Skip to main content

Diary of a Radio Junkie

Visualizing the News One Day at a Time

(LEFT): Day 1,197 (March 2, 2019). India ink, casein, gouache, watercolor, color pencil, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. Space X launches capsule bound for International Space Station, could show potential for commercial space travel.; (RIGHT): Day 68 (Jan. 28, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite, color pencil on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. Manhattan Federal Appeals Court rules Port Authority can kill migratory birds near airports.

ISSUE:  Summer 2021


All artwork is from Elise Engler’s Diary of a Radio Junkie: Days and Days of Waking Up to the News.

The premise was simple: a daily visual diary of the news—specifically, the first story she heard when she turned on the radio each morning. For artist Elise Engler, the practice emerged naturally out of the rhythms of her obsessions with both the news and radio, rituals that reach back to childhood. (She was reading the New York Times by the time she was eleven, falling asleep with a small transistor radio under her pillow at night.) Radio, she says—the voices found there—has kept her company all her working life as an artist. And she is, admittedly, a news junkie.

On November 22, 2015, using the morning’s lead story about a corruption investigation in Albany, New York, Engler began what she intended to be a year-long documentary in graphite and Watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. Small works, paper, often six-by-six squares. Day after day, she drew and painted the headlines, which at first were up to chance—deer sterilization in Long Island, the pope in Bangui, El Chapo captured—but which she eventually began curating, arranging stories into sets. 

Day 2  (Nov. 23, 2015)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite, color pencil on paper, 7 x 6 in.<br><i>Four women arrested for counterfeit items at holiday fair.</i>

Engler had completed a year-long project before (365 days drawing each of Broadway’s 250-some blocks), so she knew what she was getting herself into, at least in theory. What she did not anticipate was the strange direction the news would take, or that she would stick with it for so long. Five years and 1,888 works later, Diary of a Radio Junkie is a monastic expression of visualized journalism, a project both meticulous and herculean. 

A whimsical if gently sardonic sensibility guided her through its early phase. “In the beginning I wanted to be kind of arbitrary, and kind of absurd,” she says. But as the Republican candidates for president whittled down to one, “It just couldn’t be funny anymore.” The seriousness of one of the country’s strangest political phases was unavoidable. 

As pretty much any journalist will attest—and as just about anyone who was tuned-in will agree—President Trump’s tenure in the White House, and 2020 in particular, was a baffling, exhausting time to be paying close attention to the news. The leitmotifs were heavy: mass shootings, decimation in Syria, wildfires, American exceptionalism diminished in small and broad strokes. Engler had technically reached her original finish line just after Trump’s election, but she kept going, she says, out of a certain obligation and awareness of the moment. “I wanted to see it to the end. As an artist interested in what happens in the world, to quit when our world was being turned upside down—and was, in fact, interesting—to have stopped at that point would have made it feel truncated. It may not have been fun, but it was certainly fascinating. It may have been more offhand or light or fun to begin with, but then it seemed important, and to stop doing something that seemed important didn’t feel like a good decision.”

Day 77 (Feb. 6, 2016)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 ½ x 6 in.<br><i>6.4 Magnitude Earthquake strikes Taiwan, 11 dead so far.</i>

Hyperfocused cataloging runs throughout Engler’s body of work, which includes a visual inventory of how American tax dollars were spent from 2003 to 2008 (on missiles, public-school chairs, the contents of a fire engine, among other items); of an agonizingly thorough group portrait of civilian casualties from the war in Iraq—18,200 silhouetted figures, mainly Iraqis, with names and ages; 4,623 more figures representing military casualties from the “coalition of the willing”; of equipment and ephemera from field camps in Antarctica; of what people kept in their cars; of what sixty-five women kept in their bags and purses; of the contents of her suitcase, every trip she took; of her own material possessions, every last one of them—13,127 individually painted items, to be exact. 

This fall, Engler will publish a portion of her Radio Junkie work in a collection titled A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020, joining a shelf that’s sure to be crowded with reflections on one of the most tumultuous years in a century. Engler’s work will almost certainly stand alone in its effect, though, with its blend of gravitas and levity, of a frame sharing close global-crisis calls with news of the weird, of our darkest moments rendered with the whimsical sublimity you can only find in the illustrator’s hand. 

