Veronica Lawlor | Tracy's New York Life | A New York City Lifestyle + Travel Blog Tracy's New York Life | Best Lifestyle, Culture, and Travel Blog in NYC

TasteMakers NY: The Illustrations of Veronica Lawlor

by Tracy Kaler
Times Square by Veronica Lawlor

Veronica Lawlor’s romantically inclined reportage illustrations have led her around the world, completing assignments for a diverse group of clients, including Brooks Brothers, the 3M Corporation and the Hyatt hotel chain. Her emotionally charged drawings of the 9/11 attack on New York City are featured in the Newseum in Washington DC, and were exhibited at the NYC Fire Museum in 2006. 

In 2011, Veronica was nominated by Canson USA as their representative for the Canson Prix, and her work was presented at the Louvre, in Paris. Veronica has written and illustrated several books and is on the illustration faculty of Parsons the New School for Design and Pratt Institute. She is the co-founder of the Dalvero Academy, an Urban Sketchers correspondent, and the president of the Studio 1482 illustration and design collective.

I know that you were born in New York City -- where did you grow up and what was that like?

I lived most of my elementary school years in a community called Parkchester, in the Bronx. I had so many friends in the neighborhood; each building had dozens of kids my age! I have some classic memories of growing up in New York City – moms throwing money out of apartment windows for ice cream when the Good Humor truck came by, roller skating and having my own skate key, all of us hollering up at the building to our moms to come down and get us (since we weren’t allowed to take the elevator by ourselves), and jumping around in the spray from a fire hydrant when the weather got too warm. NYC summers can really heat up.
My family moved to suburban Long Island when I was 10 years old, and although it was a beautiful town, I never really got over missing urban life. Once I was old enough to move from my parents' home, I came back to NYC. I have lived in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, and each borough has its own charms. Never tried Staten Island, but I hear good things. ;)

Veronica sketching in Grand Central Station

How did you get your start as an artist?

I’ve always loved to draw. As a child, drawing was a way for me to connect with my friends – we would do it together. I remember in the second grade, making up fake gossip papers with my best friend - we would create the stories about celebrities at Studio 54 and design and illustrate the magazines. Too bad Andy Warhol didn’t know about us back then!

I guess my more focused desire to be an artist came about in high school, when I decided to make it my life path. A partial scholarship to Parsons School of Design helped me to make my dream of being a young art student in Greenwich Village come true, and the teachers I met there continued to help and mentor me – especially one teacher named David Passalacqua. But my love of drawing as a way to communicate was there from the beginning.

Wall Street

You have a unique drawing style. How did you develop it?

Many, many hours of practice, and drawing on location, went into developing my personality in drawing. There is that famous saying about how 10,000 hours creates an expert – I would agree! I remember my teacher told me that if I wanted to draw hands, I had to draw 10,000 of them before I would even come close to understanding them. He was right.

A lot of young artists look for a unique style, but the truth is that your style develops over time, by making art, by looking at art, and by living with your failures as well as your successes. It’s an evolution that doesn’t happen overnight, but produces the most unique and honest artist.

Grand Central Station

What subject matter do you enjoy sketching the most and why?

I love to draw live events as they are happening – I get a rush of adrenaline and excitement from that. If things are moving quickly, I have to rely totally on instinct, as there is no time for pre-conceived ideas or pictures. And I love to see what comes of it! When I am drawing at an event, I become a part of it – people see your contribution right there on the spot and often will ‘adopt’ you as part of the action. It’s the best. I think growing up in New York City made me addicted to a certain kind of high energy, and drawing things that are fast-paced feed that addiction.

What medium do you usually work in and which do you prefer?

I love playing with all kinds of mediums, because each one creates a new graphic feeling and sensation. The experiment is always enjoyable. I guess on location I often gravitate toward pen and ink, with watercolor and pastel chalks – these are faster mediums than something like oil, and so feel more suited to the spontaneity I often look for in my location drawings.

I just finished writing a book about watercolor called One Watercolor A Day, which features my own art and the other artists from Studio 1482. It was so much fun to play with watercolor in a slower way as well, and see the possibilities it offers.

The Empire State Building

What’s been your favorite project in your career so far?

