Women Who Draw

It would be nice to think that in 2017 a site called Women Who Draw wouldn’t be necessary, that equality between genders would be so ingrained by now that the idea of taking a stand to protect it would seem archaic. But it’s not.

“There was one prominent magazine that uses illustration on its cover and throughout its interior,” says professional illustrator, SVA lecturer, and Women Who Draw co-founder Julia Rothman. “One day I was in the bathroom and looked at my stack of magazines and couldn’t find one issue with a cover by a woman—not a single one. I researched a year’s worth of 2015 issues, and out of 55, only four covers were illustrated by women. I called up Wendy [MacNaughton, Women Who Draw co-founder] and we decided something had to be done.”

Violeta Noy

At first the pair had plans to call out the reputable, illustration-heavy publication, but decided that criticism without action would be futile, so Women Who Draw was born. The website is a beautifully designed directory of female illustrators (it’s trans-inclusive, so it features transgender and non-binary folks, too) organized by location, religion, ethnicity, and orientation. All sound a bit too personal to be sharing on a public platform? Not a problem, these classifications are optional.

What’s essential is that you’re a practicing illustrator with a functioning website, and that you’ve drawn a picture of a woman to serve as your profile picture. Currently Rothman is steering clear of a curatorial filter, so nobody’s work will be rejected on the grounds of personal taste.

“We decided to create something that would help art directors, designers, and editors gain greater access to women, women of color, and other groups of minority women so they could never say ‘I’d hire them if only I could find them.’”

“We need women’s voices in media and public as loudly as possible, as often as possible.”

Of course the illustration profession is indicative of wider cultural problem—that the gender pay gap still yawns at an average of 20% in the U.S.—but illustration is a field that Rothman and MacNaughton know intimately and are well positioned to address. “Most of us hire from our own little bubbles of who we know,” says Rothman, “and that is often pretty monocultural. When I see juries for competitions, speakers at conferences, and cover jobs all going to men, it definitely begs some questions. I teach at SVA and I have two male and 18 female students. Talented women are graduating from top art schools and are ready to hire. So the numbers don’t add up.”

Louise Reimer

When it comes to Women Who Draw, though, the numbers are looking good, albeit to the detriment of a working website. “We didn’t anticipate the response,” says Rothman. “In the first 24 hours we received 1,200 submissions, and within three days we got six million clicks. The site crashed. We had to switch servers.” Which meant a couple of soft launches in mid-December and early January, but now things are in full flow.

These early teething problems weren’t totally fruitless, leading Rothman and MacNaughton to rethink the structure of the site. “It was important to us that the women illustrations randomize so there is no order to them, and it’s pretty hard to do with thousands of images with each refresh. Instead we’ve set it up to randomize once daily. So now each new day, there’s a different order to the women. With designer Jenny Volvovski’s help we’ve created a pretty robust platform and we’re solidly moving forward. Knock on wood.”

Love Is Wise

With 1,762 illustrators featured (another 997 are still waiting to be approved), and tens of thousands of hits each day, Women Who Draw is capitalizing on some serious momentum. Featured artists have already been commissioned by the New York Times, The Globe, and TED, and Rothman has personally won clients who found her through WWD—they hadn’t realized she was one of the founders. This past Thursday they launched their first event at the Society of Illustrators in New York; a Pecha Kucha-style series of talks inviting 10 women to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each on the theme of survival. They’ve also started running featured profiles online, inviting esteemed luminaries of the illustration world to select, and discuss some of the most reputable members—up first is the New York Times’ Alexandra Zsigmond selecting a series of conceptual masters.

All this activity has an increased sense of urgency at a time when women’s reproductive rights are being brought back into the political limelight, and Rothman doesn’t seem confident that the new administration will do much for her gender’s state in the world. “The fact that we have to call out women art shows as a ‘women’s art show,’ or that museums make a big fuss when they have an African American artist says a lot about where we are at around this… we shouldn’t have to be doing any of this at this point. But here we are. And now with Trump in office, it feels like maybe we’ve even moved backwards.”

So is the necessity of Women Who Draw a frustration for her?

“It’s frustrating, but I’m glad we’ve done it. And we’re having a lot of fun.”