The New Census: A Conversation With Lauren Haldeman

This week and next, we’ll feature The New Census: an Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, a lovely new book edited by Lauren Shapiro & Kevin A. Gonzalez, and published by Rescue Press. You can purchase the anthology here. Today’s conversation is with two-time THERMOS contributor Lauren Haldeman, who did artwork for the anthology.


Phrases about The New Census from an Online Chat (Continued):
…in their introduction, the editors hope that The New Census will be “tucked under the arm while riding the train or spotted askance on the floor of a dorm room…bent in the library, lent to a new friend, and scarred by the marks of a reader’s pen”…saying, it’s more fun than your boring high school English teacher…does a center of argument nonetheless emerge…(to be continued)…



1. Your illustrated author photos in The New Census are SPECTACULAR. Could you tell us about your process for making them?


Alright, but get ready to be really BORED. It ended up being a much lengthier process than I thought it would be. I started by creating a grid-system within a 5-inch by 7-inch framework in order to keep everything uniform. And then I cropped all of the bio photographs to that size and merged them into the framework. Using those as references, I would draw each of the photographs by hand, in pencil. (I even bought a special new sketch pad for the project). So I ended up with these pages and pages of portraits. This took the longest time. Then, I scanned them all into a computer. Imported to Photoshop and employed some manipulation there, Curves and Levels mostly. Then I brought the images into Illustrator and had a very exact Live Trace set up for the drawings to turn them into vector. After this was done, I sent them over to Sevy and he basically made them all 3000% better.



2. Whose picture was hardest to draw?


By far, the hardest pictures to draw were the pictures of the people I actually know, in real life. Knowing someone really changes the way you represent them in your mind and skews the way you THINK they should look. You can’t actually see how they REALLY look anymore. Does that make sense? So that makes the details so much more intricate and frustrating in a two-dimensional representation. I would spend hours on a 2 centimeter long line, just to define the edge of a smile to get it to be how I thought it should be. Because it had to be right. Because, second point: drawing people who you know comes with the enormous fear that they will not like the drawing. That they will be mad. That they will stop being friends with you because of the drawing! It is a ridiculous fear; I mean, can you imagine saying to someone “Yeah, we used to be friends. But then one day she drew a picture of me, and it was not up to my standards. Now we are not friends”? But it is a real fear.


Other than that, teeth. Teeth are the hardest things to draw ever.



3. Whose was most fun?


My favorite portrait was Yona Harvey. I just loved drawing her face, because of the line of her profile. No offense to everyone else, but her drawing just ended up being my favorite. There. I said it.



4. Whose facial hair is your favorite?


Any facial hair. All the facial hair. Bring me some facial hair, friends and I will draw it.



5. Did you read or avoid reading the contributors’ poems while working on the drawings? In general, are there poets/poems you like to read when you are working on visual art?


I didn’t read any specific poetry while I was drawing. I set up a space in my basement with a table and a lamp. I would put on Netflix basically to have it playing in the background. The portraits were almost exclusively drawn to Doctor Who episodes. The 10th doctor only. I could probably tell you which episode for which portrait. It was a long winter.


Later, I read everyone’s poems, after the drawings were done. It was really amazing how much CLOSER I felt to each poet. It was like “Oh I know you! You had those great earlobes!” (I do love drawing earlobes). It made the reading much more personal. So now I declare that every reader should have to draw the writer before opening the book. Law.



6. I’m trying to pass a law saying that all author photos have to be illustrations. How do you think that would change how people read and write poetry?


Dangerous stuff there, Zach. Within one generation, all the children of the world would sleep under sheets printed with poets’ faces. They would wear poet-face-themed underwear. I can’t tell if this is a good or bad thing, really, but that’s what would happen.


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