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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!

Sunday Mailbag- Fonts?

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Q: How do you approach copyright on fonts when it comes to your different projects? It’s tempting to just use whatever font looks best but quite a bit of them have copyright restrictions on commercial use. Or they are donate to author. I am guessing you hand letter some but curious how you approach font usage in your artwork when it comes to copyright restrictions.

A: I have to admit I am very lax when it come to the use of a font in an illustration I am doing. Often I hand letter something, but I will usually base that on a font I have seen or am using as a reference. Most of the fonts I use in illustrations are from Comicraft or another free, open use font resource. I seldom really look to be sure though, and it’s possible the use of some of these fonts could involve copyright permission or payment.

I am not sure how the legal use of a font within the context of an illustration works with respect to copyright. It might fall under the same sort of fair use exemption as does the use of a sampling of another person’s music in a hip-hop/rap song. Fair use permits the use of elements of a copyrighted work as long and the resulting work is completely original and new. Certainly, that applies to the illustrations I do where I might use an actual font as an element of the piece. Interesting question, though. I need to look into it. Thanks!

Thanks to Sean Platt  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- Caricaturist Superpowers?

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Q: As a caricaturist you are analyzing thousands of faces. So I am wondering if you have got super-powers in the following sense: Can you better than other people see, if two persons are relatives: father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, cousins, etc.?

A: I wish. My only super-power is the ability to procrastinate until the very last second and still pull off a deadline.

Actually I think the opposite of what you describe might be more true, at least for me. I think as a caricaturist I recognize things like expression and subtle facial or body language nuances related to personality more than anything else. When I see a person who reminds me of some celebrity or another person, it’s often because of the way they hold their head or squint their eyes or their smile curls up or some such expressive element. I might say to someone “That person looks a little like so and so”, and then get an odd look because that person doesn’t really look much like so and so, but just has some of his/her mannerisms or presence and that’s why I get the association. Other people often don’t see it at all.

This is sort of hard to explain… the best way I can do it is to use a celebrity impersonator as an example. The really good impersonators don’t just sound like the person they are impersonating, they adopt the facial expressions, tics and mannerisms of the subject. When they do that, they somehow start to physically resemble the subject even though their actual features do not match at all. That’s what I mean… seeing those elements of a person and recognizing that they resemble someone else, even if the features do not.

Sometimes family traits include mannerisms and expressions like I described, but as far as physical features and family resemblances go I am no better than your average bear at seeing them, and probably worse than most.

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- Comic-Cons?

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Q: It’s been fun to see your reports from the San Diego Comic-Con. I have noticed you are doing quite a few comic-cons all of a sudden, whereas you used to do very few if any. What changed?

A: I’ll probably never do a big circuit of conventions like some artists do, but yes I am doing quite a few more than I used to. Up until this past year, I really only did two—San Diego and the smaller MCBA cons in Minnesota. I did San Diego because the National Cartoonists Society has a booth there, and they wanted members to come and spend time at it. I did the local Minnesota cons because they were local and I wanted to support the local cartooning industry.

There are three reasons why I started doing comic-cons:

First and foremost, I actually make some money at these things. There is no way I could take time out of the studio if I did not. I don’t make a lot, but it’s enough to justify my time away from other work.

Second, I actually have something to sell and promote at these shows. Once I had the book done, that became something I could always have a pile of and sign for people. Then I started doing the prints, which was another thing that I could have for people to buy and get signed, or at least to look at. I do a lot of drawing at these shows as well… that has surprised me a bit. There are actually quite a few artists doing caricatures at these cons, but people still seem surprised they can get themselves drawn as opposed to some comic book character. I draw them as their favorite character, or in some theme/topic, but with a humorous bend. Of course I also draw Alfred, or “Alfred as…” upon request. I change a reasonable amount of money for these, and stay pretty busy drawing.

Third, the NCS and its charitable arm the NCS Foundation wants to step up its presence at conventions, and I am helping with that by making connections and finding the conventions it makes most sense for us to go to. Right now the NCS only does San Diego, but we’d like to have a booth in Chicago, New York, and other areas around the country where we can bring in members from that area to meet and greet fans and promote the art of cartooning.

Finally, it’s fun to meet people that enjoy your work. That never gets old.

Thanks to Ben Hovart 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- How long per page?

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Q: The pages you do for your MAD parodies are very detailed and full of a lot of little gags and touches, especially the opening pages. How long to you spend on each page?

