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Q: I want to learn to draw caricatures. What should I do?

A: Seek professional psychiatric help. If you are still intent on drawing caricatures, the best way to become a good caricaturist is to have been dropped on your head a lot as a child. Having an incurable rash somewhere also helps you with the attitude. Barring that, I have several recommendations for artists interesting in leaning to draw caricature, whether the live kind or in a studio setting:

Get some books/videos- Unfortunately there is no definitive book on drawing caricatures, but there are many that are good for certain aspects of caricature. Lenn Redman’s “How to Draw Caricatures” is one that is a little dated but has some good insights on observations, comparing faces to the “everyman” ideal and other useful information. Another good book was written by a friend of mine, Keelan Parham, called “Let’s Toon Caricatures” and concentrates on the quick, live approach. There are others, of course, but I haven’t had personal experience with them. Searching for “caricature” on Amazon will net you a plethora of books and choices. Many are older and available in your local library. I am only aware of one video on drawing caricatures. It’s actually a series by animator Jim Van Der Keyl. I have these and have watched most of them. Again, some very good information and having the visuals really helps. These cover the gambit from quick live stuff to more thought out caricatures.

I have been threatening to write my own book for years, and I think that is finally going to happen. Putting something like that together is a lot of work, but I am slowly plugging away on it and hope to have something out by next summer.

Go watch the artists at your local theme park- As I said in an earlier post, theme park artists (and party/gig artists) can be very talented and you can learn a lot watching them. There is nothing like watching a caricaturist draw the very faces that are right in front of you to get a feel for observation, exaggeration and execution of a drawing. No two caricaturists draw the same, and one will choose to exaggerate differently than another. It’s a great learning experience to see what they pick out and how they stretch the face. Ask some questions, they are often very open to sharing their ideas and approaches. If it is possible and you are interested, look into getting a job at a theme park caricature concession for a summer. They are like a caricature boot camp… an invaluable experience. The food is very fattening, however.

Study the work of other caricaturists- Hirschfeld, Kruger, Drucker, Levine… the list of brilliant caricaturists is long. Study their work and compare their versions of different subjects. It’s fascinating to see what each chooses to embellish and what they choose to ignore, and what makes their caricatures work.

Practice, practice, practice- Draw FROM LIFE as much as possible, and from photos if you can’t get models. There is no substitute for drawing from life, whether you are working on caricatures or any kind of art. Fill up sketchbooks with caricatures. Draw different face types, ages and races. Do some you draw quickly and some you spend lots of time on.

You don’t really learn how to draw caricatures, you slowly develop your eye for it, and your instincts with the face. It requires time and patience, and if you draw people from life in a coffee shop and then show them the results, it might require a good pair of running shoes for a fast getaway. Fortunately it’s also fun, and that makes it a lot easier to put in the work. Above all have fun drawing them. Your sense of humor will come though in your drawings.

Q: What kind of art materials do you use?

A: That depends on the job. For work, I use Strathmore 3 or 4 ply Bristol with a kid (rough) finish for the paper. I do the pencil drawing with a mechanical lead holder, using “HB” or “F” 2mm leads. I ink with both a dip pen and brushes. Most of the time I use a Gillott 303 pen nib, but sometimes change up to a Gillott 659 or a Hunt 107. For brushes I use Winsor & Newton red sables, #2, 3 or 5 for the big areas. I use Pelican’s Drawing Ink A for the dip pen and either Black Star or FW for the brush (thicker and more dense). The finished inks are scanned into the computer and colored in PhotoShop CS2.Other jobs may entail using watercolors, airbrush and/or acrylics, depending on the results the client wants.

Q: Do you do personal commissions, and how much would you charge?

A: I really hate my answer to this frequent question, but realistically I have no other answer to give. No, I am very sorry to all who inquire, but I had to stop doing personal commissions a long time ago. Due to a plain old lack of physical time I have to often turn down very high paying freelance publication or advertising jobs. If I accepted personal commissions, I would have to turn down even more of the freelance work. For a while I tried charging the kind of prices I would get for a publication illustration in order to justify the studio time taken for commissions, but I just couldn’t bring myself to charge that kind of money for personal work. That’s the bad news. The good news is if you happen to catch me drawing in one of my theme park operations (this doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen) you can get one done in color for between $13.00 and $16.00. Just to warn you, though, if I don’t like the way it turns out I sign it “Steckley”.

Q: How do I break into MAD?


