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Sunday Mailbag- How many caricatures?

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Q: How many persons do you caricature within a year? Now and in your theme-park time? What is your estimation: How many persons did you caricature since you started drawing? Are there persons you caricature over and over again, maybe over many years?

A: I don’t think I can even begin to answer any of those questions with any degree of accuracy, except the one about my theme park time. The first few summers that I drew live caricatures we used a system where we had paper receipts that we collected for each day and that’s how we got paid. At the end of the week we’d turn in our receipts with an invoice. That made it fairly easy to keep track of how many faces we drew. I remember I did 3,100 faces my first summer, and 3,800 my second. I got better and faster as each year progressed, and I estimated I averaged about 4,200 faces per summer throughout my years of drawing full time at theme parks. I did that for 17 seasons, which would mean I did a little over 70,000 live caricatures. Throw in the occasional live drawing I’ve done over the last dozen years or so since basically retiring from the theme park thing, I think 80,000 faces would be a conservative estimate. I think I started getting warmed up at about 45,000 faces, stopped completely sucking at 55,000, and started getting the hang of it around 68,000.

That sounds like a lot but it is nothing compared to many live caricaturists I know who do it for a living year around at parks, fairs, gigs, etc. I am sure many live caricature artists have done hundreds of thousands of faces. I’m a poseur compared to that.

I haven’t a clue how many people I caricature a year these days between MAD, other publication projects and such. In fact, just last week I was sitting on the MAD Panel at New York Comic Con and MAD editor John Ficarra turned to me and asked how many caricatures I had done in just the splash page from the parody of “Orange is the New Black” in the latest MAD. I had no answer for him. No idea. Turns out it was 25, and if you count the three on the intro page 28, but I didn’t know and don’t really have any interest in knowing. It might be better not to think about it. So, I have no answer for how many I’ve done over my career. A lot. I guess.

For your last question: “Is there anyone you’ve caricatured over and over again?” I would suspect the actors from “Married… with Children” are still the people I have caricatured the most overall simply because I drew two dozen issues of that comic book back in the early 90’s and it was nothing but caricatures of Ed O’Neil and company. I’m not sure I’d count that though, since those “caricatures” were compromised by certain limitations put on me by Colombia Television who approved the art, and my own lack of skills at the time.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger 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!

Sunday Mailbag- What do you use for…?

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Q: Hello! I am a great fan of your caricatures. I have read your book again and again. Please advise me where I can buy the same adjustable easel you use. Also which prismacolor art sticks for flesh tones for all races and where t buy. YOUR BOOK IS VERY INSPIRING, in the next edition please include materials and tools in much more depth.

A: I get a lot of these types of emails. I understand the curiosity but it’s a bit misguided. The tools and materials one uses are incidental have minimal impact on the work one produces. It’s the thinking and, above all, the hours and hours of work one puts in to develop their eye and their skills that makes for a good caricature. A caricature is drawn by your head, not your hand. That’s true of any good drawing. The tools you use are whatever you find works for you, and usually that’s whatever you have to work with and become accustomed to.

Still, people insist on knowing what materials an artist likes to use. Nothing wrong with that as long as they understand there is nothing magic about the materials. Therefor, I presnt my annual “what kind of  _____ do you use?” post (any links are just one possible source for purchase, do some web searching and you are bound to find the same things elsewhere and possibly cheaper):

In the Studio

For doing my publication work I use a lot of different tools and materials. While most of what I do these days is digital I do occasionally, when the job calls for it, pull out the old paints and such. Here are the tools I like to use in the studio:


Honestly I usually use whatever I end up grabbing from my eight or so coffee cup/jars full of drawing utensils near my board. For years I used a clutch-type leadholder like the Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder and would fluctuate between H, HB or F 2mm leads depending mostly on what felt right that day. I got very tired of using the lead pointer to sharpen it all the time (and more than half the time having the lead snap off in the sharpener, causing me to have to pry it out and sharpen all over again). So I switched to the mechanical pencils with the tiny .05 mm leads that feed from inside. These don’t need sharpening and as they don’t have any thickness to their edges the line quality is not something I need to be concerned about, which makes it ideal for concept sketches as I don’t waste time with the niceties of the line. I use HB mostly but sometimes H or 2B. I also like using regular old #2 wood pencils (which are 2B). Almost all of my “Sketch o’the Week” drawings are done with those.

