Find WorkFind Talent

Morning & Bedtime Routines of 5 Kickass Illustrators

Written By Val Brains | Jul 10, 2017

I love knowing what other creative people do over and over to make their lives run and to keep their work happening. (Especially those who work from home, where sticking to a routine is tough). Maybe it’s because I’m a Taurus and I like consistency. Maybe because I’m Eastern European and there’s nothing I enjoy more than discipline in action. Maybe because I have voyeuristic tendencies that I like to indulge in very socially-acceptable ways. Perhaps an exciting cocktail of all three!

Frankly I don’t give a shit what Anna Wintour does in the morning because I suspect her daily experience is a bit removed from mine.

You may remember this popular article about famous peoples’ morning routines. But frankly I don’t give a shit what Anna Wintour does in the morning because I suspect her daily experience is a bit removed from mine.

Instead, I asked a few of my instagram favorites (only one of whom I’ve actually met IRL—if that’s not a testament to the power of instagram for creatives then I don’t know what is!) the following two questions:

1. What is your morning routine?
2. What is your bedtime routine?

I wanted to know if there are certain things that they do or definitely don’t do, repeatedly, and what considerations they are taking into account when they set up and wind down their day.

If you’re curious, my morning routine is designed around the concept of putting some space between waking up and immediately reaching for my phone, because I am not an animal and I have self control. In greater detail:

I’m not allowed to touch my phone or computer except to turn off my (phone) alarm until after I do these 4 things:
1. Spit out the sleep gunk in my mouth and then brush my teeth.
2. Drink as much water as I can get down, at minimum 3/4 of a normal glass.
3. Stretch so that my head goes upside down for at least a few seconds and I can stretch my hips/legs out.
4. Make my bed (mostly so I can throw stuff all over it throughout the day).
5. Put my daily moisturizer on my face. The earlier I do this, the less likely I am to forget before walking out the door.

In contrast, my night routine sucks—there is no regularity except that I end up in bed at the end and I take a peek at my calendar and to-do for the following day so I don’t get blindsided. I’m actually planning to improve it by stealing these lovely people’s insightful nuggets for myself. So without further ado…

THE EARLY BIRD
Libby VanderPloeg @libbyvanderploeg

Morning Routine
I get up around 6:30 (no alarm—always been an early riser), eat breakfast (a grapefruit, black pour-over coffee, and a tablespoon of peanut butter on a rice cake) on the couch and watch some TV news while browsing on my phone. After an hour or so, I get to work on the day’s tasks, and at 10 am I listen to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.

I do not bring my phone into the bedroom.

Bedtime Routine
I go to bed usually by 10:30 or 11 most nights. I brush my teeth and drink some water.  I do not bring my phone into the bedroom. When I’m laying in bed, I usually think about what I will work on the next morning, but not in a stressful way. Then before I know it I’m asleeeep.

Libby VanderPloeg / illustrator, artist, slow runner / @libbyvanderploeg

THE GOOD HUSBAND
David Ostow @oscomics


I get up and pour a cup of coffee for my wife and bring it to her in bed which is sort of her alarm clock.

Morning Routine
I set my coffee maker’s timer to 6 AM and if I’m lucky I can schlep myself out of bed when I hear the percolator start up. I get up, wash my hands and face*, pour myself a cup of coffee and head into the studio to draw for an hour. I typically put on WNYC (local NPR) but if the news is making me particularly anxious I may switch to music.

At 7 AM I get up and pour a cup of coffee** for my wife and bring it to her in bed which is sort of her alarm clock. Then I’ll go back into the studio and draw for another half hour if it’s a day I need to go to the office. If it’s a studio day, I’ll continue drawing for as long as I can before my unkempt state fills me with enough shame to pull myself away from whatever I’m doing and towards the shower (at the time of this writing—10:09 AM EST—that moment has not yet arrived).

Bedtime Routine
In the evening, I’m typically too tired to be productive so I’ll either make myself dinner or order in (depending on just how exhausted I am). Sometime between 8:30 to 9:30 PM, my wife and I will wind down with whatever show we’re binging on at the moment and try to do lights out before 11 PM so we can both wake up as refreshed as possible. Not super exciting but it seems to work for a young woman with an old soul and her old crank of a husband.

