Q: How important is it for an cartooning/illustrator/caricaturist to be trained with traditional art like oils and such?
A: There can be a very big difference between a cartoonist, an illustrator and a caricaturist. It would all depend on how an artist wanted to apply their skills in any or all of those categories as to how much a traditional art education would help them. A general education in art and the techniques of the masters would only serve to strengthen the skills and abilities of any artist, even if the art they end up doing bears little resemblance to those traditional arts.
I think thorough training in fundamental drawing is a must for any of those disciplines. Even if as a cartoonist you end up heavily stylizing your work, having a solid grasp of good fundamental drawing is important and at the least couldn’t hurt. Obviously an illustrator needs great command of drawing skills, and a caricaturist also needs those skills with respect to the face and figure.
As for traditional techniques like oils, watercolor, etc., again they cannot hurt and will likely help other aspects of a person’s art if for no other reason than broadening their horizons and expanding their experiences. You need to experiment with various mediums and techniques in order to figure out what it is that resonates with you and becomes part of your art. The caricaturist who gets a chance to work in many painting styles may find they like oils, and end up as an illustrator doing caricature artwork in oil. A cartoonist may find watercolors make sense to them naturally, and incorporate that medium in their work. You never know what will strike a chord with an artist.
All that said, I don’t feel a FORMAL education to be of great importance to an artist. Study? Hard work? Learning? Yes, yes, yes. Diploma? Not so much. I’d always recommend some kind of art education, but getting a doctorate in liberal arts is not necessary. It could be good for you, but it’s not necessary.
Thanks to Or Weitzman for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
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925 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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