A: I get this question a lot when people look at my originals. The only accurate answer is that it takes as long as they give me.

Doing the physical artwork is only part of the work and time I put into a movie or TV parody for MAD. I spend quite a bit of time doing research and getting familiar with the show or film as well as looking for reference photos or stills before I even pick up the pencil. Doing TV show parodies are harder in terms of research, because I need to watch a number of episodes to get the feel of the show and search for “inside” gags I can incorporate into the art. When we do serial shows like the recent “True Detective”, I really have to watch the whole run to completely get it. I know what you are thinking… “Poor baby, you have to watch TV for your job!” Yes, but it’s a two way sword. First, if I hate the show I still have to watch it, and that gets pretty tedious. I’ll never get back the hours of my life I spent watching “Samantha Who?”, “Glee” or “Pimp my Ride”. Second, it’s a lot of hours spent. One season of a typical serial show is 13 hours. If we are talking multiple seasons that’s some major binge watching. Of course, if I love the show like I did “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men” or the previously mentioned “True Detective”, that’s not very arduous… just very time consuming.

Movies are easier from a research perspective as they are usually less than 3 hours long, and if I see it twice that’s plenty. I usually watch a movie I’m doing the parody art for once when I get the assignment, then again after I’ve read the script and know what scenes we are doing, so I can pay close attention to the visuals during those scenes. Then I download trailers and search the internet for stills or promotional photos to use as reference.

Once I start the actual artwork I do a page in about 2 to 3 days. It takes about a day per page to pencil it out, including roughs and final pencils, 1/2 a day to ink it and 1/2 a day to color it. That’s 2 days per page, but If I take my time it stretches out to 3 days per page. 2 days per page is pretty much my top speed. Any faster and the work suffers. By a “day” I mean about 12-15 hours. I have been known to color and entire 6 page parody in under 48 hours, but that is a function of endurance rather than speed. I simply stop sleeping or doing anything but work, eat and use the restroom  (and it’s not out of the question to do all three at the same time) until the job is done. Not healthy but deadlines wait for no man.

Thanks to Steve Barber 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- Don’t Draw Me Fat!

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Q: Love your book, it helps me a great deal when dealing with my studio works. Especially the ladies’ facial structure as I seem to have problems with (that)…  issues with questions such as ” can you draw me slimmer?” , “can you draw me younger?” etc. How do you deal with such requests?

A: Ah, the eternal bane of the live caricaturist… “Can’t you draw me skinny?” “Don’t draw my buck teeth!” “Don’t draw my wrinkles!”, etc. etc. Why people with low self image or vanity issues would want to get a caricature drawn is beyond me, but live caricaturists get these kinds of requests all the time.

I do not honor such requests. I draw the subject as I see the subject. I draw them age, weight and feature appropriate, and I tell them so up front.

That said, I do not necessarily have to exaggerate the wrinkles, fat, buck teeth or whatever else the subject is concerned about. I can make other exaggeration choices and still get a good likeness when drawing an overweight person without having to make them look like Jabba the Hut. I just don’t make them look like Keira Knightley. If they have a double chin in real life, then get one in my drawing… but I don’t necessarily have to exaggerate it.

This only applies to drawings where the subject is paying for the artwork, which is why I routinely refuse to do those kinds of commissions in the studio. Live drawing is quick, spontaneous, and in general there is a greater degree of acceptance by the customer due to that dynamic. In a studio commission piece the subject can really get ridiculous about how they are portrayed, and that’s why I politely decline most of those offers… plus I am too busy with work that does not have the opportunity to degenerate into a “Glamour Shot” caricature.

If you choose to take on private commissions, be honest with the client up front about what you do and what caricature is. Make sure they see work you’ve done so they can compare your caricatures to yoru subjects and see what level of exaggeration you typically apply, and agree on a “kill fee” if the job goes south and one of your do not want to continue to the finished art.

Thanks to Dante 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- Impossible Subjects?

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Q: Hey Tom! Looking back in your blog, I’ve noticed that occasionally you either re-do a sketch of a celebrity, or even state difficulty with a subject (Nathan Fillion I believe to be one of the more “challenging” subjects) But have you ever had a severe level of uncertainty with a subject? Any subjects that you couldn’t just get right no matter what?  Any more challenging subjects you would care to share about and how you overcame that? I can’t imagine you’d let an uncertain caricature be published to MAD… well maybe who knows?

