Archive for the 'Mailbag' Category
Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
I haven’t had to post this image in a long time, but I am fresh out of questions for the Sunday mailbag!
Well, it’s not really completely empty, but the only ones I’ve got right now are either repeats of previous questions or of the “can you teach me how to cross-hatch?” or “how do you exaggerate people in caricature?” variety which aren’t really questions so much as they are requests for long and involved tutorials, and are needing a lot more time than I can give for this weekly feature. A good Sunday Mailbag question can certainly involve an image or two and a somewhat long answer, but anything like a tutorial is a different matter.
It’s entirely possible that people have run out of questions. I have been doing this every week for over eight years, and there are only so many questions people might have about freelancing, illustration, etc. So maybe this feature has run it’s course. I guess that’s up to you.
So, if you have questions concerning cartooning, illustration, freelancing, MAD Magazine or other similar subjects I’ll be happy to answer them as best I can. E-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!
Sunday, November 16th, 2014
This week’s question comes from Ginger Meggs cartoonist, illustrator and caricaturist extraordinaire Jason Chatfield:
Q: I notice your sketch-of-the-week pencils are a lot tighter than your MAD parody draft layouts. Have you ever considered doing a parody as pencils a la Mort, then colouring over them? I realise it’s not your usual style, but your Sketch-Of-The-Week sketches are incredible.
A: Thanks, Jason. Glad you enjoy the SotW.
Jason refers to some of Mort Drucker‘s later work in MAD, which seemed to get away from his traditional pen and ink style and includes more pencil work and less ink. Having never seen any of the originals of that later Mort art, I can’t really speak to how much of it was really pencil, and how much other mixed media like marker pens and such, but it definitely looked a lot softer and looser than the straight pen and ink work he did up through the late 90’s.
It would be an interesting experiment to do a parody entirely in tight pencil as opposed to actually inking it, but I don’t see me doing that unless exactly the right subject matter came along. It would certainly need to be in black and white… I don’t think color and pencil would mesh very well in print unless I basically fully painted the whole thing, and that would take forever. The hard black lines hold the looser color technique I use for my MAD work together… you’d be surprised how sloppy my painting looks when zoomed in. The strong lines make that work, softer pencil lines would need a lot more of a tight painting.
Most of my “sketch of the week” drawings are not really sketches. A “sketch”, at least to me, is a visual exploration or study of a subject as opposed to a finished piece of art. That implies taking risks, following paths in the sketch that might end up in a dead end, and generally being loose and carefree with the drawing. The ones I post here are (usually) way too tight to be a real sketch. They are more like graphite paintings than sketches, and rely on values much more than line. So, many of my more elaborate sketches would not translate well into a line drawing unless there was a fair amount of values added in the form of painting or crosshatching.
Because the panels in MAD are small and my caricatures by necessity are very small to fit into the format, it’s better in MAD parodies to stick with caricatures based on lines as opposed to values, and least for me. The approach to each is different.
Never say never, however. Who knows? The right subject may come along where something like a pencil and painting technique would be perfect. The only thing that worries me about doing it is that the editors at MAD might pay me a lower page rate because they’ll say I saved money using no ink!
Thanks to Jason Chatfield 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, November 9th, 2014
Q: Have you ever been asked to do a pet caricature? What would be the challenges involved?
A: No, I’ve never been asked to do one. I did do an illustration of Jeff Dunham‘s dog for him once:
but it’s not much of a caricature. Except for making the eyes and ears a bit bigger and the snout a bit smaller, this is practically a portrait.
I believe you can caricature animals, but not in the same way you caricature humans. With humans, you identify what makes them unique from other humans both visually and in their personality and exaggerate that. Different species of animals have identifiably traits that you can exaggerate, but that’s sort of like exaggerating racial characteristics in humans… something you do not want to do. You mainly exaggerate the same things within each species of animal. That’s generalizing not specifying. Pitbulls, for example, have very flat tops of heads, wide faces with smaller eyes set wide apart. They’ve got very wide, barrel-like torsos with short legs and small rear ends. Those characteristics would apply to most all pitbulls, and you already have the basis for a “caricature” of any of that breed.
Individual animals have their own unique looks, though. Ask any pet owner and they’ll insist their pets have ‘personalities’ that make them different from others of the same breed. Actually most behaviors in pets are part of their breed as well, but there is plenty of individuality among domesticated animals. Mostly it’s due to a “look” they get that their owner identifies with.
