Sunday Mailbag- Learning to See?

May 22nd, 2016 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Your caricature book is the go to for me and my drawings.. or at least my “attempts”. My question is that if I LOOK at a sketch of yours such as in your book, I can mimic the style and drawing, but drawing on my own without a reference ends up looking nothing like the drawings in your book at all.. any suggestions? I do practice drawing eyes, noses, mouths.. but it doesn’t all come together.

A: Like I said in my book, no one can teach someone how to “see”… that is where the innate ability or talent comes into play. Someone can teach another person how to draw a circle, they can explain what makes a circle a circle, show them how to draw a convincing circle, and have them practice drawing circles until they can draw a perfect circle. However if you then put them in front of a circle and they draw a square because they cannot recognize what is in front of them is a circle, that is where you hit the wall. You cannot teach someone how to see. Being able to copy artwork that you see is not really creating art, it is duplicating what another artist has created. Creating art is taking something you see in life or imagine in your head and bringing it to life on paper or canvas, or with a musical instrument, etc. That ability is a combination of natural talent and the hard work and dedication to develop that talent and that “eye” to high levels. People hate to hear this. They want someone to create a magic “tutorial” that instantly endows them with skills that take a lifetime to master.

My only suggestion is the same as I give to anyone who wants to develop their skills as an artist: draw draw draw. It is an old but true adage that the path to a single good drawing is paved with thousands of bad ones. You learn from mistakes and failure, not from success. Fill cheap sketchbooks with drawings, and not copies of other people’s work where they have already made all the decisions. Draw from LIFE and develop your own voice with the pencil. It’s a long road but if you put in the hard work and the time you will see great improvement, regardless of your natural level of talent.

Thanks to Anonymous 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!


  1. John Johnson says:

    This question from Anonymous could have come from me. Thanks for answering it.

  2. James Thomas says:

    I also think your book is the best one out there

    I like to redraw masterful cartoonists such as yourself to learn from them. After duplicating a great drawing, then I like to draw an original in the style of the artist I just drew. I’m not trying to become a mimic of the artist but trying to learn why They did things the way they did them.

    I also like to take a photo of a person every day and draw a cartoon portrait, then immediately draw it again as a more squashed and stretched caricature, then draw a third time as an extreme caricature.

    If my drawings are horrible, then it’s just practice and I don’t worry about it. But after a while of doing these exercises, I have seen a lot of improvement in my drawing.


I am close to adding a second caricature workshop in January in Orlando. Details here:

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