I have taken to doing a lot of my rough concept sketches digitally these days for various reasons, so see my digital “materials” list for details there. Here’s the rest:

Paper and boards-

Paper for roughs- I generally just use my live caricature paper for my rough sketches and layouts, which is a 67lb vellum bristol. The equivalent would be a Strathmore sketchbook heavyweight paper that comes in pads.

Boards for finals- Strathmore 400 or 500 series bristol, usually vellum finish but lately I’ve been using the smoother stuff sometimes… mainly when I know I’ll be doing my “colored line” style of digital finals. I like a smoother line for that. If it’s a real painting I’ll use a piece of illustration board with a kid (rough) surface as it won’t buckle when I apply a lot of washes. BTW, Strathmore has had it’s problems in the last few years with quality, but it seems they have figured out the issues, so it remains my board of choice.

Pen Nibs-

I usehe Gillott 303 and the classic Hunt 102 crow quill. The Gillotts are tough to find in the US. You have to order them from overseas, and that’s expensive. But, if you have to have them, try: John Neal Booksellers. There are others but these are the cheapest I’ve found online. If you look elsewhere, usually the good nibs are found listed under “Copperplate” among calligraphy supplies. These suppliers have lots of cool nibs like Brause and such, so if you are looking for something that “feels right” buy some singles and try out a few. You can get pen holders here as well.

You could try my method of getting Gillott nibs: beg a friend and colleague who lives in Great Britain to order 1,000 nibs at his local art store and bring them with him to the ISCA convention in the states, where you pay him for them and then buy him some beers in gratitude. I am still a few Guinness shy of total compensation. Thanks, Steve!

Pen Holders-

There are lots of different kinds, but I found one I really love called the Universal Pen Holder. It’s just a clear plastic rod with a soft plastic sleeve around the end to hold the nib. The soft sleeve also acts as a cushioned finger grip. Simple but great. You can get them at John Neal on this page.


I use a red sable #1 and #2, and a #6 for big areas. Winsor & Newton Series 7?s set the standard but they are expensive. If you take care of them they will last a reasonable length of time, but ink destroys them much faster than watercolors do. You can find these brushes at virtually any art store. Unfortunately real red sable is becoming impossible to get in this country thanks to an import ban by the US Fish and Wildlife Department, who have nothing better to do. So, good luck finding a Series 7 these days.


For the dip pen I use Pelikan Drawing Ink A. It used to be hard to find this ink but now they are more readily available.  If you want to order online try:


For the brush I like Dr. Ph.Martin’s Black Star HICARB or Tech 14W Black, which are both much more dense that the Pelikan and make for better brush work.

Digital Color: Software-

I use PhotoShop for all my digital color work. I know a lot of people swear by Painter, but as I can accomplish everything I want to in PhotoShop I do not see a compelling reason to switch. Currently I am using CS6, which i may use forever since I abhor Adobe’s new “cloud” concept where you perpetually pay for use.

I mentioned earlier doing pencil sketches in PhotoShop now. I have found some great tools presents for this that I highly recommend from artist Ray Frenden. He has several different “sets” for things like inking and sketching in PhotoShop for sale at $4.99, but they only work in PhotoShop CS5 or CS6. I especially like the set of pencil tools. You can visit his online store here.

Digital Color: Hardware-

My current computer is a 27″ iMac. I used to have a more expensive Mac Pro but honestly the memory and processor speed of more “standard” computers are so strong now that they can easily handle imaging tasks… even big images. I recently did a 29? x 40? movie poster illustration, 300 dpi and CMYK and with multiple layers that weighed in at a whopping 360 MB, and my iMac didn’t even break a sweat. These days unless you are doing 3D modeling or video rendering work, you can use computers right off the rack at Best Buy or the Apple Store for most any illustration.

I use the Wacom 24HD widescreen Cintiq as my graphics tablet. It’s a monster and works well for my purposes. It’s ridiculously expensive and a few other competing products are now becoming viable like the Huion GT-190, so if Wacom is out of your price range look at some alternatives.

Real Paints!-

When I do get out the real paints I basically work in a combination of acrylics and watercolors with both a brush and some airbrush touches. I have no preference as to the manufacturers of such materials, and have a hodge-podge of tubes of various types. The last time I did a real painting was last year when I was commissioned to this for Weird Al Yankovic’s birthday:

Clicky to embiggen…

Live Caricatures


I learned to work in pencil so I stick with that. My pencil of choice is a Caran D’ache FixPencil 3 using thier 6B leads, although I also have a special 4B lead that works with this pencil. I also use a Create-a-Color 5.6mm leadholder with a 4B lead.

