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An Interview with Elizabeth Haidle

Haley Laningham

What Is It?, 2021


See more of Elizabeth Haidle’s artwork in Vol. 40.1 .


Elizabeth Haidle lives in Portland, Oregon, and specializes in nonfiction comics. She is the art and editorial director at Illustoria magazine. Her illustrations have appeared in graphic novels, picture books, and magazines such as The Nib and The New Yorker. Of her own work, Haidle says:

"As a devotee of surrealism and practitioner of sketchbook-therapy, I like to peel back the layers of the mundane to hunt for glints of the marvelous. Art is a way of paying attention, of wondering, pondering, and sometimes solving my own problems. Often, these things happen in collaboration with other artists, which is a true joy in this life.

I’m drawn to nonfiction comics as a way to make information memorable and compelling, and as a way to highlight overlooked figures, movements, or ideas from history.

I chose the path of illustration because I wish to convey, delight, and intrigue."

In our interview, Elizabeth comments on her influences, creative career, and how her practical working life comes to support the creation of her visually diverse body of work.

-Haley Laningham


Haley Laningham: One thing I observed is that the figures in your pieces are diversely in and out of sensible focus. Some are clearly human, even to an endearingly mundane degree (like in People Watching); some, one has to wonder if they are meant to be semi-human beings (like in The Empress and Strength); and some are more like spare human forms living alongside a certain shape or pattern (as in Inward and Connect). And then we have detached eyes (What Is It?), a house with arms (Home Again)… Many artists who I’ve seen produce really visually diverse work, but you seem to do so while never staying in one aesthetic universe on top of that. How did you arrive to this breadth of artistic register? Also, do you just experiment or are your changes in register responding to something internal to you?

Elizabeth Haidle: I am comfortable with paradoxes—I enjoy mixing nonfiction with surrealism, whimsy with seriousness, and a dose of the mystical alongside the practical. This probably fuels the resulting diversity in my body of imagery.

Although, I try to not look back too much or explain things to myself; better to keep my nose down and keep the momentum going. Looking back, I can easily feel critical or start to question this irregular-looking path I’ve constructed. Maybe that makes me a good surrealist? I do connect with their desire to let the subconscious have a go at the steering wheel. Which I take to mean: spend a lot of effort trying to stop yourself from overthinking.

Most of my ideas come from my daily personal practice. I write and draw every day. The length of time doesn’t matter—sometimes I make an image by putting in 5 minutes a day, over a week or two. Sometimes I might doodle a quick thing in pencil and just describe what I imagine I’ll create with more time, later. Other mornings, I’m on a roll and I’ll indulge in several hours—then push "work" later into