A: Every caricaturist occasionally struggles with some faces. It could be because the subject has an elusive face in general—a young William Shatner was notoriously hard to caricature. Some people seem to look different in every different picture of them. I find Jennifer Lawrence to have that kind of face. However I think very few people have faces that are difficult to caricature in general.

More often an artist might encounter a sort of “blind spot” for a specific subject, where they just cannot seem to capture them in a way that satisfies the artist. I’ve found the cause of these “blind spots” are an inability to be objective about your subject based on a preconceived idea of how you want them to look in the caricature. That sounds like a contradiction because bringing your preconceived ideas of what a subject looks like to a caricature through your exaggeration choices is exactly what a caricaturist is supposed to do. But sometimes your idea of a certain expression or “presence” of a subject just doesn’t work well with the way the rest of the worls sees them, and you end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It won;t fit, and you won’t give up and go with a round peg instead. Then you get failed drawing after failed drawing.

I have struggled with certain caricatures say for MAD jobs here and there, usually as a result of the above “blind spot” phenomenon. Two I can think of recently were the a fore mentioned Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” parodies, and Woody Harrelson (of all people)a in the “True Detective” parody in the latest issue. Part of the problem with Harrelson was that he went back and forth between and older and younger version of his character. You can always tell if I am having a problem with cpturing a subject when you see inconsistencies between the different caricatures throughout the parody. That means I am relying on individual references to get likenesses as opposed to “figuring out” a face and its essentials, and carrying them through the entire piece.

Here are some “inconsistent” caricatures of Harrelson from the parody that don’t quite carry though as I would have liked:

Several of these are successful individually, but as a whole there is an inconstancy in terms of head shape, exaggeration and follow-thru. The chin I especially was not consistent with… in some drawings it’s enormous and others it’s not as prominent. It’s important to note, however, that the artist’s idea of capturing the subject might not be the same as the rest of the world’s idea. I’ve been told by some people they really loved a caricature I did of someone I thought was a big, fat miss, and I’ve been happy with the likeness on drawings where other say they think I didn’t get them very well.

How do you overcome this “blind spot”? You have to step back and try and look at the face with fresh eyes, leaving behind your square pegs and preconceived notions. Let the face tell you what do do. Take a break from drawing that face and come back to it after working on something else if you can. Objectivity is the key. I often will look back at something I did a year or so ago and see where I went wrong or how I could have done much better on it, mostly because enough time has elapsed that I can be more objective in my observations.

Thanks to Cameron Briones 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 Rusty?

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Q: Imagine you have to quit drawing for a while because maybe of an injury. Do you think your drawing skills are getting worse after a longer break? Or is it more like driving a bike: If you once have learned it, you will never forget it?

A: I think the physical act of drawing, i.e. your hand responding to the impulses sent from your brain, is a skill that can degrade somewhat from lack of use. However you really draw with your head, not your hand, so unless you have an injury which interferes with the normal function of your drawing hand you very quickly return to your usual form after a layoff.

That said, certain types of art techniques require constant practice to stay sharp.

Inking is one of those skills that will suffer without constant use, especially using a brush. I will spend long periods of time where I do not have to ink anything substantial and then suddenly it’s time to ink a 7 page parody for MAD, and I find my skills a little rusty. I will warm up with some direct drawing with the pen and brush on some scrap paper, and maybe start inking in the middle of page 4 or someplace other than the splash page. I find it quickly comes back, though. Within an hour or so I am inking right along.

Live caricature drawing is a skill that definitely degrades without constant use, although a long layoff also has it’s benefits. These days I don’t do much live work, so when I do I feel very rusty and frustrated. Those bold, snappy lines don’t go precisely where I want them to go for a while, and by the time I finally get warmed up whatever event I am doing the drawing for is usually over. I do a lot of mediocre or lousy live drawings for a while, and it really is frustrating because I can “see” in my head what I wanted the drawing to look like, but I didn’t accomplish that on the paper.

As to the benefits of a layoff from drawing live caricatures, that is more true for newer artists. I remember seeing a big leap in my skills each summer after taking the winter mostly off to go to art school back in the late 1980s. I think your eye becomes fresher and you have matured as an artist in other ways, and you bring that better eye to the drawing table. It would take me perhaps a week of drawing to recover my skills with the lines and the airbrush, but that is all surface stuff. The “underneath stuff”, meaning what I was actually drawing and how I was caricaturing, got better with the time off. That would lead to major leaps of ability during the summer when all that drawing and practice was used to maximum effect.

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!


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