If you want to break into MAD, the easiest way is with a grappling hook, 50 feet of rope, a glass cutter and suction cups. You can bribe your way in on Wednesdays with home baked cookies offered to Dick DeBartolo. Seriously, getting into MAD is notoriously hard to do, but it isn’t quite the impenetrable fortress it was in the 70’s and 80’s. Back then MAD had their legendary freelancers in their prime, and there was frankly very little work they had in the magazine that one of their established and well known “Usual Gang of Idiots” was not available to do. It was ‘a closed shop’ as was quoted among hopeful freelancers. Today is a little bit different.

The magazine is striving to establish a more modern look and identity in the 21st century, and is more open to newer styles and different aesthetics than the traditional MAD look. Now that the magazine is in color, the dynamic has changed somewhat and artists who work in color have more of a shot at getting their chance than those who work in black and white only. There are also a few recurring features that need many artists with varied styles. These changes have opened the doors much more to new artist’s work. Given all that, MAD is still a tough nut to crack. In order to ‘break in’, you need three things firmly in place: have work that they like a lot, demonstrate professionalism and be in the right place at the right time.

Do Work They Like- This first point may be the hardest. MAD’s idea of work they like isn’t necessarily the same as just “great work”. There are lots of artists that are terrific and that the editors and art staff are impressed by, but they feel their work just doesn’t fit the magazine. Many caricaturists fit this mold. I know of several who’s caricature work is exemplary, but who suffer from “caricaturist disease”. That’s a syndrome where a caricature artist thinks the world stops at the neck. They are so focused on the face they ignore the rest of the universe. MAD looks for artists who create their own world as seen through their own eyes, meaning the chairs, cars and toilets they draw have as much personality as their caricatures. MAD also looks for artists who can ’sell a gag’ as I have mentioned before, meaning their artwork makes a written joke funnier and easier to understand. They also look for uniqueness. They don’t want Mort Drucker or Jack Davis clones. Finally, they are always looking for the “MAD feel”, which doesn’t seem to have a quantifiable definition.

Demonstrate Professionalism- This seems like an oxymoron as MAD is famous for self-deprecation and bucking the rules, but don’t let that facade fool you. These guys know their business and expect their freelancers to hit deadlines, do professional work and take art and editorial direction like a pro. The easiest way to demonstrate this is by having a body of work already established… in comics, magazine illustration, advertising, etc. It’s very, VERY hard to do work for MAD without having established credentials as a cartoonist or illustrator. MAD has been at the top of it’s genre for 50 plus years, and they don’t need to act as a proving ground for young, inexperienced talent. Unfortunately the MAD knock-offs that DID act as such a proving ground are basically all gone now. Having a portfolio with published work is basically a must.

Be in the Right Place at the Right Time- This means just get lucky. In order to get work from MAD they first must have a job available to give you. Here’s how the distribution of freelance work happens at MAD (as I understand it): First, the editorial and art staff meet with the features and articles that need art for upcoming issues. They start out with the “A” list of freelancers, or those who’s work is in almost every issue. They assign jobs to them as they see the individual artist’s style fits the piece, taking into account the artist’s availability, etc. Once all the “A’ listers are busy with something, they move on to the “B” list, or those who’s work is in the magazine consistently a few times a year. If there is any work left over at this point, they move on to the ‘best of the rest’, meaning those artists who have done some work in the past but aren’t really regulars. If anything is still left over, they will start considering new artists. As you might imagine, many months might go by without ever reaching that point.

There are two features in MAD that allow for new artists to get a ‘tryout’ without MAD having to commit a deadline or multiple pages to: “The Fundalini Pages” and “The Strip Club”. The “Fundalini Pages” is a three page collection of short gags, features and jokes that often need a spot illustration, and I’ve seen numerous new artists crop up there. The “Strip Club” is a multi-page feature containing comic strips that have edgy and quirky subjects and feels to them, and many new artists have appeared in that. Getting work in these sections is a little more likely and can lead to bigger assignments.

Here’s an important point for those who sem to think they are not being given the proper consideration when sendin in their work to MAD: There is no secret address or password that will get your work in front of “the right person”. Not even home baked cookies will make any difference. Trust me when I say that anyone who sends work into MAD will get the proper attention paid to it, usually by art director Sam Viviano himself. Send artwork to:

MAD Magazine
c/o Sam Viviano, Art Director
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019.

Writers can submit via e-mail at submissions@madmagazine.com. Do not e-mail any artwork, always mail it. Here is a link to their submission guidelines for more info. My advice is only send them strong, publishable type work, and leave the cool sketches you ripped out of your sketchbook at home. They aren’t interested in your ‘potential’, they just want to see work they could envision reproduced in the magazine.