All that aside, drawing a a pet isn’t much different than drawing anything else. They have features, and if you draw those features correctly and well it will look like that pet. Apply a little exaggeration… perhaps 80% based on the look of the breed and 20% based on your own observations (helped by the description of the pet’s “personality” by the owner) and you’ll have a pseudo “caricature” of the pet. Is it a “real” caricature? That depends on your definition, but an exaggerated likeness is certainly possible.
hanks to D.D. Degg 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, November 2nd, 2014
Q: (I’m paraphrasing this one from a non-english speaking emailer’s question) I’m a caricaturist and sometimes when I’m working on a sketch of a subject I just can’t get the likeness. I will redo it several times and ask others like my wife what they think, and even though they know who it is supposed to be I am still unhappy with it. Does this happen to you? Do you have a trick to drive you back out of a seeming impasse?
A: This happens to every caricaturist at one point or another. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it… you just occasionally struggle to find a solution to the subject you are trying to capture. Sometimes it happens with what you would think would be the easiest of faces.
I’ve found the problem is often a disparity between what you THINK the subject looks like, and what they really look like. Caricature is all about perception, and if your perceived notion of a subject is different that what others see or what the face really shows, you will have problems. Often it’s more about expression than it is physical features. You see a certain subject as having a cynical, wry look to them, but none of your photo reference show you that look. You keep trying capture it with what’s in your head and not what’s in front of your eyes. If those two references do not mesh, you will have a result that satisfies neither. You might think a subject has a big chin because in certain photos it looks like they do, but in reality their chin isn’t big. Again, your perception is off and you need to let go of your preconceived notions and look at your subject with fresh eyes.
I do have a few tricks to help with this:
- Get up and leave the drawing behind- Stop banging your head against the wall and go do something to take your mind off the drawing. Not just for a few minutes but for a few hours if you can. Better even the next day if deadlines are not an issue. Sometimes you just need your brain to reboot to get those fresh eyes working.
- Toss out all your sketches and start over- Stop reworking the same sketch that isn’t working for you in the first place. It might be too broken to recover.
- Toss out all your references and get new ones- This one usually helps. Photos lie and distort the features is subtle ways you don’t immediately recognize. Odd angles or expressions can make a big difference in how you perceive your subject, and sometimes references can throw you off badly. Don’t become enamored of a single reference picture and insist on making it your cornerstone. Get a half dozen references, with different angles and looks. If available, watch a little video of your subject talking and moving about. That helps a lot.
Don’t give up. but don’t waste your time beating a dead horse, either. There is no undrawable face.
Thanks to Thmas Vetter 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, October 26th, 2014
Q: How’s your finger healing? I have to imagine that was a little scary… did it limit your work and are you having any lasting effects?
A: If you are not a FaceBook friend of mine, you are probably wondering “what did you do to your finger?” Well, here’s the story… Warning: graphic photos to follow.
Late last month The Lovely Anna, The Animated Elizabeth and I took a short trip down to my old hometown of La Crescent, MN for my 30th high school class reunion. We stayed with my dad and step-mom’s place in nearby La Crosse, WI. The morning of my reunion, I was having breakfast when my dad mentioned he wanted to get rid of his old, large, tube TV in his basement and get a new flat screen. The Lovely Anna turned to me and said “Go move that TV for your dad, that’s what those muscles are for.” So, down I went with my dad to try and get this thing up the stairs and into the garage.
Tube TVs are huge and very heavy. This was a 36 inch behemoth which weighed over 200 lbs. My dad is 73, and while he tried to take one end of the TV he just couldn’t do it. We had to put it down at the bottom of the stairs going up from the basement. Rather than doing the smart thing and waiting until dad could find someone else to come and help, I just lifted the entire TV and carried it up the stairs myself.
For the record, I handled the weight just fine. I routinely deadlift well over 300 lbs in the gym. The problem came about as I was going out the door into the garage. I could not see my hands as the TV was too big and was right in my face. On the way through the doorway, and smashed my right hand between the TV and the door lever.
I yelled “OWWW!”
My dad yelled “DON’T DROP THE TV!!!”
I’m just kidding about that last one. Dad was much more concerned about my getting blood on the rug… he was getting rid of the TV.
Anyway, Everyone tried to help me with the TV, but you don’t exactly help anyone with a 200 plus TV in their arms unless you can actually take the TV from them, which no one could. I slowly went down to my knees and put the TV on the floor. Then I looked at the damage to my right hand. What I saw was about a 3/4 inch gap in my skin just above the knuckle of my right index finger. Interestingly enough, there was no blood at all. I could clearly see into that gap. What I saw was my knuckle, and one dark red ribbon-like thing stretching along side of it. That was a tendon.
We were off to the hospital 2 minutes later.
If you have a strong stomach, click on the “read more” link and you’ll see some pictures. (more…)
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, 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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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).
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, September 28th, 2014
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, 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, September 14th, 2014
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:
This 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!