Sunday Mailbag

November 25th, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q; I am an artist who also has a son who is interested in becoming an artist for a living. Do you have any advice on how to teach him the skills necessary to pursue this career?

A: I don’t know how young your son is, but with kids the most important thing is just to encourage them to keep exploring their art and artistic interests. Pablo Picasso once said:

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

I believe that wholeheartedly. Children see and interpret the world through eyes unclouded by preconceptions eventually forced on them by society and just plain old growing up. They find the mundane wondrous, and revel in their efforts to express themselves. As adults, we have been conditioned on how we are allowed to express ourselves by external influences. You could say that the process of growing up suppresses the creativity and objectivity we had as kids. Artistic creativity can also be a little scary, as it often requires we take risks with our emotions… for example the simple fear of the rejection of something that is very personal. Some people cannot handle that kind of vulnerability and so bury that creative streak and forget they ever had it. Encouraging kids to draw and paint, and reinforcing their efforts keeps that creative force alive. Even if that kid ends up as an accountant, having a sense of art and creativity never hurt anybody… except maybe Van Gogh.

Your question seems a little more practical than metaphysical, so perhaps I should be a little more specific. I would certainly encourage your son to explore different mediums. Perhaps for birthdays or holidays he could get different art supplies so he can try things like pastels, acrylic paints, charcoal, watercolor… there are a lot of things out there that a young artist can experiment with. You never know what will really grab him, or feel just right when he’s creating. As an artist yourself, I’m sure you can help him with many of the mediums he is introduced to.

Secondly, I would concentrate on fundamental drawing. Almost all great art, and especially the kind of commercial art or illustration that would give him the best chance of making a living in the creative fields, is based on strong drawing skills. Drawing from life is the best thing to do, but that is not the easiest thing to arrange and if your son is young working with nude models isn’t the best idea… plenty of time for that in college. There are a lot of good books on drawing and developing drawings skills, and those are fine to have. The really important thing is to keep plenty of paper or sketchbooks about, and encourage him to draw anything and everything.

Finally, seek out local resources for art. High school art teachers, local community ed classes, perhaps local artist workshops. Get him out to meet other artists and see them work. It might keep his interest peaked when he realizes how hard he will have to work to become a good artist. Again, since you are an artist yourself, he has the benefit of being able to see you work and perhaps work alongside you.

Thanks to LaShawn Johnson 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. Matt. says:

    Good thing I never ended up emailing you before…I’ve been meaning to send you a similar kind of question. I’m pretty young (18), and I’ve found many different mediums that I enjoy through encouragement, such as watercolor, screen printing, and just recently, oils. I still love cartooning and attempting caricatures, but I think it’s important to try to expand your interests also. I’m hope to take a life drawing course this January to tighten up the drawing skills too.

    I still have one question that I’m still kind of unsure on. What exactly is the difference between Illustration and Fine arts?

  2. Tom says:

    I still have one question that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m still kind of unsure on. What exactly is the difference between Illustration and Fine arts?

    That’s a loaded question.

    My definition would be that a fine artist creates art under his or her own rules and to achieve their own goals, whereas an illustrator creates art under rules set forth by, and to achieve the goals of, someone else.


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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