Finally, be patient. Continue to send submissions in periodically. That way you have the best shot of having your work happen to be on Sam’s desk the day they are looking for someone to do a Fundalini spot. Never send the same thing twice, always make it new work they haven’t seen yet. Don’t get discouraged… after all, if I can get into MAD anybody can!

Q: How do I get started doing freelance illustration?

A: Making a living solely on freelance work is a tough and scary thing to do. There is no steady paycheck, and sometimes waiting for that phone to ring with a job seems like it takes forever. Other times you are so swamped you can’t keep up. It’s not a life for the faint of heart.

First, I’d suggest for beginners to find a secondary source of income so your freelance work is not what you rely on to pay the rent. I used my live caricature work and businesses for this purpose, and it allowed me to take my time building up both my work and my client base. Barring having a rich uncle to support you, it’s a lot less stressful to “break into the business” with a paycheck you can count on on the side. The stereotype of a struggling actor waiting tables to make ends meet is not undeserving, and visual “starving artists” are similarly common.

The term “breaking in” is a misnomer. You do not burst through the freelance wall into a room full of work. It’s more like slowly chipping though that wall until you construct a door you can go though at will. That first job is always the hardest, however. Many art directors are only interested in working with established artists. This is because they are just as interested in someone who is easy to work with and who can hit a deadline as someone who’s work is exceptional. That’s a bit of a catch 22, so getting that first job and, more importantly doing a professional job on it, is important.

The first step is to have a good portfolio/promo materials. I’ve found few art directors have the time to want you to send them a full portfolio. Postcards and tearsheet promos plus a website has replaced the traditional portfolio. The aspiring freelancer must have professional looking promo materials. This isn’t all that expensive anymore, thanks to computers and ink jet printers or cheap 4 color printing. Still, it will take a little investment of money to get those materials put together. Promo pieces should consist of 2-4 images, and not be too big or unwieldy. 4 x 6 postcards are great, and letter sized pages are also good. Websites are a must and cheap to put up and maintain. Instant access to unlimited examples of your work. There are thousands of illustrator website out there to see the kind of formats are being used.

Once you have the promo stuff together, you need to get it in front of someone who wants to buy illustration. That’s one of the harder things to do. Getting started means thinking small and sending your promo stuff to smaller clients who are more willing to work with less experienced illustrators, and who pay less as well. Local publications are a great way to start. The free papers, local printers who do graphic design, local magazines… there are often many potential clients right in your immediate area. Look around and think about who would be looking for the kind of work you do.

One quick way to get your work out there is through a sourcebook. Sourcebooks are illustrator advertising books where artists buy a page or spread to show their work, and the publishers of the book distribute it to buyers of illustration. I did this for many years, with varying degrees of success. Yes, it does get your work out there, but there is something self defeating about putting a page of your artwork in a book with 500 to 1000 other artists trying to get the same jobs. It’s also very expensive, and you’ll need to get several jobs just to break even. Still it isn’t a bad idea if you have a few grand to blow and want to try it out. The Directory of Illustration and Showcase are two of the bigger sourcebooks to look into.

Direct mailing is another way to get your work out there. Every magazine published has a masthead with an address and the name of the art director in it. Go to your local big newsstand and look for magazines who’s subjects and styles seem like a match for the kind of work you do (I wouldn’t send sports related artwork samples to “Ladies Home Journal” for example). Buy a copy of the ones that fit, or if you are really cheap bring a notebook and copy the info out of the mastheads. Create a mailing list and send off your promo samples to the art directors. Go ahead and send it to Time and People if you feel you must, but I’d save those stamps and target smaller, niche type magazines. It’s the dirty little secret of all professional illustrators, even the big guns, that most of their income is from the smaller, niche magazines than the large publications. Send out a second mailing a month later, and from then on every 3 months or so. Always send out new images, not the same ones over and over. You need to have you work on their desk when that lucky job comes in, but you don’t want to be a pest, either.

Finally, the best advice I ever got on how to be a successful freelancer was from the great David Levine. He dispensed this advice while we were utilizing side-by-side urinals after a panel discussion he was on was , which for some weird reason makes it seem unmistakeably genuine… you do not bullshit a guy peeing next to you. He said being successful freelancing was about knowing people and building relationships. For example, say an artist does work for an art director, who has lunch with another art director and mentions the job the artist did for him or her when the subject of a particular style of work comes up. The second art director may well call said artist for another job. Art directors change jobs all the time and go to different publications, often calling artists they previously worked with for the new publication, etc. All this is predicated on the artist in question doing a good and professional job, of course. If you are hard to work with or unreliable, you won’t get work no matter how many people you know.

