What started as stress relief activity during law school turned into passion that would eventually lead to being published in the New Yorker. Zoe Si (JD, 2013) is a lawyer and cartoonist whose cartoons have gained quite the following of fans who can relate to her witty and thoughtful reflections on life, and recently, on isolation. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Zoe about her career and life as an artist.
Have you always been a cartoonist? How did you get started in the field?
I have been drawing cartoons for fun since before I could read or write, but I "officially" got started in the field in my first month of law school in 2010: I started a blog and committed to posting one drawing per day for 365 days. This was purely an exercise in personal stress management, intended to enforce creativity in what I knew was going to be a very academically intense year. The blog, and its Instagram spinoff, gradually gained an online following. I started selling art and taking on freelance projects and was eventually offered my first book illustration deal in 2016.
What inspires your work? What is your philosophy regarding your cartoons?
Most of my cartoons are drawn from my life experiences as a lawyer and young adult. In law school, I quickly discovered the power of cartoons to turn very hard situations into funny, digestible ones, and my philosophy is now that you can deal with almost anything by laughing at it. I find that humour is how I can best connect with people, share experiences, and communicate matters that are important to me.
How has the current situation influenced your art and your process?
I have been coping with the pandemic by drawing a lot of pandemic-related cartoons. I have had two pandemic-themed cartoon features in the New Yorker, which is bittersweet, but a dream come true and a lot of fun during an otherwise challenging time.
How do you balance your work as a cartoonist and your legal practice?
Conveniently, I find cartooning to be an ideal counterbalance to a litigation practice. I cartoon on most days to decompress after work, and most of the time, it does not feel like work.
When I have illustration deadlines, I do sometimes have to work double workdays and on weekends to get things done. This is admittedly not the most sustainable long-term practice, but I am fortunate to work at a law firm where I can structure my own hours to accomplish these side projects, and it is always worth it in the end.
Do you find anything about legal practice applicable to your work as a cartoonist, and vice versa?
I find that my cartooning and my legal practice have each benefitted from the other.
Comics are a perpetual reminder that I can't take myself or my circumstances too seriously. This has gotten me through many, many difficult days in court.
Making comics is also as much about the writing as it is about the drawings. I have no doubt that the reading, writing, and advocacy required by litigation has had the unintended consequence of improving my comics.
Besides art, what have you been doing to maintain well-being at a difficult time?
I have been regularly taking online fitness and yoga classes, which have been essential to my mental well-being. Learning to cook simple, healthy meals has also been a therapeutic and delicious form of self-care.
What is your advice to current law students who want to explore their creative side?
A creative outlet is a wonderful thing to have to keep you grounded during law school. I found it was too easy to become overwhelmed and singularly focused on academics if I did not consciously take the time for art.
I recommend setting a schedule and committing to it, and to start small—there is no need to set lofty goals at the outset. Whether it's art, cooking, dance, music etc., the benefits will come from taking the time out of your day and practising it on a regular basis. From experience, this practise will evolve and give back to your life in ways that you might not have imagined possible, both during law school and long after it is done.