Blending Stump-

Standard No. 8 stump for shading. I soak the new stomp in tap water for about 10 minutes, then put it on a paper towel and place it in a sunny window for about 3 days until it’s fully dried out. This has the effect of loosening the glue that binds the stump and making it much softer. Then I sand off one of the ends to a much rounder shape, so I have a fine end and a wide end. I know… that’s a lot of work for a $1.65 tool, but it’s much more useable after that process.


I use the Iwata HP-SB Plus for live caricature work with a 13 bottle palette. I also use this same brush in the studio. I have metal bottle hardware custom made, as the plastic horrors available for general purchase are garbage. In fact I make the entire bottle assembly myself (Please don’t write me asking to buy a set… I don’t sell them except to artists who work with us in our caricature concessions).

Airbrush Paint-

Mostly Com-Art Opaque and Transparent paints by Medea.


I use several different ones in our various parks, all are just standard drawing tables that you can get at any art supplu store. I do have new tops made out of plywood with a paper holder built on the back, and make it as small as the base allows for space reasons.

Thanks to Stajadin 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!


Sunday Mailbag- Getting Paid?

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: This is more about the business side of freelancing. How do you handle billing your clients? Do you require them to pay anything upfront? Do you require payment within a certain timeframe? What if they don’t pay you?

A: Much of what you are asking depends on the client. Most of my clients are companies with separate finance departments, so the responsibility of when my fee is paid lies with a different person than the art director I actually work with on the job. Some clients pay within a week or two (rare), some within a month (most) some take longer (a few).

The point is each client’s paymasters have a process and it takes however long it takes. I don’t require payment in a certain amount of time. My invoices say “Net 30” on them, meaning I’d like payment within 30 days, but that probably has zero effect on the usual timeframe of payment for a given client. The important thing is to find out what to expect so if there IS a problem you know it because what you were told to expect is not happening. Believe me, all art directors know intimately how his or her company’s finance department works and the specifics of how and when their freelancers get paid… he or she is the person that hears from them if there is a problem. So, I ask what to expect in that regard.

I only ask to get some kind of payment up front if it’s a client I have never worked for and I do not know of them or their reputation for payment. That sort of dovetails into your last question “what if you don’t get paid?”.

If I am approached by a new client and one of the following applies:

  • They are an independent/small business entity
  • They are a publication/company I’ve never heard of or are very new
  • They have no experience working with a freelance illustrator
  • They set off my “Spidey-sense”

I may require a 50% non-refundable up front payment. This is to protect myself in case they end up not following through on the project or on the payment, so I know I am not wasting my time working on something I won’t get paid for. More importantly, it establishes their legitimacy as a client. If they complain about the advance, refuse to pay it, argue about it, or promise to pay it but keep delaying the payment, I back out of the job with no time wasted on my end except a phone call or some emails. I just avoided what would have been a very frustrating and costly experience.

Of course, nothing guarantees you will get paid until you actually get the check, but in most cases if they look, sound and smell like a legitimate client, they are a legitimate client. Occasionally you do get burned. I wrote a post about dealing with deadbeat clients a while back. You can read that here.

Thanks to Grant Jonen 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!

Sunday Mailbag- Time on a MAD Job?

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Q: The pages your draw for the TV and film parodies in MAD are very complex. How long does it take you to do that?

A: As long as they give me.

Actually it takes about 2 days per page. That’s from blank layout to final, colored art. Some pages go faster than others of course. It depends on the subject matter and how many caricatures or complex scenes are involved, but it always seems to even out to 2 days per page in the end.

Of course, that’s just the actual art. I also spend some time researching the job (i.e. watching the show or film) and usually a full day finding references and such. All together a 5 page parody probably takes me 12 working days to complete. I can step it up if I have to, but that is more of an exercise in endurance than increased speed. This stuff takes time and certain parts of it I cannot speed up. If I am under the gun I just have to work more hours per day.

Thanks to Bill Hodgins 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!

Sunday Mailbag- SotW Size?

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: How big are your sketches of the week?

A: That’s not a question with a real answer except for “almost any size”.