And while she has no plans to return to the diaristic form anytime soon, she says she can’t help but keep working out of an impulse to pay forensic attention to the little things. “I’m very curious by nature. But I guess it’s also because I don’t have a huge studio, so I work very often incrementally, and I’ve learned that, in the same way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that I like the building process. The work comes into formation by the accumulation.”

— Paul Reyes

(LEFT): Day 188 (May 27, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <i>President Obama, First sitting U.S. president visits Japanese city of Hiroshima, site of US dropping of atomic bomb.</i> (RIGHT): Day 219 (June 27, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <i>Expanded Panama Canal debuts at a difficult time for international shipping.</i>

Day 227 (July 5, 2016)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite, on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in.<br><i>After 5 years in transit NASA’s Juno spacecraft enters Jupiter’s orbit.</i>

(LEFT): Day 256 (Aug. 3, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <i>Spraying starts as Zika virus is found to be spreading in Miami Florida area.</i> (RIGHT): Day 110 (March 10, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 x 6 in. <i>Elevated levels of lead found in 30 Newark, NJ, schools’ water.</i>

Day 231 (July 9, 2016)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in.<br><i>Across the country Black Lives Matter protests continue, mostly peaceful, denounce Dallas killings.</i>

Day 99 (Feb. 28, 2016)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 x 6 in.<br><i>KKK rally in Anaheim CA erupts into vicious brawl.</i>

Day 143 (April 12, 2016)<br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 x 5 in.<br><i>Over 400 arrested on US Capitol steps protesting rules on political money, voting rights and redistricting.</i>

(LEFT): Day 311 (Sept. 27, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <i>Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet in first presidential debate.</i> (RIGHT): Day 119 (March 19, 2016). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 x 6 in. <i>Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam is captured during raid in Brussels, French want extradition.</i>


Day 547 (May 21, 2017) <br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <br><i>Ringling Bros. Circus performs final circus today, In Saudi Arabia, Trump says fight against terrorism a “battle between good and evil.”</i>

Day 640 (Aug. 22, 2017) <br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <br><i>New Yorkers gather all over city to watch solar eclipse (Bethesda Fountain, Central Park), Trump addresses the country on Afghanistan, “no nation building again.”</i>

(LEFT): Day 652 (Sept. 3, 2017). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 5 ½ x 5 in. <i>North Korea claims successful hydrogen bomb test, Trump tweets response.</i> (RIGHT): Day 932 (June 10, 2018). Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 5 ½ x 5 ½ in. <i>Justify wins Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown, Trump leaves for Singapore Summit, lashes out at world leaders, derides Canada’s Trudeau on Twitter.</i>

Day 920 (May 29, 2018) <br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 7 ½ x 5 ¾ in. <br><i>Flotilla carrying Gaza wounded breaks “unbearable” siege, Israelis stop, Israeli jets bomb Gaza after 25 mortars are fired from Gaza, In Chicago, Memorial Day weekend, 7 killed, 32 wounded by gunfire, Scientists use new technique of lasers to map ancient city of Jerash, Jordan.</i>

Day 1,014 (Aug. 31, 2018) <br>Watercolor, gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <br><i>NFL arbitrator moves Colin Kaepernick’s “collusion” grievance to formal hearing, Justice Department is backing lawsuit alleging Harvard University illegally discriminates against Asian Americans, Tons of dead fish washing ashore Florida beaches.</i>

Day 872 (April 11, 2018) <br>Watercolor, gouache, casein, graphite on paper, 8 x 6 in. <br><i>Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will face second day of congressional testimony over company’s use of data, admits Facebook has been in front of Mueller, Russia/US back and forth threats over possible missile attacks, House Speaker Ryan will not run for re-election.</i>

Day 1,292 (June 5, 2019)<br>Ink, gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in. <br><i>Trump administration clamps down on travel to Cuba, bans cruise ships, Dozens arrested in Albany as rent debate escalates, House passes bill offering 2 million migrants a chance at citizenship.</i>