Oh man, I’ve been lucky to have so many great projects that it’s hard to choose. Drawing Central Park for the Mandarin Oriental hotel was like a dream – spending a week in early autumn making drawings in my favorite park – that was really magical. I also did a cross-country tour doing drawings of American icons for Brooks Brothers, which was fantastic, as it combined my love of drawing with my love of travel. I could keep going, I feel that I’ve been so lucky to receive commissions that have been both interesting and challenging.
Central Park Boathouse

How did Studio 1482 form?

All of the members of Studio 1482 went to school together – we studied with our mentor, the late illustrator, David J. Passalacqua. He taught us a philosophy of illustration with a fine arts oriented viewpoint, and we developed through hours of discovery, studying location drawing and painting, and research and communication, with him.

We got together and decided to create a collective where we, as artists with a common philosophy and background, could help each other with both artistic and commercial support. It's been a wonderful kind of art family for us.

You and the team at Studio 1482 collaborated on the book, One Drawing a Day. Can you tell me a little bit about the book and the purpose of it?

The book One Drawing A Day really expresses our philosophy of art as a very personal experience, best learned through doing it yourself, trial and error, with guidance, as opposed to being shown how to do it. Art instruction can sometimes become a confining experience, with so much emphasis on ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of drawing, which is the exact opposite of the way we were taught. We learned by working through all the drawings - good and bad - one at a time.

The East Village

Through our One Drawing A Day blog, the Studio 1482 members can play and experiment, without sacrificing our professionalism or ability to complete an illustration assignment. The open nature of the blog gives us permission to try things that may not work, and show them to each other and the world for feedback. You have to be open to the idea that you don’t know how something will turn out, to find the new and unusual solutions in your own work. 

With the One Drawing A Day book, examples of our own work are offered up as a point of departure for others, as a suggestion of something to try. The book creates an experiential and open kind of art instruction, as opposed to a step-by-step kind of instruction with a specific goal. And we like that idea so much that we have a new book coming out in December with a similar philosophy – One Watercolor A Day.

What artist has been the biggest influence on you and your work?

Well, aside from my mentor, whom I’ve already mentioned, some of my earliest heroes in art have had the biggest influence on me: Toulouse-Lautrec and Daumier for their energy and honesty, Matisse and Picasso for design, Hans Hofmann and the abstract expressionists for passion, Antonio Lopez for style, and traditional Japanese arts for pattern and taste. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; I believe it’s so important to be influenced by art history, photography, film, culture, design approaches, and what’s happening now. You need to keep studying to keep yourself moving forward as an artist, otherwise the well can run dry.
The Brooklyn Bridge

In addition to your work, you also teach at Pratt and Parsons. What type of classes do you teach and how has teaching affected your art?

I teach drawing, painting and illustration, as well as sequential storytelling, animation/animatics, and location drawing, at both schools. And of course, living life as an artist, in many different ways, is an ongoing topic of class discussions.

Teaching has affected my art big time, since I feel a sense of responsibility to my students to work hard and be honest in my artistic expression. Practice what you preach, as the saying goes.

Any advice for up-and-coming artists in New York?

Work with passion, be true to yourself, and be curious. Follow your heart and do what you love. Focus more on the process than on the desired result, and you’ll enjoy your artistic life.

Any new New York projects on the horizon?

Over the last few years, I have been documenting several New York neighborhoods with both drawing and video. This is an ongoing project that hasn’t fully blossomed yet, but I am excited about where it may go.

I am working to put together a catalog of my many drawings of New York City – it’s been a long love affair. My hope is that the drawings may be of interest to the other NYC lovers out there.

Times Square

What’s your idea of a perfect day in NYC?

My perfect day in New York City includes sunshine, trees, bricks, cappuccino, pen, ink, watercolor, a sketchbook, my husband Neil, laughter, and good friends. Can’t beat that.

Anything that you don’t love about living in New York?

No, I love it all.

New York City has diversity, energy, and personality. It is full of the hopes and dreams of everyone who comes here to fulfill them. I was lucky enough to be born here and I can’t see myself ever leaving. I love to travel, but I always find a little piece of what I discovered in my travels exists right here in my hometown. No place like New York City, and I will always click my heels, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to get back home to my own backyard.

Bow Bridge, Central Park

For more on Veronica, visit her website and blog.

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