I don’t keep a sketchbook proper, wherein I draw and then put away when it’s full. I have a couple of those but I just draw on whatever is at hand. I have a stack of 12 x 16 live caricature paper in a drawer by my drawing table, and I use this paper for most of my roughs, conceptual drawings and thumbnails for jobs as well as random sketches. I do a lot of my “sketches of the week” on that paper.

When I am just drawing for fun or practice I don’t pay much attention to the size I work at. The drawing just ends up whatever size it ends up at. It can swing wildly. Here’s some examples:

Richard Kiel © 2014 Tom RichmondThis week’s one of Richard Kiel was pretty big… 7 x 11 inches.

This Andrew Garfield was only 2.5 x 6 inches.

This one of John Candy was really tiny… 3 x 4 inches.

I recall this one of Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer being really big… took up most of that 12 x 16 piece of paper.

Thanks to Taylor Miles Clark 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!

Sunday Mailbag- Handling Files?

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Q: You are creating hundreds of pictures a year. As you work partly digital there are at least hundreds of files a year. Which order do you have for these files on your hard disk? Do you have one folder for each project? Do you have a folder for finished work, quasi a portfolio folder? Do you save all your files or do you delete most of them after some time? Do you have a standard procedure for your files (names, folders, etc.)?

A: I don’t think it’s exactly “hundreds” of illustrations a year but it is a lot. I have three different areas where I keep my digital files: Working, Art Files, Archives.

Working: This is a single folder on my main hard drive where I keep the files of anything I am working on at the time. I organize these into sub-folders for each job. These folders can get very filled up with different versions of the illustrations I am working on. I might save an illustration at a certain stage and then work on the same file under a new name going forward. I might do that if I end up merging a few layers at a certain point, so I have a version with the layers merged just in case I need it. I prefer to work on a file with as few separate layers as possible, to minimize the likelihood of my working on the wrong layer accidentally and messing up something. I also keep any references or working files in this same folder like sketches, raw scans etc.

Art Files: This is a folder on my secondary hard drive where I keep the finished work I have done for the last year or so. I have sub-folders for each of my regular clients here, and then sub-folders in each for the different projects I did for them. I take the file from the “Working” folder, delete all the unneeded files from it like the references, extra versions of the art, etc and then move it to it’s home in the appropriate folder in “Art Files”. I usually save an unflattened master version of a finished illustration, the flattened final art I delivered and any sketches involved. If I don’t have a client folder for a given job I put it in a “Misc” folder.

Archives: Every couple of years I purge my Art Files folder and put the older art into an archives folder. This is on a third separate hard drive and organized by year. I sometimes delete all but the final art file, but most of the time I keep the sketches and such as well. I have some of my really old art on CD roms somewhere, but a lot of the old digital stuff is lost to posterity. It seems to me that this whole digital art revolution is still a new thing, but I was doing digital illustrations as early as 1992 (my first digital job was a series of comic book format anti-drugs/anti-smoking/anti-bad stuff info for grade school aged kids using Adobe Illustrator), so that was 22 years ago!

I have a redundant auto backup of all my hard drives as well as the Mac “Time Machine” feature set to guard against data loss.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger 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!

Diary of a MAD Job Revisted: Part 6!

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Now we are in the home stretch! It’s time to get coloring. Those of you who are looking for a tutorial on my painting techniques will be a little disappointed I’m afraid. In order to do that I need to save steps along the way, and I did not do that with this or any past job in anticipation of a tutorial. My apologies, but I will save those steps the next chance I get, and will put together a real tutorial on how I paint my line art soon. (did that years ago. See Here) In the meantime, here are the basic steps:

When painting I used to use a Wacom tablet with PhotoShop. My technique is meant to imitate a traditional watercolor look, and using the pressure sensitivity of a Wacom tablet is crucial to accomplish this. I got along fine with the tablet, even though I was not looking at my hands as I painted but at the screen. You quickly become used to this, and after a time it seems very natural. A few years ago Wacom came out with a new piece of equipment called the Cintiq, which is a combination tablet and monitor. With the Cintiq you draw and paint right on the screen. Despite the steep price tag I took the plunge and got the Cintiq 18sx. It took a little time to get used to it, but eventually the Cintiq became indispensable. Recently while on a road trip I was forced to use my laptop and a standard Wacom tablet to color the last two pages of a MAD job. It was a bit awkward after using the Cintiq at the studio, but it turned out fine. I’d recommend either the Cintiq or a tablet, depending on your budget. Either way using something with pressure sensitivity is a must. A mouse will not do the job. I just upgraded to the Cintiq 21ux this winter (Now use the Cintiq 24HD).

