Behind the Napkins: Talking Modern Feminism, Parenting & Creativity with Viral Sensation Meaghan Elderkin

When we say viral sensation, we mean it. Meaghan’s napkin art has been shared, seen, and praised by millions around the world from publications like The Huffington Post, ABC News, Good Morning America, Scary Mommy, Metro, Glamour, Babble, and more.

After the 2016 election, there were a lot of mixed feelings to be had. But Meaghan decided to turn the confusion, anger, and hate into something positive for her daughters. She began drawing empowering quotes said by strong, courageous women on her daughter’s lunch napkins everyday to remind her of her worth, regardless of her gender.

This interview is particularly personal because, during the time she went viral, we actually wrote a bite-sized article about her. Crazy right? Her napkins gave us a much-needed pick me up in a very tumultuous time.

You know how people tell you not to meet their heroes? Well, we did. And it was magical. We think you’ll see why in her interview below.

From the minute I was old enough to hold a pencil, I wanted to be just like him

I’m from Rhode Island, and like most die-hard Rhode Islanders, I’ve never lived anywhere else (except for college where I ventured out all the way to Massachusetts, haha).

Most of my childhood was spent drawing next to my grandfather. He was an incredible artist and from the minute I was old enough to hold a pencil, I wanted to be just like him (honestly, I still do).

I was a really shy kid, I can remember winning an award (for art) and being too mortified to get up and accept it.

Now, I’m a socially awkward adult who draws on napkins 🙂

At the Women’s Rally in Providence, Rhode Island

A familial tradition

My grandfather definitely motivated me and inspired me as a child, but also my mom.

She worked as a greeting card illustrator (and nurse) and I loved seeing her work. She would draw on my lunch napkins every day and during lunch there would be a crowd around me wanting to see what she’d drawn for me that day.

Like I said, I was painfully shy, so I actually hated the attention it brought, but obviously I loved the napkins 😉

I’ve never known a time when I didn’t love to draw, but it did take me awhile to figure out that not everybody is an artist.

My motivation comes from having to pack my daughter’s lunch every day

I’ve been drawing them for her lunches for so many years that it’s basically a habit now.

Some days are tougher than others though, I’m sick very often. I suffer from Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia so there are days when I’m too sick to even hold a pen.

It’s definitely challenging, so when I’m feeling well I try to draw a lot of napkins ahead of time so that Holden, my oldest, always has a napkin. It’s taught me to really appreciate the good days.

We can’t resist a good pun! 🙊

When Trump won, I felt like I had let my daughters down

I was a big Bernie Sanders fan, but when Hillary was on the ticket, voting for her was a no-brainer. There could have been a dog up there, wearing people-clothes and I’d have voted for that sharply dressed dog.

I’m still, almost a year later, bewildered by the fact that Trump is president. On Election Day, I brought my daughters to the polling place and I was explaining to my oldest daughter why I was voting for Clinton, that I was voting to protect her rights and to make sure she’s the only one making decisions about her body, etc.

When Trump won, I felt like I had let my daughters down.

It felt like all of the ways I’d raised my girls to feel confident and demand respect were suddenly mowed over by this awful person bragging about sexual assault and disrespecting women every chance he gets.

I was desperate to make them see that they are still worthy of equality and respect even if we have to work a little harder to get it.

So I started drawing empowering quotes and the women who said them on her lunch napkins. Previously, her napkins were of bad puns and mom-jokes. Stuff that usually elicited a groan from my then-9 year old.

Holden definitely was aware of everything going on. I tried to shield her from the worst of it, but she understood.

She was so worried about what was going to happen to some of the more marginalized people in our country, rightly so, and didn’t understand how anyone could be so cruel.

Going viral for my illustrations was the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me

… And I’ve got some pretty impressive stories 😉

I didn’t think much about posting the napkins on the Pantsuit Nation page, but within an hour or so, I was being contacted by all of these publications. Publications that I read!

The blog Scary Mommy was first and then as I was driving to meet a friend for lunch, my husband called and said that Huffington Post wanted to interview me. I almost drove off the road.

By the time I’d gotten to the restaurant, there was already an article about my napkins online from Scary Mommy. It was crazy!

And every few hours I’d get another request for an interview, I was speaking with the Press Association in the U.K., and a magazine from India, and a newspaper from Ireland.

