Everyone has a story to tell

This graphic journalist doesn’t deal with war torn countries. Wendy MacNaughton finds inspiration closer to home, in her own city - San Francisco, America. She believes everyone has a story to tell and they’re eager to share it with her. Wendy creates illustrated documentaries. We talked to her about how she spends time with people to draw and interview them, then puts their words and pictures together to tell a story.

Wendy MacNaughton

Ms Wendy MacNaughton

Q. What is special about telling a story with illustrations?

A. Drawing adds a whole new layer of storytelling. Add words with pictures, and you don’t just get words and pictures, you get a third thing - this cool world or moment or idea that goes directly into the eyes and brain of the reader and connects with their hard and sparks their imagination.

Q. Do you take pictures or do you draw from life?

A. Both! I prefer to draw from life because when I do, I’m not just drawing what I see in front of me, but how it feels. I’m trying to capture the feeling of a moment. Also, it makes me work fast and be loose - no way to be a perfectionist.

Finally, it says to the viewer, I was here. I saw this. From a reporting perspective, it creates a very different type of story than if I draw away from the subject, from the comfort of my own studio.


Wendy draws New Yorkers as she sees them and lets them speak for themselves.

Q. In your book Meanwhile in San Francisco you document the city. How did you go about doing that and what is most special about the city ?

A. My family has been in San Francisco for five generations but there was still so much about it I didn’t (and still don’t) know.

I wanted to learn about the San Francisco you don’t read about in guide books. So I started hanging out with my sketchbook and talking to people.

I followed my curiosity. There is always so much more to learn about a place. So many different stories, histories, and perspectives to see and hear.

Q. Do you research your subject before you start?

A. A little, but not too much. I assume the reader has as little knowledge as I do, and since I work with my subjects' own words, I like them to share context and background with me so I can share that with the reader.

Often I have to research AFTER to make sure what I include in a story is accurate. That’s called fact checking.

Q. Do you go about getting to know people whose stories you tell by interviewing them or by hanging out?

A. Both! A good interview should feel like a hang out. But sometimes I have to be more formal. It depends on the situation.


Wendy loves drawing cats. Detail from Wendy's book 'Lost Cat, A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS'.

Q. What was the favourite subject or theme you investigated ?

A. So many. I can’t choose. But I do love hanging out with older folks. Every single senior everywhere in the world has so much to share - so many great stories. I always learn something.

Q. Who inspired you to do graphic journalism?

A. I studied social work and art. When I started drawing stories, I didn’t want to put words in people’s mouth - I wanted to give them a voice. By putting the ethics of social work together with the practice of drawing and storytelling, I ended up with Graphic Journalism. But I didn’t know I wanted to do that. I just wanted to tell meaningful, respectful human stories.


Detail of one of Wendy's portraits of the people she meets

Q. Do you also do fiction

A. Not really - most of what I do is drawn from life in one way or another. Even all the charts and diagrams and stuff that I do. But I think it’s really important for all of us - kids especially - to draw from imagination. It teaches us to dream up a new world.

If we are going to make this world a better place, the first step it to imagine what that could look like. When I teach kids in my DrawTogether class, we talk about that - first we draw the world we want to see, then we make it come to life.

One exception! The Gutsy Girl is a book I did with my wife, the author Caroline Paul, and it was about her adventures in the outdoors. The book inspires kids, especially girls, to be brave and take risks. Much of that was drawn from my imagination, with some reference material for support. That was a special project in every way.


Things to do

Wendy records details by sketching them. In this picture, she’s sketched what’s on the table in front of her.

Sketch what’s on your table and colour it in. Add little notes with a little arrow to give more information on the things in your drawing.

Gutsy Girl

Books to read

Read Caroline Paul's 'Gutsy Girl', full of personal anecdotes from the author, all beautifully illustrated by her wife Wendy MacNaughton. It encourages girls to be adventurous and gutsy.

This interview first appeared on Plucky, the paper for inquisitive kids


Gattaldo is an award-winning Creative Director and illustrator. He studied art in Florence and now lives and works with his partner in London.

Fearless, The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia is Gattaldo's first children's picture book. He was inspired to create a book about the journalist when he saw how the story of her fearless journalism stirred the imagination of his young niece and nephew. Gattaldo wrote and illustrated ‘Fearless' for other children the world over to share.

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