Sunday Mailbag

January 21st, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You’ve got the caricature/cartoon aesthetic nailed, but do you ever feel the need (personally or financially) to break out of that style and do something severely different? Are there many artists out there that specialize in several aesthetic styles? Benefits/risks?

A: An interesting question, needing two answers.

First, thanks for the compliment but I disagree that I have the caricature/cartoon aesthetic “nailed”. I see plenty of room for growth within what I currently do. My figure drawing skills have lots of room for improvement, as does my composition, caricatures and overall drawing. It’s still challenging for me to do this kind of work. The day it becomes effortless is the day I will be bored with it and look elsewhere.

Second, commercially it is very tricky to market yourself with multiple styles. Art directors look for specific styles to fit their particular needs both for the overall aesthetic of their publications and for a particular job. They tend to look for someone who does what they want and that’s it. It’s not always the case, but more often than not they’d prefer to hire the artist specializing in caricature for a job involving caricature, as opposed to an artist who has a few caricatures among samples of realistic product illustration, googly-eyed cartoon characters and moody portraits. The term “jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind. I was advised against diversifying my styles when marketing myself. Most of the advice I received from artists I respected was to work to establish a recognizable “identity” as opposed to being many things at once. It’s no coincidence that the really successful illustrators have a style that is instantly recognizable and one they do not deviate from.

Not too many artists I know have radically different styles they market at once for that very reason. I remember when caricature illustrator John Kascht was a guest speaker at the NCN convention in 2000. He has a very unique soft watercolor painting style that meshes well with his cartoony but design orientated caricatures. John was trying to develop a stark, black brush line style of caricature that was a kind of cross between Al Hirshfeld and a very simplified Mort Drucker. That doesn’t describe it very well, but it was a big departure from his whimsical, painted style. I have never seen that style of his in any publication, but continue to see his usual style all the time. I don’t think he was very successful in getting that second style off the ground.

That said, I think it’s very possible and healthy to explore different techniques within your specialized genre. For example, I have been trying to develop a painted caricature technique that does not rely on lines to create the image. Here’s a section of an unfinished piece I did last year as an example:


Another example might be the Kim Jong Il piece in the MAD Art portfolio. It’s still my basic drawing technique. I am not trying to be someone I am not… but it’s a different approach to the final look and feel of the art. Same basis in caricature, but this would appeal to a different set of art directors that my line and color work would not. John may have tried to change the feel of his drawing too much. I don’t know if this new style will net me any new clients, but I like playing around with it.

I think there are nothing but benefits in exploring other kinds of art and outlets for your creativity. I have in the past done a lot of realistic figure drawings and some watercolor landscape painting just to stretch other creative muscles. As an artist your always crave challenge and growth. Applying it to your career work is a more difficult matter.

Thanks to Dave Hagen 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!


  1. SteveH says:

    The painted technique looks great Tom! Looking forward to seeing more of this from you!

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks Tom. That was quite insightful. John Kascht has some stellar work as well, thanks for pointing him out.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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