The Big Idea: Molly Crabapple

I’ve been an admirer of the art of Molly Crabapple from the moment I saw it — enough so that I commissioned a portrait of my daughter from her, and was honored to have her do a cover for one of my books. But there’s more to Molly Crabapple than her immense talent with pen and brush. She is equally adept with words, and in the last few years has become a unique, globe-traveling journalist, visiting political hotspots around the world and reporting with both words and art. Drawing Blood is a memoir that covers it all — and today, Crabapple explains why “all” is the important thing for her.


I’ve done a lot of jobs in my life.

I’ve painted pigs on the walls of the swankest nightclub in London, and hopelessly passed out chocolates to dieting fashion people, while wearing a high feather headdress on my head. I’ve painted myself white and stood very still at parties, posing as a human statue to earn tips. I’ve drawn kids. I’ve drawn cockaroaches. I once got paid by a conceptual artist to sneak up behind museum goers and whisper “This is the life” into their ears. I’ve been a model, a gogo dancer, an artist, a writer, a journalist, the founder of an international chain of art classes, the girl who paints people’s portraits on the street.

Perhaps the only occupation I haven’t tried is sleep.

I started this writing gig a little over three years ago.

It was a pursuit that took me all over the world, from refugee camps to extremely swank press parties for Donald Trump, where I saw the intricate architecture of his hair up close. Yes, loves, it baffles me as well. Maybe its where Cthulhu hides. While starting with personal essays, I turned later to journalism on prisons, refugees and conflict. Over the last two years, I wrote a book. It was very hard, in ways I never could have suspected.

The month before publication is the time in an author’s life when we must walk the road of The Shilldebeast. We must tell people about our book. About ourselves. We must distill ourselves into a single shining soundbyte, sleek enough for even a pundit to grasp. We must not just be branded, like cattle. We must be The Brand itself.

This simplicity was never my forte. My many jobs point to a taste for wild maximalism… as does the paint stained sequined chaos of my apartment, my wardrobe, my parties, my life.

While doing this little dance, I had a journalist come to my apartment — which is also my studio.

“What do you do???”, the journalist asked.

Now, the apartment is filled with half finished paintings, half drunk whisky bottles, half completed sketchbooks. All sorts of evidence of doing.

I looked at the journalist, confused.

“I mean, you write, you draw, what do you… do?” The journalist continued.

Then I got it. They wanted me to sum myself up with one word. I could not.

Monastic focus is a beautiful thing. There’s something wonderful in the simplicity, in the Japanese ceramic teacup, in the apt, exquisite line. But that perfection was not mine, and it never would be. I have always loved complexity and chaos.

I told the journalist that I was both an artist and writer. But, if I was speaking more deeply, I’d say the two were not really separable.

I’ve drawn since I was old enough to make a mess. I’ve been writing for one month and three years. Art taught me to write. It made me hunger to write because art was mute and vague and whispered where writing was explicit and talked. Art taught me a craftsman’s discipline, a lack of preciousness, a work ethic that brutalized me.

I do too much, maybe? Maybe that was the confusing part?

But the world is too much and this is my one life and yours too. I want to consume the world with greedy gulps, like that first glass of whiskey, when you want to start the night.

A month ago, I was at the Plaza Hotel. I’d been up all night, drinking all that whiskey, and now it was the dregs. It was a party just for women. I sat slumped next to some flax-haired writer who was writing a book that would be justly very big. We spoke about our work.

A half hour later, as I staggered out into the bleary New York street, I thought about how little boundaries mattered – especially in the face of love.

I wasn’t thinking about what we were — in terms of genre or discipline or job. I just knew I loved women. Specifically, women who are bad by virtue of their muchness. These too smart too sharp too strong too beautiful women who have spent the night toasting their own victories, then passed out in the dawn’s weak light, safe amongst each other. I loved them with a ferocious ache, and I wished them all the glory of this city.

If I have one unifying big idea, it might be to embrace that muchness. The world the critics the bosses the everything — they want to shape us into branded properties – serious or frivolous, intellectual or sexy, this or that. What they can never accept is that we are artists – those amoral aesthetic gluttons, who want only to learn and create on this vast, beautiful terrible earth.

My theory? Fuck this. Fuck limits. Fuck deciding this or that. Fuck anything that would confine you.

This is your one life. Life is too precious to cut off pieces of yourself.


Drawing Blood: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

7 Comments on “The Big Idea: Molly Crabapple”

  1. I now must read this. I hadn’t heard of Molly Crabapple and now I wonder why. She sounds fabulous and I love that she doesn’t need to be defined by one word. What real person would?

    I’m also awed by the fact that she can drink whiskey and still walk. I can’t!

  2. Wow, thank you for this. I needed it. Molly’s managed to put into words how I feel. I could try to reply (and did) but it would end up long and rant-y. Molly’s piece here rocks. I didn’t know about her before. Glad I do now. Thank you!

  3. I can’t recall where I first encountered the art of Molly Crabapple, but its been a part of the landscape for me ever since. Her wit is fascinating, but it’s the chaotic way she approaches art, in whatever form, that keeps me interested. She seems to pursue genuine inspiration and let the chips fall where they may, rather than cater to the market, and she’s steadily become more and more successful either because or in spite of that (I don’t know enough to know which). There are very few people my age who’s memoirs I’d want to read. She is one.

  4. [Deleted because I found the opening a bit immoderate and generally the discussion not on point to the Big Idea piece. Don, if you can make your point a bit more civilly and on point, by all means try again – JS]

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