*Wash my hands and face with whatever hand soap happens to be by the sink. Originally this was Mrs. Meyers’ aromatherapy (favorite brand of hipsters) but if I run out of hand soap and remember to pick it up at all I count that a victory so there’s no brand in particular I live and die by. I couldn’t tell you what’s in the bathroom right now.  Something I picked up at CVS I think. Important thing is I just feel like I need a clean face and clean hands before I pick up a pencil in the morning.

**The way my coffee maker is set up is you can choose to set a delay brew time.  Then when you set it to brew you double tap the button instead of single tap and that activates the delay. I absolutely do not have to remind myself to do this.  Sometimes, if I’m cooking dinner I will set up the coffee while things are cooking, or once I’m done with dinner it’s the first thing I do after I deal with the dishes. Partly it’s an OCD thing but also there is no fate worse for me than waking up in the morning and knowing I have to make the coffee and there is no sweeter pleasure than waking up to the sound of it making itself. Sometimes my wife makes the coffee and lately she’s taken to adding cinnamon. I don’t mind that so I’ve been doing the same.

David Ostow is a cartoonist and illustrator of the award-winning So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother). His work has appeared in the New York Times, and online at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The New Yorker and many other blogs of note.
@oscomics & davidostow.com

THE WEB COMBER
Jeremy Nguyen @jeremywins

If at least one of them is an okay joke, I reward myself with tea and food.

Morning Routine
I lay in bed for about an hour reading the news, twitter, instagram, just trying to make sense of the news of the day. If I don’t have an email to answer immediately, I queue up a bunch of youtube clips (Added to my Watch Later list) and podcasts to watch and listen to throughout my work day. It ranges from Colbert monologue clips, to interviews on The Breakfast Club, to movie trailers, to comedy podcasts, etc.

Then I roll out of bed and try to come up with at least five gags for potential cartoons (sometimes pulling from all the news of the day). If at least one of them is an okay joke, I reward myself with tea and food.

Bedtime Routine
My night time routine is a little better. I shut off all my technology: iPhone, iPad, laptop, and spend a half hour free writing. There’s a notebook on my desk dedicated to zero drawings. It’s just concepts and free associating phrases and dialogue. That’s usually enough to make me sleepy and crawl into bed. I switch my phone into night shift and lowest brightness, just in case I can’t sleep and check my phone again, which is usually always. At that point, there’s no way that this is productive for my work or my dreams and I’m just lucidly watching InstaStories until my phone falls out of my hand and I fall asleep.

Jeremy is a cartoonist in Bushwick, Brooklyn. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Brooklyn Magazine, Thrillist, and Bushwick Daily. Follow him on instagram at @jeremywins

THE LISTMAKER
Ana Kova @anakova_

Though I’m no stranger to watching garbage TV to wind down before bed, recently I’ve managed to kick this habit.

The truth is, I don’t have a morning or bedtime routine to speak of. I do have many fantasies of perfect routines, which I’ll no doubt begin practicing very soon. So far in life I’ve mostly been an irredeemable night owl, which means “morning” is a broad term and my days are very loosely defined. Regardless of how early I get up, I will not fall asleep before 4-5am with rare exception. My wake-up time varies drastically, between 10am and 2pm. At this point in time I am fully leaning into this, but talk to me in a few months and things could be different.

Morning Routine
Things I do when I get up:
1. Check email, facebook, instagram—in bed. I know it’s bad, but those notifications wake you right up.
2. Start the kettle, brush my teeth, do face stuff.
3. Sometimes I do a little cleaning or washing dishes as a way of meditating.
4. Have a coffee and bread with butter and jam (St. Dalfour black currant jam ftw) as I go over my to-do list from the night before.
5. Make any amendments to the to-do list based on any realizations I suddenly have about the realities of the day.
6. Do 1 hour of unstructured sketching or playing around in photoshop/illustrator.

