Q: Does an aspiring caricaturist need to do theme parks to earn a living doing caricatures? How does one find work as a freelance caricaturist?
A: That’s two questions. Let’s start with the first one.
No, you do not need to work in a theme park to earn a living as a caricaturist. In fact it’s tough to earn a living as a theme park caricaturist unless you own your own operation or work at a place that is insanely busy year around because of the nature of the business. Theme parks take around 40% of the gross sales as their “rent”, which is ridiculously high when compared with regular retail. In a mall or shopping complex 15%-20% of gross sales is the typical target for rent from a tenant. After paying all other related expenses, there is a limit to how much of the gross a working caricaturist can get paid. That makes it hard to earn a living there.
That said, for those looking to really hone their skills as a live caricaturist and who get the opportunity, spending a summer or two working at a theme park operation is like going to boot camp for caricatures. There is nothing like drawing one face after another for hours on end, day after day for three months to develop your eye, speed, and stamina, not to mention you are probably going to be working with a dozen other artists from whom you will learn tips and techniques. After a summer at a busy theme park, doing a weekend fair or a day long corporate gig is a walk in the park. I spent all four summers between college years working at a theme park, drawing around 3000 faces each summer. One emerges from an experience like that with a firm handle on their live caricature skills.
As far as getting freelance work, there is no secret to that. You have to go out and find it, and market yourself. The work will not come and find you. Look around your area and try to find places where your caricature work could be used. For live work, get in touch with any local talent agents that might book caricatures as entertainment. They will of course get their cut but it will get you out there working. There are national agencies as well that book caricaturists all over the country, like About Faces Entertainment, GoofyFaces and The Nose. They are always looking for good, reliable artists for different areas of the country. Look into any fairs or festivals in your area and see if they either already have caricaturists or could fit in another one. Put together a simple website (you can do this for either free or dirt cheap) advertising your work and then get business cards printed (again, very inexpensive) with the website URL on it so you can hand them out at every opportunity. Print up a brochure advertising your services and mail them out to local businesses with fair numbers of employees suggesting having a caricaturist at their company party or doing a studio caricature as a gift for the boss, a retiring employee, etc. There are a lot of different ways a caricaturist can market their talents.
Getting started is always the hardest thing. You hear a lot of “no thanks” but if you keep at it you will get the occasional “yes” and slowly build up some clients and experience. Of course your success depends on two other factors: the quality of your work and your professionalism.
If your caricatures are not very good you will have a hard time expanding your business because, well, your work is not very good. You do not have to be Mort Drucker good (who is?) but the better and more impressive your work is the more you impress people and the more likely you will get follow up jobs. Never stop working at your skills and improving.
The second aspect is professionalism. Showing up on time, communicating well, being personable and easy to work with, being organized and well prepared, looking professional and just doing a really good job leads to more work. Those national talent agencies only want to work with artists they know they can count on to be professional. Companies don’t book artists for future gigs if they show up late, are surly, or in other ways are not very professional. There are too many other options for the same entertainment dollars out there for anyone to put up with that kind of thing, even if the artist is very talented. Be the most professional caricaturist the client has ever seen, and it will lead to bigger and better things.
Thanks to Darrell Mordecai 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 your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!
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