My napkins have way more stamps in their passport than I do. Celebrities were commenting and sharing my art work, it was surreal.

My daughters and I were on the news and were featured on a segment on Good Morning America. That’s when I discovered the down side to going viral.

The Trump supporters hated me. They said that I was a terrible mother for brainwashing my kids, they had problems with some of the women I’d drawn, they criticized my appearance, the works.

It hurt at first but then I learned to just not read the comments section. It also started getting very stressful, which I feel so guilty about, because any artist would kill for this kind of exposure. But I was overwhelmed.

My daughter’s lunch box napkins were being seen by people all over the world, so trying to pack a nice note with that many eyes on you is a very unique experience.

Now that my 15 minutes are over, I can put less pressure on myself and still enjoy sharing them.

It’s been an incredibly humbling experience

I’ve made a lot of new friends from all over the world, that has been my favorite part.

I’ve also gotten a lot more commissions since then, which has been a lot of fun. Getting paid to make art is pretty much as good as it gets 😉

But being able to help even one person feel better is something I will never ever take for granted.

Malala Magic

Holden had a good time enjoying her celebrity status for a little bit. Her absolute hero in life is Malala Yousafzai and when she found out that Malala herself had seen her napkins, she just about fainted.

She still wipes her face on them and they come home from school crumpled up in a ball in her lunchbox (which is, after all, what they’re intended for….a little empowerment while you eat your sandwich) 🙂

Oh, nbd. Holden’s just living out our biggest dream ever!

The people that inspire me daily

Being in art school, I was surrounded by artists. All of my friends were artists, all of my professors were artists, I was completely immersed and I loved it. I’m still inspired by those people today.

My best friends are all very talented in their own creative ways and being around them is like fuel for my soul. It’s difficult not to get inspired when I’m with them. And I definitely get inspired by the women (and men) that I draw.

You hear these stories of women making real change happen, of women standing up for each other, those are the people that inspire me daily.

This is the advice I give to my girls, and anybody really, regardless of gender:

I’d say that it’s important to take the time and the energy to get to know yourself, learn to love yourself and trust yourself.

If at the end of the day you’re happy with the person you’ve become, then you’re already way ahead of most people.

Also, floss. I know it’s not fun but just do it.

The notorious RBG

I would love to meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg in real life. She’s such an inspiring woman.

I’d be so nervous to meet her though. I’d probably just mumble and curtesy or throw up or something. It’s probably best for everyone that I don’t meet her.

It has nothing to do with hating men or hairy armpits

Modern feminism means equality for ALL women. Women of color, able bodied or not, women of all religions, transgender women, everyone.

It has nothing to do with hating men or having a bunch of cats or hairy armpits or any other stereotype, it’s about standing together to demand equality and respect.

It’s a pretty simple concept, I don’t understand why it’s so polarizing.

At the end of the day, I’m just winging it

Hmmmm…..I’m not sure if anybody has the idea that I’ve got this whole parenting thing figured out, but I can tell you that I definitely do not.

I basically just try to make sure that my girls understand their worth.

My house is messy and sometimes we eat cereal for dinner because I’m a terrible cook, I’m almost always late, my youngest refuses to wear pants half the time…..I’m just winging it 🙂

🍰 Brunch Bites 🍰

Any heroes?
Katherine Johnson, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo, and my daughters.

Favorite of your own illustrations?
Hmmm….I’m happiest with Harriet Tubman and Mary Shelley. I’m also a fan of Frida Kahlo drawn as a koala. It cracks me up 😉

Favorite designer?
Favorite graphic designer: Chip Kidd
Favorite clothes designer: whoever makes pajama jeans
Favorite “designing woman:” Annie Potts 😉

Favorite artist?
My grandfather, Ray Holden

Favorite book?
Naked by David Sedaris

Favorite podcast?
2 Dope Queens

Favorite mantra?
My grandfather used to say all the time, “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you!” I don’t know if it’s a mantra exactly, but I literally say it twice a day 😉

Favorite part (or least favorite!) about being an artist?
Being an artist is the best, besides the occasional hand cramp or ink spill, I can’t think of anything better 🙂

As obsessed with Meaghan and her napkin art as we are? Find more of her endearing work and shop her merchandise! We’ll take one of everything, please.
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