The first thing I do is lay in flat color in the background layer throughout the panel or panels I am working on. I use the paint brush tool at 100% opacity and turn off the pressure opacity settings. I lay in a midrange color for almost every object in the panels. I say “almost” because I always skip hair and anything needing a fuzzy edge. These I’ll do later when using the pressure feature of the pen. I have to use the brush tool for this, as I am painting on a blank layer and using the fill bucket wouldn’t work… no lines to contain the color. It wouldn’t work with my lines at any rate… I never close off my paths like you need to in order to keep the color fill in place. I ink too loosely for that. The flat color looks very flat. No life at all. I’ll add all the values in the second stage.

By now, the deadline is likely right around the corner. Endurance is going to be a must now, with late nights and early mornings, and probably at least one all nighter at the end. Those MAD guys are slave drivers. Now the audiobooks I mentioned before are the only thing keeping me from going crazy. Also: enter energy drinks. Three Monster Lo-Carbs will keep me up all night. I’ve got a small refrigerator in my studio, and all that’s in it is Monster. I can’t drink the sugared stuff, However. That will cause you to crash thanks to the insulin spike it triggers, and besides the outrageous calories in them would make me into Tom the Hutt in short order. Audiobooks and Monster Lo-Carb… my secret anti-distraction weapons.


Listening to Frodo crossing into Mordor with a belly full of L-Carnitine, Taurine, Caffeine and god-knows-what-else, I keep on task. The next step is rendering. It would be easy to isolate each panel and color it as a separate illustration, but that leads to trouble. I admit I used to do this. Now I try and keep the entire page in mind, and even the spread of two pages when it comes to color choices and establishing values. When I lay in the flat color, I’m thinking about how things balance. You can’t have panel after panel of saturated, bright color… that’s like listening to an entire album of loud dance music at full volume.. you’ll be exhausted by the end of the album and your eye will be exhausted by the end of the story. When you see a panel in silhouette or with monochromatic color, it isn’t the artist being lazy, it’s done to give the eye a chance to rest and makes the rest of the page more effective. Okay, sometimes it’s because I’m being lazy, but not often. Well… not all the time.

Getting back to rendering, I use the magic wand tool to select a flat area or areas of color. For example, all the skin tones in the panels. I then go in with darker colors for the shadows and start building up values. Now I use the brush tool again but with the pressure sensitivity set to control both opacity and brush size. I lay in layers of color and build up values. I do this all on the background layer, right on top of the flat color. I know, I should do this on a separate layer so I can make changes easier, but I have trouble keeping track of all those layers, and end up painting on the wrong one too often. So, I just paint like it’s a piece of illustration board. I also add other colors as needed, like blue and red tints, maybe bring in some color reflected off some other background object, I usually start out painting the hell out of everything and then have to skip some of the smaller details as the deadline looms. I always start with the splash and spend a lot of time on that, but after I will skip around so the last page isn’t the one that always suffers from the dreaded deadline crunch. Speaking of that, the deadline is getting closer, and I am basically in my studio all the time now. I still find quality time to spend with my family, however. Here’s a picture of me having a nice conversation about the day with my four children (that’s the door to my studio):


I got the Cintiq in the first place because I thought it would speed me up with the painting. It had the opposite effect… At 100% zoom an area that will be only 1/2 by 1/2 inch on a printed page is about 4 inches square on my monitor. What happened was I would spend a ton of time rendering some reflected light on the side of a face that ended up printing 1/4 inch high in the magazine. That is overkill and a real waste of time. To combat this, I do my rendering at 50% zoom on the images, which makes the physical size of the image on my monitor about 150% of the size it appears in MAD. That’s a good size so you have some tightening up as it’s printed, without wasting time to painting effects that will be lost completely.

Back to rendering again, now I come in with the highlights. That’s the beauty of digital… you can go from doing washes of darker values to opaque highlights without missing a beat. I’m painting loosely and leaving things looking kind of rough and chunky. I almost never use the airbrush tool or the blend/smear tool to smooth transitions and blend edges of color. That’s because the physical act of printing already melts these values together enough to make it look painted rather than digital. Because I am painting line art, I can afford to be loose. The lines define the edges and forms, and the color just adds to the values and depth of these forms. By way of demonstration, here’s a finished section of the image with and without lines:


You can see that without the lines it’s undefined and looks terrible. The lines hold it all together. Fully painting something without lines means the artist must establish all edges and forms with values and color. I could probably work the rough painting above into a fully painted version, but then I’d need to haul out the blend tool and add a lot more contrast and definition to the painting.

