A Conversation with Zina Saunders, Palinologist

CLAW is please to present this brief conversation with professional political illustrator Zina Saunders.  Zina Saunders has been a writer-illustrator for more than 15 years. In addition to contributions in a variety of periodicals (including The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The Progressive, The Nation, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Foreign Policy Magazine), her client list includes Chronicle Books, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Scholastic, and Oxford University Press.


CLAW:  Can you tell our readers a bit about your illustration process? Do you start with a sketch? Ink/Color or Scan directly into photoshop, use a wacom etc?

ZS: I do a sketch the old-fashioned way: pencil on paper. I print out photo reference, if I have it, in black and white; I’ve tried in the past printing out ref in color but the color of the photos is distracting, I find. Then, depending on the piece and how much time I have and how I’m feeling about it, I’ll lay down some washes and stuff in gouache and scan that in and finish painting it digitally, or simply scan in the sketch and paint it entirely digitally.

I’m a very early riser, and pretty much all the campaign pictures were done between 3 and 6 in the morning, before I settled down to my regularly scheduled assignments for the day.

CLAW:  Adding Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket is considered by many political cartoonists a boon or a gift from god. Your Palin illustrations are obviously divinely inspired… can you friggin believe that?


ZS: What I can’t believe is that McCain chose her as his running mate. The painting I did of them entitled “The Morning After” truly illustrates what I think they both felt on November 5th. I know I’ve felt that way myself on more than one occasion!

By the way, I collected all my campaign satires into a book called “The Party’s Over”, available on Blurb and all the paintings can be seen in the Politics section of my website, in case your readers would like to see what we’re talking about.

CLAW: How much of a role does anger play in your political illustrations?


ZS: Plenty! I think anger is a great spark. When people tick me off it’s easy to skewer them, and to come up with ideas on how to do it.

CLAW:  Above all other political cartoonists you have managed to capture Mrs. Palin’s berserker snarl with frightening accuracy. Have you ever been to Alaska? (full disclosure: I’m from Juneau, Alaska).

ZS: No, I’ve never been up there, though if the place it littered with Palinesque individuals…well, I ain’t making plane reservations anytime soon.


About the insanely meat-eating expressions I did for my Palin satires: I used myself as a model for all her expressions. I’ve always used myself as the model for facial expressions. I have a hand mirror that I’ve grimaced and growled and snarled into for years.

CLAW: Many of our members/readers are intense fans of science fiction. Are there any behind the scenes stories you can share with us about your [Norman Saunders] dad’s Mars Attacks cards?  Does a science fiction background help you articulate (in illustration form) the horrors in real-life politics?

ZS: Hmmmm…well, I can tell you that my dad didn’t take Mars Attax seriously at all (it was just a job of “bug-eyed monsters” for him), and he was shocked when he discovered,at the one and only comic convention he ever attended, that he was a revered iller.

I have a little anecdote that I’ve often told about me and my dad’s paintings when I was a little kid. And it’s a true one. Here it is:

I used to “correct” my dad’s paintings, when he was away from his drawing board. Usually that would involve painting extra glamorous eyelashes on his damsels in distress. Years later, in my 20’s, I asked Dad if he knew that I used to do that and he said, “Of course I knew! I’d just go back in and paint them out.” It blows my mind, how patient he was about that. I’d kill a kid for doing that to my stuff!

CLAW:  Any money making/saving advice you’d like to share with your fellow artisans  (example: I recently purchased a pencil extender handle which lets me continue to use the pencil all the way to the nub)?


ZS: Hey! That’s funny you mention that pencil extender thing! I teach a senior thesis illustration class at The University of The Arts, and one of my students hipped me to that extender thing just last week. I’d honestly never seen one of those before!

Hmmm…trying to think of other tips… well, not buying stuff is a good way to save.

CLAW: Thanks for your time Zina!

Thanks for asking me to blather on!

CLAW: for more information on Zina Saunders visit ZinaSaunders.com

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