How to Jailbreak a Pen: The Daily Rituals of New Yorker Cartoonist Roz Chast

A pen lying on a piece of paper surrounded by a playful, wavy border drawn in blue and red zigzag patterns.
The artist shares her list of essential art supplies, feelings on nature walks, and daily goals.By: Jessica Ferri 

Since 1978, Roz Chast has published over 800 cartoons in The New Yorker, which seem to vibrate with the anxiety and neuroses of modern day life. The author of more than a dozen illustrated books, Chast revisited her Brooklyn upbringing and the demise of her elderly parents with her 2014 graphic memoir, Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? We spoke to Chast about her daily rituals and her obsession with hard-to-find Rotring Rapidoliner pens, which she goes to great lengths to jailbreak and hoard in her home studio.

Do you work at home, or go to an office?


Do you treat your home office like an office?

I've never worked in an office, so I don't know.

Do you get dressed before you start work?

Yes, if you count old jeans and t-shirts as "dressed."

Are you deeply attached to one sort of writing utensils or paper?

Yes. Big time. I love, love, love my Rotring Rapidoliners, .35 nib. They are no longer made, so I have figured out how to jailbreak the disposable refill. I use a jeweler's pliers to pull/twist the nib away from the barrel. Then I refill the barrel. This way I can get two or three uses out of a pen instead of one. At this point, I get them mainly on eBay. I hoard them.

For decades, I've used black FW ink for line art. It's waterproof and doesn't clog the pens. 

For paper, I use Strathmore 400 Bristol Vellum. It takes the wash perfectly. I hate spongy paper, which sops up the wash too quickly, and if the paper is too hard, the wash just lies moronically on the surface, as if waiting for someone to tell it what to do. 

For watercolors, I use only Winsor & Newton, and a #7 Winsor & Newton sable brush in sizes from 0 to 6. Sometimes Isabey or Da Vinci brushes. Once I bought a few Holbein watercolors, and they didn't blend well with the W & N. I had to throw them out.

Do you take breaks?

I do take walks. I walk "into town" (we live in Suburbia, sadly) and walk along the main street. At least that way I can look into shop windows. I don't care for nature walks. So boring. "Oh, look. A tree. Hold your horses! Another tree!! WHOA! Is that a pebble?!?!?!?"

Do you avoid using your phone while you’re working? 

I usually bring my phone up with me to the studio, mainly for reference when I'm drawing something I'm unsure of. Like, what does a hamster wheel look like? Of course, that means I'm checking my e-mail, Instagram, etc. It's not ideal.

Do you have a goal in mind for the amount of work you hope to get done each day?

I do have goals, mainly about meeting deadlines. Also, about reaching enlightenment, or at least not falling off my studio chair.

Why Don't You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? is the perfect Mother's Day gift: A collection of witty one-line advice New Yorker writer Patricia Marx heard from her mother, accompanied by full-color illustrations by New Yorker staff cartoonist Roz Chast. Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? by Roz Chast & Patricia Marx will be released on April 2, 2019.

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