17 January 2019

Meet Edith – the Tortoise cartoonist

Mad enthusiasms, tiny breakdowns and why it’s important to laugh at everything

By Edith Pritchett

I come from a very artistic family. Both my parents went to art school (they met there and my father is still a cartoonist) so much of my childhood was being forcefully plonked in front of sketchbooks with my siblings. I have three sisters and a brother and we grew up drawing all the time. My siblings and I would poke fun at one another by drawing the most grisly cartoon caricature representations of each other possible. In hindsight it was a very peculiar sort of sibling warfare.

At 11, I applied for – and won – an arts scholarship to my secondary school. At that point in my life each drawing would be hugely stressful: I’d have mad enthusiasms, closely followed by tiny breakdowns. It was a ricocheting emotional rollercoaster. I’m hoping I’ve mellowed a bit so I’m not quite so dramatic in the Tortoise office today.

Posy Simmonds draws a cartoon at the launch of the Big Draw Weekend on October 22, 2010 at City Hall in London, England.

I draw inspiration from a lot of places. Newspaper cartoonist Posy Simmonds is my hero, so it was particularly cheering to know she was a judge on The Observer/ Jonathan Cape graphic short story competition I won last year. But I also love the New Yorker cartoonists Edward Steed and, in particular, Roz Chast. Her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, is a funny and touching masterpiece.

Cartoonist Roz Chast poses with an award during The Hatter's Mad Tea Party: 2018

I enjoy looking at cartoons on Instagram and I find a lot of inspiration through scrolling through my feed. I’ve been fortunate enough to have work published in The Sunday Times, The Observer, Wonderland magazine and The Oldie but Instagram has really democratised the image for the upcoming artist.

As a cartoonist it’s much easier to circulate your work these days – you don’t have to have the backing of a newspaper, magazine or website to get your material out there. Having said that, it can also be a chastening experience. Sometimes I’ll upload a sketch I think is utter genius – only to get nothing back in the way of a response. That takes me down a peg or two.

Reading articles or listening to people discuss the news is usually at the root of everything I draw. One word can jump out of a piece or a news meeting and be the embryo of what comes later. I once had great advice from an illustration tutor: when you’re thinking of ideas, draw a map with everything on it, don’t filter anything. It’s better to go too broad and reign yourself back in than work the other way around. Looking at other people’s work during the process definitely doesn’t help. I often think I’ve thought of a brilliant joke – only to remember I saw it on The Simpsons the night before.

Can cartoons make sense of what is going on the world? I think they can boil things down to the essential facts or make light of politics in a way that can be clarifying. More than ever it’s important to laugh at everything and not be too bogged down in misery.