The abundant, accessible art of Warren Craghead


Sketch cartoonist Warren Craghead’s Seed Toss, A Puzzle is available online as a DIY
printable book. Sketch cartoonist Warren Craghead’s Seed Toss, A Puzzle is available online as a DIY printable book.

“I recently saw a book of Picasso’s work where they published everything he did, and between two awesome paintings were about a hundred that weren’t so great.” Warren Craghead laughed with what sounded like relief. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, right. This is the real world. I shouldn’t feel so bad about myself.’”

The Charlottesville-based cartoonist has made a creative career of drawing “without thinking,” sketching by impulse during television shows, theater performances, even at stoplights. He also creates more careful and deliberate drawings but commits to execution above all else.

Incredibly prolific, with a pen in hand and pad in pocket at any given time, “I draw all the time,” Craghead said near the end of our phone interview. “I’m kind of drawing right now.”

We discussed a theory I’ve read in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Artists need diligence, to do the work and remain divorced from the outcome. Waiting for the muse is for amateurs, Pressfield said. Consistency predicates success.

“Art doesn’t have to be a rarified space,” Craghead agreed. “I don’t have to go to a studio with my fancy paper and expensive pen. My batting average of good drawings is not better than anyone else’s, but I do more of them. It’s the way I process the world.”

Craghead draws in visceral reaction to the world around him, filtering news through sketches in order to assemble ideas into narrative coherence. “I see these horrible things on the news and feel powerless, so even though it does nothing in the real world I start drawing about it,” he said. His recent book, Untitled, is a collection drawn from images of victims of a gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, and all proceeds from it go to Save The Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

Ladyh8rs, a Tumblr Craghead created and dedicated to “grotesque portraits of misogynists,” came to him when “they were contemplating making transvaginal ultrasounds a prerequisite to abortions in Virginia, and I got really mad,” he said. “Unfortunately there are always new people to draw.”

Craghead’s children, Violet and Ginger, are happier subjects of inspection. “Fauves,” a series of RGB-saturated children’s comics, records their actions and conversations in an attempt to capture “the crazy incandescence of kids.”

Not all of his work follows a theme, however. “I started as a painter, so I got used to confusion, being O.K. with chaos and not having everything nailed down,” he said. He often blends language with his sketches, approaching pieces like a poet. “People talk about comics and jump right to graphic novels, but words and images together don’t necessarily have to be a story,” he said.

In fact, exposing art to the world may be just as important as the art itself. “My work insists that art can be accessible, cryptic, and beautiful all at the same time,” reads Craghead’s artist statement, and his brand of “eco-lo-fi-publishing” makes it possible. He sends work out into the world—a concept he calls “seed toss”—as notes for his daughters’ lunches, free print-and-fold art books, drawings on postcards, and sketches on Post-Its that he leaves around town. “I’m sure most of them just get swept aside when someone cleans up,” he said, but permanence isn’t the point.

“Think about humans versus dandelions,” he said. “We gestate our young, these singular creatures, and take care of them for years. Some artists work that way, but there’s another way of looking at it. Dandelions release thousands of seeds. The majority don’t survive, but everywhere there can be a dandelion, there will be a dandelion.”

See Warren Craighead’s exhibit “We Are Waiting in a Forest” at WriterHouse through the end of April.