Set against a gleaming white background, hundreds of illustrations of female figures—a mermaid in shades of reddish-brown, a detailed drawing of Hillary Clinton as George Washington—fill the new website Women Who Draw.
The styles range from realistic black and white sketched portraits to abstract nude bodies in bold and bright neon colors. Each drawing is made by a different illustrator, and each and every illustrator is a woman. Clicking on a drawing, and the artist’s name underneath, leads to that artist’s professional web page.
“There are so many talented women out there, women illustrators, who are doing incredible work. They need exposure,” said San Francisco-based illustrator Wendy MacNaughton (BFA 99 Fine Art), the site’s co-founder. “There are so many creative directors and art directors and editors who want to hire them. There’s a need on both sides.”
Women Who Draw—whose official peg is “an open directory of female* professional illustrators, artists and cartoonists who take freelance work,” with “female” also encompassing transgender and gender non-conforming artists—meets that need as a way for publishers, art directors and editors to find less visible female illustrators, and hire them.
Intersectionality is also an important emphasis. Optional tags underneath an artist’s drawing and name lists her racial/ethnic and religious identity, geographical location and sexual orientation. The tags also function as searchable fields. MacNaughton’s tags are LBTQ+, Atheist, West Coast and Jewish.
“We wanted to give people opportunities to identify themselves more easily so they could be found,” said MacNaughton, known for her playfully beautiful and socially conscious ink-and-watercolor illustrations and graphic journalism.
She’s created artwork for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other media outlets, and her books include Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words (Chronicle, 2014), Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them (Bloomsbury, 2014) and The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure (Bloomsbury, 2016). In 2011, MacNaughton was given ArtCenter’s Outstanding Alumni Award, and she also advised in the creation of the Spring 2015 Designmatters studio Illustrated Journalism.
Women Who Draw first stemmed from MacNaughton’s New York-based illustrator friend Julia Rothman’s own frustration when she looked at a particular (not-to-be-named!) magazine last August whose number of female illustrators was low.
Rothman brainstormed with MacNaughton, and they came up with the idea of a colorful website directory as an effective way to increase visibility. Post-election, they felt even more driven, said MacNaughton, who also spoke passionately about heading to the Women’s March on Washington in D.C. on January 21 with her partner and frequent co-author, the writer Caroline Paul.
“Julia and I initially had been working with a group of the top, visible 50 illustrators in the field, all women,” MacNaughton said. “When we launched on December 12, this group of 50 women shared it with their circles. Pals with big presences online shared it. It spread like wildfire. We wanted to create something beautiful to look at. We didn’t expect the level of interest the site received.”
That level of interest was more like an exuberant flood.
Within 24 hours of the launch, a whopping 1,200 women had submitted their work, and the site swiftly crashed. Two days later, Vogue published a piece about it. After going through repairs, the site reopened for submissions January 9.
Since Women Who Draw is advertising free, and MacNaughton and Rothman’s efforts organizing and reviewing submissions is unpaid, there’s also a support page for raising donations, and to hopefully hire someone to help run the site, said MacNaughton. A newer spiffy site feature also allows for art directors and editors to choose their favorite artists for a convenient favorites page.
Notable ArtCenter alumnae on the site include Esther Pearl Watson (BFA 95 Illustration) and Martha Rich (BFA 00 Illustration). Rich’s female illustration is an existing portrait she made of a 19th century Philadelphia tavern owner wearing a corseted red dress and holding a huge beer mug in one hand, with a perky squirrel perched on her shoulder.
When it comes to MacNaughton’s own career, her path wasn’t a conventional one.
While majoring in Fine Art at ArtCenter, she also took advertising courses. Before dedicating herself to illustration full-time five years ago, she got her graduate degree in social work, and worked as a copywriter in advertising and a campaign director for nonprofits, among other jobs. She also created a national campaign for the first democratic elections in Rwanda.
“All of the work I do as an illustrator has a thread of communications and social work running through, even if I’m doing a book on tattoos and chefs,” she said. “I want to get out stories that people don’t usually hear to the foreground.”
The same goes for Women Who Draw highlighting both new and established talent.
“I hope all women drawers and illustrators will think of Women Who Draw as a way to get their work out there,” she said. “If you’re a working professional, reach out to us. If not, when you’re ready, please join us.”