Day 1,293 (June 6, 2019)<br>Walnut ink, color pencil, graphite on paper, 7 ¾ x 7 ½ in. <br><i>World leaders mark D-Day anniversary in Normandy, Trump administration cuts education, sports and legal services for unaccompanied minors held at border, And announces new restrictions on fetal tissue research, Millions of pigs culled across Asia as swine fever spreads.</i>

Day 1,294 (June 7, 2019) <br>Gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 7 ½ x 6 in.<br><i>Putin and Xi cement an alliance for 21st century, Mexico tightens southern border security as another day passes with no tariff deal, Tiny plastic pieces are spread throughout the deep sea.</i>

Day 1,295 (June 8, 2019) <br>Gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 6 ½ x 5 ½ in.<br><i>US, Mexico reach deal to avoid new tariffs, Mexico will deploy troops especially to southern border, Mexico will keep migrants with pending asylum application Pentagon steps up dispute with Turkey over weapons purchase from Moscow.</i>

Day 1,296 (June 9, 2019) <br>Casein, gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 7 x 6 in.<br><i>Hong Kong protest against extradition proposal draws hundreds of thousands, Civil disobedience called by Sudanese protest leaders after chaotic week that resulted in over 100 deaths, Wildfire in Yolo County, California grows to 1700 acres.</i>

Day 1,200 (March 5, 2019)<br>Casein, gouache, Watercolor, color pencil, graphite on paper, 7</i> ³/₈<i> x 7 in.<br><i>House Judiciary starts investigation of allegations of obstruction by Trump, Nadler sends out letters to 81 individuals organizations.</i>

Day 1,239 (April 13, 2019)<br>Gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 8 x 7 ¼ in.<br><i>Lawsuit forces Trump administration to allow 2,700 Central American children into the US to join families, Ninth Circuit Court issues stay on ruling blocking Trump’s policy to Force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico.</i>

Day 1,224 (March 29, 2019)<br>Casein, gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in.<br><i>New York lawsuit claims Sackler Family illegally profited from Opioid epidemic, McConnell sets stage for nuclear option to change rules on appointing judges.</i>

Day 1,352 (Aug. 4, 2019)<br>Ink, inkwash gouache, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in.<br><i>2 Mass shootings in the US. in 24 hours, 20 dead, 26 wounded in El Paso TX, suspect may be white supremacist, Dayton Ohio, 9 dead, 26 wounded, shooter among the dead.</i>

Day 1,367 (Aug. 19, 2019) <br>Gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 5 ½ x 5 ½ in.<br><i>Judge says NYPD officer Pantaleo’s explanation regarding the chokehold death of Eric Garner was “implausible and self-serving” and he should be fired, Iranian tanker sets sail from Gibraltar after being impounded, Afghanistan bombings continue after wedding blast for Independence Day.</i>

Day 1,186 (Feb. 19, 2019)<br>Color pencil, graphite on paper, 5 ½ x 5 in.<br><i>Bernie Sanders announces presidential run, Ruth Bader Ginsberg expected back on the bench, West Virginia teachers back on strike over education bill, NYC Commission on Human rights says no discrimination based on hairstyles.</i>

Day 1,682 (June 29, 2020)<br>India ink, ink pen, color pencil, graphite on paper, 6 x 5 ½ in.<br><i>Trump says he was not briefed on Russian bounties for Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan, Trump denies he heard man yelling “White Power” in video he retweeted, NYC City Hall occupied for one week protesters demand  Billion cuts to NYPD, Coronavirus - world - 10 million cases, </i>¼<i> in US, Florida closes beaches, CA closes bars, Texas closes bars as case numbers climb.</i>

Day 1,762 (Sept. 17, 2020)<br>Gouache, Watercolor, graphite on paper, 6 x 5</i> ½ in.<br><i>Trump publicly refutes CDC’s Dr. Redfield’s assertion that vaccines will not be readily available by November and that masks are essential to saving lives, Michael Caputo, top coronavirus response person for Trump admin will take leave after outbursts on Facebook, Barr tells prosecutors to consider sedition charges for protest violence.</i>


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading