how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Illustrator Lisa Hanawalt

Lisa Hanawalt.
Lisa Hanawalt. Photo: Lauren Tamaki

The strange, surreal world that illustrator Lisa Hanawalt creates in her work is actually a lot like ours, just way more colorful and filled with talking animals. She’s the creator and showrunner of Netflix’s new animated series Tuca & Bertie, which follows the adventures of two bird women best friends who live in the same apartment building. Hanawalt also works as the producer and production designer of Bojack Horseman — which is about a depressed, alcoholic horse — and co-hosts the podcast Baby Geniuses with comedian Emily Heller. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner, comedian Adam Conover. Here’s how she gets it all done.

On her morning routine: I stay in bed as long as I possibly can every day. I take my sweet time getting ready for work, I show up at work as late as I can possibly get away with.

I take a pill for my thyroid issues, I go downstairs, I make tea. Usually a black tea with some almond milk or oat milk. Or a green tea — I’ve been trying to switch to green tea lately. And then I make some gluten-free toast and I usually eat that with nut butter and a banana. Then I just stare at my phone for a while.

On getting dressed: I take my time picking an outfit. You know those people who are like I wear the same outfit every day, because picking an outfit takes up too much energy. I don’t feel that way at all. I love to choose different clothing based on how I feel. I love wearing different outfits, I think it energizes me. But I do feel that way about food. If I could eat the same food 99 percent of the time I would. I don’t like to worry about what I’m going to eat because every time I’m hungry, it’s like a unique problem that I’ve never experienced before and I don’t know what to do.

On exercise: I’ll go through phases when I’m into something like running or weight lifting and then I’ll just completely stop. The only thing I’ll do regularly is I exercise my horse and I ride her.

On her horse: I impulse bought her about five months ago. Her name is Juniper, she’s a Norwegian Fjord horse. I keep her at a barn in Burbank and I go there between three to five times a week. I took riding lessons when I was young and then I quit for like 17 years and then my boyfriend bought me some riding lessons as a present and I got back into it. It was the best lifestyle decision I ever made. Every time I’m stressed out and I go to the barn I come out of there feeling so relaxed and smiling. Even if I have a stomach ache or my back hurts, for the hours that I’m there, I just totally forget my aches and pains. There’s just something about it that’s very therapeutic.

On other forms of stress relief: I take a lot of hot baths. Just being surrounded by water calms my brain down. Crying is a great stress release. It’s too bad that crying frightens everyone if you do it publicly because it really just drains the cortisol right out of your blood. Sometimes at work if I was having a super, super busy day in the middle of production I would go into the bathroom and cry one quick tear. Literally just one tear. And then I’d just suck it up and go back out there, that’s all I had time for. But it really feels good. Also a ten-minute nap is really helpful. If all else fails, eat a banana. I’m like a baby.

On sleep: I get as much as I possibly can, usually between seven to eight hours but if I can get nine or ten, I will. If I only get like, six hours of sleep, I feel crazy.

On skin care: Only in the past couple months I’ve been like okay I’ve gotta understand skin care. I’m going to crack open this Reddit forum and figure it out. I totally changed my routine and I actually find it sort of soothing to use that stuff and slather it on myself. I switched to using CeraVe moisturizer and cleanser and it totally helped me. Apparently I was stripping my moisture barrier and I didn’t know. Now I look way more moisturized and now I’m experimenting with serums but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I avoided because it was trendy and I was like ugh this is bullshit but then I started reading the science behind it and I’m like yeah, yeah, okay. I’m turning 36 soon and starting to see my skin change and I’m like yeah, better keep this shit looking tight.

On staying creative and not getting burnt out when being creative is your job: My solution is to try to find other ways to be creative that scratch that itch. When I’m in the middle of production and I’m starting to feel less creative because I’m in that phase where I’m not actively drawing or writing, I find it helpful to go home and work on a big, weird painting. Or just do a still life painting, paint some flowers, or if I play with clay or yarn or something. That way I’m being creative but it’s a 3-D space and it’s using a different part of my brain. That said, I always forget that’s the solution so for a week or so I’ll just kind of flail around going oh my god, I’m not creative anymore, I’ve really lost it, I’m never going to be able to say or do anything interesting again. And then I remember oh yeah, this has happened a million times before and I know the solution.

On transitioning from working alone to working in a collaborative environment: It was hard. I had the experience working on Bojack so I slowly learned this is how you communicate with other people in the way that’s best and reduces the most conflict. I’m always trying to avoid conflict, I just don’t have the energy for it or for drama. Even though I love listening to other people’s drama. Tell me your gossip, please, as long as it doesn’t involve me.

It was really exhausting the first few weeks at Tuca & Bertie because I was in the writers room and I was like oh, I literally have to stare at other people in the eyes an respond to what they’re saying for like seven hours a day. My whole neck would ache just from nodding at other people. It was amazing how out of practice I was. After a few weeks I just got used to it. It’s amazing what you can adapt to. Even if you think you’re an introvert you can adapt to being an extrovert if your job requires it. I almost pretend that I’m someone else. It’s like I’m in costume or something: I am showrunner Lisa. I have to talk to people and do voice records and talk to actors and go into meetings and give my opinions. It’s like, physically uncomfortable for me. I’m just sort of vibrating with this is unnatural.

On being the boss: When I was working on Bojack, I’m in charge of a team but I’m not overseeing the entire production. On Tuca I kind of have my paws in everything. I really just go about it with a collaborative point of view. I think everyone’s there to do the best they possibly can and I’m there to intake their ideas and then just sort of weed out the ones that don’t fit my vision. So much of what makes the show great is what other people have contributed. It’s stressful to be the ultimate decision maker who’s like yes I want this red instead of blue but I can always turn around and be like what do you guys think, am I being stupid? It’s okay to say I don’t know and sleep on it and come back the next day and be like I think it should be this and here’s why or I stayed up all night worrying about this one fart sound and I think it should be a quieter fart sound and that’ll make the scene funnier. It’s amazing the amount of things I’ve formed opinions on that I never thought I would.

How I Get It Done: Illustrator Lisa Hanawalt