By now, the deadline is getting ugly. Even the Monster will fail eventually, and I’m not getting any younger…


Finally, the last panel is done and the job is finished. I flatten the final page and save as a TIFF file. I send the final art to MAD via FTP. On my way up to bed I check the mailbox for my paycheck from MAD for the job I just finished. It’s never there! They pay pretty fast but not that fast.

Here are some images from the final splash for “Extreme Once-Over: Home Repetition”:

Click for closer look

Sunday Mailbag- Working From Home?

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Q: I have a series of questions for your blog regarding the mental state one goes through when working from home as a freelancer (or just working from home in general). Do you ever get depressed from being locked in one room by yourself for an extended period of time without speaking or seeing anyone else besides your family? (And by family I mean your wife and children who live with you). Do you ever wish you were in a studio environment alongside other artists you could have lunch with or just casually chat to on a break?

Continuing on with the theme of working from home, do your family members take advantage of you for being at home by asking you to do errands? How do you stop your family members from distracting you? Do they ever barge into your office/studio and ask questions or stop you from doing work?

A: There are pros and cons about having a studio in the home as opposed to having studio space in some other location. The pros are you are never far from the studio. The cons are you are never far from the studio.

Me spending some quality time with the kids at home…

This has always been something I have wrestled with. I know many freelance artists that swear having a studio away from home is the only way they stay productive. Some tell me that sharing space with other artists begets a creative atmosphere that they need and that makes them better artists. I have always wondered if that would be a better way to go for me, but I have never taken the plunge to try because it frankly would cost too much money and the intangibles of working out of the home are too important to me. My studio in the lower level of our home costs me nothing in terms of rent, extra equipment or commute time, and I have never been able to justify the extra expense just to try having a studio outside my home. Just setting up internet service, paying for electricity, getting furniture and stuff would be expensive. I’d have to do a lot more work per year to cover those expenses, and I find it hard to believe I’d see enough extra productivity to make up the difference.

I would not say I ever get “depressed” working in a solitary environment, but I do sometimes have trouble staying on task. Mainly it’s because there are a lot of distractions here, but when I take a hard look at it there would be as many of the same distractions at an outside studio. Email, phone calls, NCS/business stuff… that’s all going to be in the way at any location. Personally I get my best work done when I am alone and in a quiet environment, which is why the hours of 9pm-7 am seem the best times to get serious work done. I would probably not be able to work during these hours in an outside studio, and if I could it would defeat the purpose of having an outside studio as those are quiet hours anywhere. I can see the argument that, by having a studio outside the home, you would be able to be more productive during business hours and not need to work the wee hours to get quiet time, but I disagree. The world itself is loud during business hours, and I think I’d struggle with the same distractions in a separate studio as I do at home.

I often do think about what it would be like to work in a studio with other artists. In a way I think it would foster a highly creative environment and might add a lot of energy to my day and work. Then again I might end up chatting too much with everyone and get less done. I’d have to find the right person(s) to share space with, which would be tough to do. I’d also have to establish the same kind of guidelines about when you can and cannot bother me when deadlines get nasty, which I have to do at home with the family anyway.

Which brings me to your last question about dealing with family members interfering with work. I am sure you did not mean to phrase your question to suggest family would “take advantage of me” in terms of them being knowingly intrusive or demanding. That has never, ever been an issue, and we had four kids in six years so there was a lot of family about. The Lovely Anna and the kids always respected my studio time and would always ask if I was busy when they needed something. When the kids were little I would have a drawing area for them in the studio and they would come in and draw sometimes, but they had many more fun things to do about the house so they didn’t spend much time hanging out with dad. Anna has never been anything but a huge help with my work, either by dealing with the kids and family stuff herself or also by helping me the business end of things… she still does a lot of that. Now that the kids are all grown up it’s only the dogs that demand my attention, and believe me they are more demanding than the kids ever were.

Sure, there are times when I have to put down the pen and go do something in the house that Anna needs my help with. If things are really getting serious with a deadline I am not afraid to say “I can’t do that right now”, but honestly very few things are too time consuming for me to have to say that. Anna knows exactly what I am working on at any given time, and so she knows when I am getting behind and when I need to be left alone, or when she can ask me to help move something in the garage without being too distracting.

