It started with a tweet.

I was on the twitter feed and I saw a cartoon pop up that looked like something out of The New Yorker. It was a black and white drawing with some lime green accents depicting the interior of Peet’s Coffee & Tea, 285 Harvard Street, in Coolidge Corner. The message read “Nice crowd and a.m. vibes for breakfast at #Peets Coffee, downtown.”

Peet's Coffee by Brookline visual artist Michael Cucurullo

Peet’s Coffee by Brookline visual artist Michael Cucurullo

I retweeted it then promptly forgot about it. But soon there were more. Almost everyday, a new cartoon depicting a different Brookline coffee shop or eatery. The cartoonist was Michael Cucurullo and his illustrations were charming. I began to look forward to his cartoons and seeing which local spot he would draw next. And I also wondered—does this guy have a regular job? Or does he just spend his days sitting in coffee shops and sketching? And if so, what a lucky guy!

A cartoon he tweeted in December finally prompted me to contact him and get his story. Cucurullo had tweeted a cartoon to reporter Jenna Fisher of the Brookline Tab and to It was a sketch of the inside of Tatte Bakery, the adorable Parisian-style café at 1003 Beacon Street near St. Mary’s Street. Working at home, I replied to him that I wished he could share a cappuccino and pastry with me. He tweeted, “you mean something like this?” and included a drawing of a drone labeled ‘Brookline Hub’ and containing a frothy mug and a piece of cake.

When I finally arranged a meeting with Cucurullo (he suggested The Regal Beagle, 308 Harvard Street) one late December afternoon, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out Cucurullo is not an flâneur who spends his days sipping coffee and watching the world go by. The drawings he does in the mornings on his tablet are his warm-up for his paid freelance work, which includes creating graphics for lawyers involved in complex intellectual property cases.

“I provide a graphic point of view to persuade the judge and jury who have had to endure days and days of verbal testimony,” Cucurullo told me, sipping from a glass of red wine. The colors and fonts in Cucurullo’s graphics can make it easier for lay people to comprehend otherwise complicated concepts. Illustrations also prove to be what people remember most about a case.

Cucurullo started out as a painter and sculptor back in the late 1970s. He got into commercial art to pay for college, where he painted murals on the sides of ice cream trucks and created sculptures for gardens and parks. He chose to go to Hofstra University rather than a traditional art school because he wanted a well-rounded education.

“Art schools churn our artists, but I was already an artist,” Cucurullo said.

He moved from New York to Brookline in 1981 and raised a family here. In addition to his freelance work with lawyers, he has done commercials, white board animation, and video tutorials for start-ups looking for something to post on their website that is eye-catching, informative and fun to watch. His whimsical animation also got him work creating holiday e-cards for companies looking to send out something different to their clients.

He is also a toy inventor, and creates quick sketches of concepts for people who have ideas for new toys and games but need someone to flesh them out. He attends the Toy Fair in New York every year to report (in pictures) what’s happening in the world of toys.

The busy visual artist is currently working on a traditional cartoon project about a globe trotting couple with a collaborative based in Washington, D.C. and Barcelona, Spain, and has a graphic novel in the works. He also maintains a cartoon blog about his life, simply called Mike’s Life.

Cucurullo was born in Brooklyn, NY. When he was a teenager his father, who worked in aerospace for the U.S. Air Force, moved the family to a base in Rome, Italy. Cucurullo, who said his family was not wealthy, was given the option of where he wanted to study. He chose Notre Dame International School, the premier boarding school in Rome at the time, where he studied alongside privileged kids from all over the world and made lifelong contacts. These days Cucurullo still maintains ties to Italy and spends summers there with his Italian-born wife, a nurse who he’s been married to for twenty-five years.

Cucurullo cites American cartoonists Will Eisner and Robert Crumb as his heroes, and says he also admires the old Looney Tunes cartoons, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Family Guy.

Family Guy is done in Toon Boon—an animation production software that makes it possible to do 3D camera angles and complicated animation effects.” It’s software that offers lots of new possibilities for up and coming cartoonists.

But Cucurullo also believes the ability to create graphic art shouldn’t be limited to using sophisticated software. He would love to hire an apprentice whom he could teach and who could take over his business when he’s ready to retire. But he says many students coming out of art school aren’t skilled in rudimentary sketching.

“I’d like to find someone who can draw freehand and draw on a computer. A lot of kids have learned to draw on computers but don’t know the basics.”

As for the sketches he tweets almost daily, it’s a ritual he’s been doing for decades.

“I have cases of filled journals dating back to the 70s,” Cucurullo told me.

Cucurullo is such a fan of drawing warm-ups that when he teaches at Brookline Adult Education he takes students to local cafes and encourages them to draw what they see over coffee and tea.

These days he sketches on Samsung’s Sketchbook® with a Galaxy Note® S pen. In front of me he does a quick drawing of a wine glass then hands the tablet to me to try. My drawings skills have not progressed past a 3rd grade level, and my sketch of a water glass proves it. But it’s a cool device and I could see sketchers loving to play with it.

Before we part, Cucurullo gives me a small manila envelope. Inside is an assortment of printed color holiday cards decorated with some of his humorous cartoons. I’m touched by the thoughtful gesture and reminded of why I’m drawn (pardon the pun) to creative people. Their work—no matter what the medium—makes the world a brighter place.

To learn more about Mike Cuccurullo’s visual art business, visit his website.

—By Jennifer Campaniolo