I find that doing a little improvised illustrating to start the work day, even if I end up making silly unusable things, helps me feel more excited about the rest of the stuff I have to do that day.

Morning Routine Wishlist
1. Wake up at 7 am
2. Go for a walk
3. Give myself a foot rub to thank my feet for existing
4. Meditate for 30 minutes
5. Exercise for 30 minutes
6. Drink a mega anti-oxidant superfood smoothie
7. Experience one-ness with the universe  

Bedtime Routine
There are two main things I do before I go to sleep:
1. To-do list for next day.
I assign a broad list of goals for each week roughly 8 weeks in advance. As each week rolls around I break the broad list into more granular tasks. Before I go to bed I write down the to-do list for the following day in a paper notebook, which I leave open on my desk so it’s the first thing I’m confronted with when I sit down to work the next day.

2. Read for 1-4 hours
Though I’m no stranger to watching garbage TV to wind down before bed, recently I’ve managed to kick this habit and replace with reading before bed instead. I’d like to continue re-enforcing this habit. Of course, what happens is that I just end up reading for 4 hours instead of watching garbage TV for 4 hours.

Evening Routine Wishlist
1. Stop working at 5 pm
2. Check-in with all living relatives
3. Mediate for 30 minutes
4. Exercise for 30 minutes
5. Catch up with a friend at a bar, have just 1 alcoholic beverage
6. Write in a journal
7. Be filled with gratitude for another beautiful day

Ana is a science illustrator and chaos wrangler based in Berlin. Follow her at anakova.com and @anakova_

THE DISSENTER
Ellis Rosen @Ellisjrosen

It would probably be better if I did have a routine, but alas I’m just too scattered.

The problem for me is that I don’t really have any consistent routine…
The only thing  I absolutely do is make coffee the night before so all I have to do is press the button in the morning. Everything else changes all the time or comes in waves. I might make my bed up in the morning consistently for a month and then just stop for no reason for the next month or two.

It would probably be better if I did have a routine, I have heard that that helps, but alas I’m just too scattered. The only helpful thing that might fit into this is that anytime I do have some sort of project or something I need to do, I break it down into smaller steps so it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Ellis Rosen is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The Millions. He is the illustrator of a children’s chapter book, Woundabout, from Little, Brown and a contributor to the Eisner-nominated graphic anthology Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land. ellisrosen.com and @Ellisjrosen

And Now, Some Tips & Tricks I Will Be Stealing for Myself

best tangential pro tip: Ana
(This was not part of the original line of questioning but I would be remiss to leave it out!)
A tip for forcing yourself to drink more water: pimp it out with lots of lime juice and ice cubes and a straw to sip from. Another thing you can do is pre-fill all of the glasses you need to drink for the day and keep them on your desk, so you can watch them become depleted. This method requires lots of glassware though. What I’ve been doing instead is keeping old pickle jars (which are 21 ounces each) and converting them into my drinking jugs. I call it the jar method (™).

best upgrade: David
Lights out at 11pm. Hands down.

self-preservation change I most want to adopt: Jeremy
Shut off all my technology and spend a half hour free writing. (This would be at 10:30pm per David’s 11pm lights out.)

best aspiration: Libby
6:30am wakeup without an alarm. That would be a Christmas miracle but I could get so much done so early!

best piece of permission: Ellis
Not having a routine. (Thanks, Ellis!)

As always, if you have some routine-related jewels to share with us, don’t be shy and comment below. And follow all these folks on instagram—you won’t be sorry.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Share This:Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedIn

2 Comments

  1. Sylvia Flores

    I love. The sh*t. Out of this. As a writer, however – I don’t understand morning people. From THS (Tiny Human Status), I have always been a night creature. My mother was legit pissed that I didn’t grow out of it. I feel like wine is missing from the conversation, otherwise, I learned something today, and gleaned some ideas. Just not tied to waking with early birds and worms and sh*t.

    • Ha! Thanks for the feedback, Sylvia! Definitely feel like night owls are much more common among the creative class than early birds. Wine was shockingly missing, too…hmmm, maybe that’s why we haven’t won a Pulitzer yet…

Add New Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *