Sunday Mailbag

April 27th, 2008 | Posted in General

Q: After working overseas as an illustrator for a while, I made the mistake of moving back home to Scotland. In short, there was no work. At all. So, like any plucky young cartoonist, I hung up my brushes and moved on to other work (editing magazines.). Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, and I’m finding it hard to draw again (it’s been a little over 18 months now). Any tips on getting my skills back to a decent level?

A: That’s really impossible to answer as it’s very different for everybody. I can only tell you what I would do personally.

The only way I’ve found to to sharpen your art skills is to draw, draw draw. It sounds simple and cliche, but that is the bottom line. If I’ve had an extended break from working (and I’ve never had a real break in 20 years… I’m talking a week or two), I spend more time in the sketchbook. A warm up drawing every day is essential. Working up a few life drawings is also a good way to get into the groove.

Back when I did live caricature full time during the summers I would hang up the caricature pencils for the off season and switch to art school mode. At my particular college cartooning was a no-no in most cases and I had little occasion to do caricatures. When I would return to it in the early summer, I was very rusty and would struggle for the first day or so. However it quickly came back and I actually found some of my skills had sharpened a little having been away from it for a while… the fresh eyes and so forth. Live caricature is kind of a different animal, though, as it’s execution is a skill and craft that requires you to be well in practice with sharp hand/eye coordination to pull off. Not the greatest example.

After that long a time off? I guess it will just take longer, but drawing has more to do with your brain that in does with your hand so you never lose too much. Yes, mechanically you can get rusty but that is the easy part to get back. Just working on your drawing will quickly get you back in the swing of it, and shortly you won’t remember being away.

Good luck!

Thanks to Tom Green of Scotland 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. ospirin says:

    I went to school illustration, but end-up working as a graphic designer for 8 years. Now I am starting-over. I have to say the hardest part is ignoring all the crap you are going to produce for the next few months. Then focus on getting your instincts back. Without it you’ll second guess yourself and blind-sided by what you know. I wish you luck and hope my experience helps.

  2. Kannard says:

    Personally even when I start taking a few days off I always find myself getting back to the basics. The basic geometric shapes and start rendering them as contour and with shading. A lot of folks forget that this step can help you out in the long run. Sometimes it takes a little bit to get that muscle memory back. Sometimes I even have to start doing things I absolutely hate to do, like still lifes. This really helps when I start switching mediums. I grit my teeth and just loath working on it, but it gives me a nice way to reacquaint myself with the various mediums properties. Since I hate dong it, it leaves me with less of an attachment to it so I am more apt to experiment and try to do things that are out of my comfort zone because well frankly I’ll either paint over it, throw it in the trash anyway, or burn it if it goes real bad. You can’t really expect to come back in after a break and just to pick up from where you where when you left. It’s like a marathon runner, after a couple of years off can’t expect to do well or even finish a marathon. You have to practice and warm up and build up to your previous level to surpass it. Go to a zoo, cafe, and draw! I wouldn’t really about cartooning to begin with, draw realistically to reacquaint yourself with the stuff you like to toon. It will help make your toon anatomy and design better. It helps to understand on an artists level what you are simplifying, distorting, or creating. Just my 2 cents

  3. SteveH says:

    Inspiration is the key. Drawing is like riding a bike, once you have it down and can do it, a break should not be a real problem. After some practice it should come back to you, but what you really need is inspiration to get the creative juices flowing and then the excitement about drawing! So go back to the artists that you have always admired and loved to gaze at, let them stir within you the desire and passion to create! If that fails, try a 12 year old malt whisky, there’s plenty available in Scotland!


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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