The pros of family distractions are worth it all, though. I never missed a first step, lost tooth, first bike ride, holiday school singing show, choir concert, play, or any other growing-up milestone. More importantly, I was there when the little things happened and shared in all the important and not-so-important but still special moments of my kids growing up. I feel sorry for the many parents out there whose jobs and careers only give them a few hours a day of time with their children. I had all day, every day. Only when I was doing the theme park thing full time did I have significant time away from home,. That was only during the summers and I ended my personal time in the parks when the kids were still very young. Likewise The Lovely Anna and I spend all our days together. I know more than a few married couples whose relationships I seriously doubt would survive spending that kind of time together. We are lucky in that it’s not a cliché for us to say we are not just husband and wife, but best friends as well.

All in all I’m quite content with having a studio in my home as opposed to outside the home. In fact, I feel very blessed to be able to have done that all these years.

Thanks to Hugo Z 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!

Sunday Mailbag- “Bats” Print Info

Sunday, August 24th, 2014


Today’s mailbag is an amalgamation of many of the questions I have been getting on my new Limited Edition Print “Bats in the Belfry”, which goes on sale online here tomorrow:

Q: How many prints in your limited edition?

A: Just like the last two prints, there will be 450 of them, all hand numbered and signed.

Q: How much will they be?

A: $25 plus shipping, just like the others.

Q: How big is it?

A: Big. 11″ x 28″.

Q: Will you ever reissue the print after the limited editions are sold out?

A: Nope. Both the James Bond and Doctor Who prints are completely sold out (although I do have a few of the Doctor Who prints left from the original print run, which I am selling as “Artist Proofs”), and I will not be printing them again.

Q: Will you be selling the original art as well like before?

A: Yes. Just like the last two, I did the original inks of each of the Batmen as individual pieces and will be selling them as “Special Editions” along with a signed and numbered “SE” print series of eight. They will be priced at $125 each. Several of them all already spoken for, though. I will post the individual ones still available sometime later tomorrow.

Q: This is your second print in less than 4 months. Are we going to be inundated with new prints several times a year now?

A: No. My intention was always to do only one print a year, but the Sherlock print was sort of a special extra one. Most of the time I will have a new print released in the early summer. I’ll do it as long as people are interested in buying them. Don’t worry, if you are a completist kind of collector you won’t be looking at “Disney Water globe” syndrome here, where 20 new items are released each year.

Q: Why didn’t you draw the bat on the chest of the Batmen?

A: Because that bat symbol is a trademarked property, and even though this is a parody of the subject matter including a trademark is hard to defend legally.

Sunday Mailbag- Drawing Disabilities?

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Q: Live caricatures are difficult partly due to the fact that you are face to face with the person you are drawing. You do a fantastic job explaining this in your book and go on to say how some customers are easier to draw than others based on prominent features (i.e. a big nose) and this is called a “field day.”  

But what I want to know is how do you deal with clients that have deformities? I’m not talking about caterpillar eyebrows or a big forehead. I mean scars, a very lazy eye, or anything out of the norm.

I have a cleft lip/ palette. Meaning I have a prominent scar on my upper lip. It’s not horrifying in any sense but it’s there and it used to make me self-conscious. So, naturally I would avoid caricature artists like the plague (ironic considering I love the art form now). But later in life I gained more confidence and had a caricature done recently. I actually told the artist not go easy and to be honest on what he saw; mostly because I wanted his honest interpretation, but also to ease the tension mostly for my own selfish reasons. He complied and it worked out fine. I was happy with the final piece.

I’m sure this is a rare problem considering the fact that the person would need to be either shy or self-conscious like I used to be, but has there ever been an exception? How would you handle something like that?

A: You would think that if a person sits down in front of a caricaturist, they would be prepared for the results and have the self-esteem necessary to take a little ribbing about their physical appearance. Often, nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only do live caricaturists get subjects who are overly-sensitive about their appearance, but they get people who are downright delusional about what they look like…. they just plain don’t believe they have buck teeth, even though they could open tin cans with their central incisors. They literally think they have nothing to exaggerate, and are usually appalled when their delicate self delusions are brought crashing about their feet like splintered glass.