Freelancing for a steady living is about building a client base. That means finding a core group of clients who provide steady work, while still pursuing new clients. You can’t get comfortable with just a few steady ones, because no client lasts forever. Art directors leave and new ones want a different look, and other things happen beyond your control. Stay patient and confident, and continue to produce new promos and send them to new potential clients. Above all work hard on even the smallest of jobs. It’s a long climb, and even the most successful still worry about the next phone call. Keep at it and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible.

Q: Do you do any of the writing for your parodies in MAD?

A: No and yes. How’s that for an ambiguous answer?

There are many forms of writing, but in the traditional sense, meaning do I contribute to the actual script and/or dialogue of a parody I am doing the art for the answer is no. I get a script from MAD with all the dialogue and each panel already written and set. The writer of the parody submits the script to MAD, and he/she is the one who gets the credit (or blame) for the jokes, gags and satire of the piece. The editors do a lot of work on the articles in MAD also, sometimes trimming out panels and gags to make an article more concise, and doing some tweaking to make the gags that are kept as effective as possible. This process is all over by the time I get the script. My job as far as the script is concerned is to make sure my artwork reinforces the gags written into the script, either helping to drive home the jokes or making it easier to understand them. This is called “selling the gag” as I have mentioned before.

As I said, there are many forms of writing. One of my favorite parts of the MAD tradition, and something that I think makes MAD so much fun, is the addition of background gags and funny (hopefully) art unrelated to the jokes in the script. These are called “visual gags”. Will Elder, one of the principal artists of the early days of MAD, was the master of this aspect of MAD art. Elder, a certifiable genius of humorous illustration (some might say he was simply “certifiable”) used to cram every spare inch of his panels with visual gags and background jokes. He called this dense method of cartooning the “Chicken Fat technique”. It is a form of writing, just usually not with words.

I have tried to carry on the Chicken Fat technique by brainstorming and adding visual gags throughout a MAD parody I draw. I think it adds and extra layer to the humor. If you don’t find at least one or two gags in your second reading of a parody that you missed previously, I did not do my job. Some gags I’ll write in have to do with the show itself, like having one of the characters doing something in the panel unrelated to the dialogue but might be saying something about that character or actor. An example of this would be my parody of Terminator 3, when I drew Arnold spitting out his dentures as well as a bullet he caught in his teeth, wearing an AARP T-shirt. Another background gag might be adding a cameo of some celebrity or cartoon character related somehow to the subject of the parody. For example, when I added Count Chocula and Frankenberry to the “Van Helsing” parody splash page. My favorite background gags, however, are ones that are complete non-sequitors… meaning they have nothing to do with the subject matter but are just jokes dealing with the moment or environment. An example of this would be similar to a panel I drew for an article on “Televised Sports”. The written gag was about how stupid it was that the commentators on TV golf whisper when they talk, like they are right on the green when someone is putting and not in some booth hundreds of yards away. I drew the commentators shushing themselves, but in the background on the course the putter was getting hit by lightning. That had nothing to do with the gag, but was just a silly visual.

Q: I’ve been looking everywhere for the materials you mentioned in your inking tutorial. Where can I get Gillott nibs and that stuff?

A: Few if any art stores carry anything but a few token inking supplies, mostly in the form of “Cartooning Kits”. Ecccch. Thank goodness for the internet. Here are some sources for inking supplies:

Gillot Pen nibs:

Tough to find these in the US. You have to order them from overseas, and that’s expensive. But, if you have to have them, try:

Scribblers (UK)
John Neal Booksellers

There are others but these are under $1.00 US each. 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 NCN 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.

Pelikan Drawing Ink A:

This is more common now, but a few years ago they had lost their US distributor and finding it was impossible. If you want to get a BIG bottle, try:


Most of the rest of the stuff you need like white out, etc. is readily available at any regular or on-line art store.

There used to be a great single source for Gillott nibs, good inks like Dr. Ph.Martin’s Black Star HICARB or Tech 14W Black, and other great inking supplies on-line called AOE. They were the cheapest and had everything. Unfortunately they stopped carrying Gillotts for some reason, and have redone their website but the area with the inking stuff is still not up. They may be back to carrying the Gillotts by now. You can keep checking back at the AOE website or call them at their toll free number on the site and ask about it.


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