Behold Kurt Vonnegut’s Drawings: Writing is Hard. Art is Pure Pleasure.

I see hints of blue­prints, tile work, lead­ed-glass win­dows, William Blake, Paul Klee, Saul Stein­berg, Al Hirschfeld, Edward Gorey, my mother’s wasp waist, cats and dogs. I see my father, at age four, forty, and eighty-four, doo­dling his heart out.

—Nanette Von­negut

Car­toon­ist, edu­ca­tor, and neu­rol­o­gy buff Lyn­da Bar­ry believes that doo­dling is good for the cre­ative brain.

In sup­port of that the­o­ry, we sub­mit author Kurt Von­negut, a very con­vinc­ing case.

His daugh­ter, Nanette, notes that he was drawn by the human face—his own and those of oth­ers.

Por­traits include one of his best-known fic­tion­al char­ac­ters, the unsuc­cess­ful sci­ence fic­tion author Kil­go­re Trout. It’s a rev­e­la­tion, espe­cial­ly to those of us who imag­ined Trout as some­thing  clos­er to vet­er­an char­ac­ter actor Sey­mour Cas­sel.

In addi­tion to his humor­ous doo­dles, Von­negut was known to chis­el out a sculp­ture or two on the kitchen counter.

As a Cape Cod year-rounder, he paint­ed seascapes.

He had a one-man show of his felt tip draw­ings in Green­wich Vil­lage in 1980 (“not because my pic­tures were any good but because peo­ple had heard of me”).

But the doo­dles are what cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion, from the illus­tra­tions of Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons to his numer­ous self por­traits.

The son and grand­son of archi­tects, Von­negut pre­ferred to think of him­self less as an artist than as a “pic­ture design­er.” Work­ing on a nov­el was a “night­mare,” but draw­ing was pure plea­sure.

Per­fec­tion was not the goal. Von­negut real­ized a sym­pa­thet­ic com­mu­ni­ty would spring up around an artist strug­gling with­in his lim­i­ta­tions, and act­ed accord­ing­ly.

To that end, he rec­om­mend­ed that peo­ple prac­tice art “no mat­ter how bad­ly because it’s known to make a soul grow.”


See a book of 145 Von­negut draw­ings curat­ed by his daugh­ter, Nanette Von­negut here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Von­negut Maps Out the Uni­ver­sal Shapes of Our Favorite Sto­ries

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 15 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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