That all said, those subjects with real physical abnormalities or disabilities are different cases all around. The above paragraph is about people with basically normal features, the differences and perceived “flaws” being only minor cosmetic elements… nothing but superficial vanity. There are, or course, many people with very obvious abnormalities to their features. Cleft lips or a lazy eye like you mentioned, injuries, scarring, illness, disabilities needing prosthetics, wheelchairs, etc…. these are issues that affect their actual lives, and are in some cases central to their daily lives.

So how do you handle these kinds of elements in a caricature? Do you ignore them? Downplay them? Draw them but not exaggerate it much? Ruthlessly exaggerate them?

Much of how you handle it depends on the person in front of you, and they will often let you know what they want like you did with your recent caricature. These folks are used to living with whatever issue they have and understand that many people, not just caricaturists who are wondering how to draw them, have difficulty addressing them. The more invasive the issue, the harder time people have getting around it in normal daily interaction. These people get that, and they will often take the initiative and address it upfront. They may say “don’t forget my scar!” or “can you downplay my scar?” or whatever… they will give you the lead. If they have a very obvious issue but say nothing about it at all, that also says something. It means they don’t let whatever it is dictate their interaction with people, and while they don’t hide from it (they are asking for a caricature after all) they don’t let it get in their way either.

So, what do you do when confronted with an issue like this?

It’s been my experience that there are two things you absolutely avoid doing:

  1. Totally ignoring the issue and draw them without whatever it is.
  2. Making an exaggeration of the issue the focus of the drawing.

With regard to the former, whatever their issue it is part of who they are. It may be nothing more than a cosmetic thing, or it may impact their life from morning to night. I’ve found the more it affects their daily lives, i.e. the severity of the disability, the more important it is you depict it in the drawing. It is actually insulting to the subject to NOT draw whatever it is (unless they specifically ask you to do this) because it insinuates they are “broken” and you draw them normal because that’s the way they are supposed to be. People usually don’t like that.

That goes for wheelchairs/mobility issues as well. I had a caricaturist once email me telling me a story about how he had a kid in a wheelchair get a drawing done, and how he drew him running with healthy legs across a race’s finish line in first place, and then telling the kid “you WILL walk again” when he handed it to him. That is just about the most disturbing and wrong thing I’ve ever heard a caricaturist do with a disabled subject. That kid might be permanently paralyzed and have zero chance of ever walking again. He may have spent years coming to grips with that, or still be coming to grips with it. That kid isn’t less of a person because he can’t win a foot race, and doesn’t need to be able to do that to live a great and happy life. What kind of message is that to impart, that walking again is an ultimate life goal? The artist said the family loved the drawing, but he got lucky there. Most of the time the opposite is true.

The latter point is the opposite end of the spectrum. No matter what issue or challenge the subject is dealing with, making that issue the central part of your exaggeration/caricature is equally as insulting as not drawing it. Your subject is not defined by whatever their issue is, so making it the focus of your drawing is not only insulting, it is incorrect because it says they ARE defined by it. A caricature is supposed to capture the personality and “presence” of the subject, and that means deeper than the skin. Expression should be as central to your exaggeration as the raw features are… making a prominent facial scar into the Grand Canyon on the subject’s face captures nothing about their personality, and is a lazy cop-out for the caricaturist.

How I usually handle it, once I understand the subject does not want me to ignore the issue completely, is I draw it but I do not emphasize or exaggerate it. If it is something strictly cosmetic I will perhaps downplay it a bit, but will definitely include whatever it is. If it is something more invasive like missing limbs, a wheelchair, etc., I will of course include that as well but I might address it more… that depends on the interaction I have with the subject. If I get the sense they have a good sense of humor, I will make a gag out of the issue, but in a way that makes light of the issue, not them. For example, if they have a missing arm, I might draw them with a book in one hand entitled “Robotics Made Easy”, and have a giant robot arm in place of their missing limb, doing curls with a 100lb dumb-bell. If they are in a wheelchair, I might draw the wheelchair as an “Ed Roth” style souped-up drag racer wheelchair bursting through the finish line of a race. These kinds of gags are twofold: first, they are funny ways of addressing their disability. Two, they show the subject clearly overcoming their disability using their own power or ingenuity, unlike the “miracle” gag the afore mentioned caricaturist used. People want to be shown as empowered in the face of a challenge or disability, not at the mercy of hoping for a miracle.

It’s always a challenge to draw someone with a physical abnormality or disability. The rule of thumb is you want to draw THEM, not their issue. Drawing them likely will include drawing whatever issue they have, but it should not be about the issue… it’s about them.

Thanks to Ethan Keister 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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