Sunday Mailbag

March 21st, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Norman Rockwell writes in his book Norman Rockwell, artist and illustrator )by Norman Rockwell & Thomas S. Buechner) how people would constantly write in to the Saturday Evening Post about the mistakes he made in his references. Do you get any of that kind of feedback? If so what is the biggest mistake you have made, if any?

A: I believe you are talking about “bloopers” like drawing six fingers on a hand or something similar, as opposed to mistakes in perspective or similar mechanical flaws… because if it’s the latter this will be a very long post.

Oh, I’ve made my share of dumb mistakes in some of my illustrations. In 99% of the cases it’s just being in too big a hurry and making quick changes without thinking things completely through. I’ve posted a few of them here in the past, and here are two of the ones that come to mind right away:

In the baseball scene above, I was supposed to draw two guys colliding in the outfield while the ball drops to the ground. In my haste to finish the piece I was thinking more about the interest of the colors than I was about the scene itself. The mistake? Two guys on the SAME TEAM would be wearing the SAME UNIFORM! D’oh! The client also did not catch it so it went to print as is.

In the scene above, I did a bunch of changes from the original sketch where I pasted in elements from one sketch to a second. During that process I switched the business woman’s legs around so her right knee was forward rather than her left as in the original sketch. The mistake? I didn’t change her left foot into a left foot, so she has TWO RIGHT FEET. D’oh! Client didn’t catch that one either, but one of my blog readers did, and the art got fixed in time for the printing!:

I’m sure there have been others but I’m not coming up with any right now from “professional” illustration work.

There have been a few doozies I’ve done when doing live caricature, though.

One of the drawings I often do with young teenage boys is the simple “showing off the bicep” pose where the kid holds up one arm to show a well defined but roughly walnut sized bicep muscle flexed. I drew one kid once in this pose who had come in and sat down while I was turned around giving change to my last customers. He was sitting in front of me when I turned about, and he was kind of short so I couldn’t see much past his neck due to the angle of my drawing board.¬¨‚Ć I did this pose on him, with his right arm flexed. His buddies behind me started laughing and told me to look closer. I rose up in my chair… the kid had NO RIGHT ARM. Missing from the deltoid down. Ooops.

Another time I was drawing a twelve year-old who had these lush, dark eyelashes, full red lips and thick, curly hair. The mom asked if I’d do a drawing with a tennis theme. I drew the subject in a cute tennis skirt delivering a backhand smash. I finished the drawing in color and handed it over, got paid and went on with the day. Later the mom came up and told me she just wanted to know how upset her SON was that I drew him in a skirt. Ooops. After that I would ask the kid’s name before committing to a specific sex in the drawing… of course whenever I was in doubt the name was always “Chris/Kris”, “Pat” or “Sean/Shaun”.

A few years ago at Valleyfair I was drawing a couple towards the end of a busy day, and I did one of the quickest and easiest of poses… the guy with his arm around the girl and giving the “thumbs up” as he looks at her. The couple and their friends watching were Hispanic and speaking Spanish so I had no idea what they were saying. As I got through drawing the bodies and started adding the color, the friends started laughing and saying all sorts of stuff to the guy. He starts laughing and then raises his hand up to show me… NO THUMB. Ooops.

That doesn’t even take into account the times I’ve mistakenly thought a dad and his adult daughter were a couple, that a woman was pregnant when she wasn’t (those are never pretty) or that what I thought were freckles were really zits.

Thanks to Micheal Garisek for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar,¬¨‚Će-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. cybergoulion says:

    Live caricaturing sure sounds like a dangerous profession after all! One more thing I noticed though. In the first picture, the players uniforms isn’t the only issue. The momentum of the bouncing ball droping from the right hand side, wouldn’t make it exit bouncing to the left?

  2. Kannard says:

    I’ve done something similar at a live event. I drew a girl as a boy because well she looked like a boy. The Mother as irritated, but well in a quick setting like live caricature is oopses happen and not all of them are “Bob Ross Happy mistakes”.

  3. Lee Fortuna says:

    That’s great about the right foot on the left leg of the biz woman running down the street Tom, LOL! Because I’m the one that bought that inking from you! So I ran to it hanging on my wall, and there it was, a right foot on a left leg! Love it, lol. My only question is, when things like this happen, does that mistake make it more valuable after the artist croaks? LOL! Just kiddin Tom, I would love the piece even if you forgot to put pants on everyone! Thanks for a great blog!

  4. Tom,
    Thanks for your candor
    Those are some doozies
    When I first saw the baseball I thought “Mad” was inventing a new game. It would be kinda of cool seeing opposing teams fighting for a fly ball call it Bruise ball.

    I once was asked by a mother to draw her son on her back, sort of hunched over, like carrying him. WHOOPS!! I had to start that one over draw the boy smaller
    Love your blog

  5. Trevour says:

    Ouch, I’ve had those moments of the “androgynous kid” as well! Without bringing any attention to my confusion, I would just kind of draw a good even mix of boy/girl attributes. But I guess that doesn’t matter if the likeness works out in the end. Haven’t had to do any gender-specific themes in that situation yet, so I guess I’ve been lucky (so far)!

  6. julio cesar naranjo says:

    Hi Tom i did live caricature last month on the commercial center that Ive been working on, it was my FIRST! and it was on a weekend ¬¨¬∞HAY CARAMBA! there was a huge crowed and you cant think much in all the features only draw and draw and lucky for me i didn’t screwed up but thats only novice luck.
    On the freelance issue when I have a job i think most of the time on the deadline and is very frustrating I cant focus on whats important and finally Ive make mistakes a couple of times lucky for me that the clients liked the final pieces and most important THEY KEEP CALLING ME, but every day you have to be more organized. You posted like basic rules when your starting a career on this field and its been a lot a help to me, be able to control your real time. Take care.

  7. Hi, Tom !!!
    I¬¨¬•ve been studying your tutorials about “Caricatures”…It is very good…I¬¨¬•ve learned much since then…I love your style to draw. Thank you for teach us the art of caricature…

  8. TOM SILER says:

    I like the mistakes and try to leave as many in as I can get away with. I also appreciate other illustrators getting away with this same stunt, especially if it’s a corporate gig. Trust the hand.


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

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: