Sunday Mailbag

June 6th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I live in St. Louis and I used to frequent Union Station quite a bit. I would always make a point to stop at your caricature stand and watch the artist. I was wondering if you may go over the types of materials that you use at your stands?

A: For those readers who may not know I own several caricature concession operations in a few different states including at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, MO. I used to own a stand at St. Louis Union Station in downtown St. Louis but sold the business to my manager at the end of 2009. Likewise I used to have operations at Underground Atlanta in Atlanta, GA and briefly at Riverwalk in New Orleans, LA, but both those operations are closed.I also own operations at Six Flags New England in Agawam, MA, Valleyfair theme park in Shakopee, MN and Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America, Bloomington, MN.

Here are the materials we use to do live caricatures in the theme parks/retail centers:


I use two different kinds of pencils. Both are “clutch” type leadholders, meaning that they have a claw-like end that grasps the lead. The main one is the Caran D’Ache Fixpencil 3, which is a 3mm leadholder. Most leadholders are 2mm, and the thicker lead is a must for bold lines. These were discontinued for a while but now they seem to be back in production. I use a 6B 3mm lead in it which is also made by Caran D’ache. The other pencil is a Creatacolor 5mm leadholder, which I use with either 4B or 6B leads for big, thick lines in the hair, outside of the face, body, etc. There are a few different body types for that pencil, but all work well.

We also wrap our pencils in something called pre-wrap, or sports wrap. It’s the foam wrap you use for wrapping an ankle or similar prior to takling it up in athletics. You can get it at most drugstores. It’s great for cushioning your hand and wicking moisture away from it when drawing. Prevents callouses and blisters as well.

We use a No. 8 blending stomp for shading, and sand one end down to make it a bigger surface area. It helps to soak the stomp in water for 20 minutes or so and allow it to dry for a few days in the sun to loosen up the binding glue and make it softer.


The airbrush we use is either an Iwata HP-SBS (eclipse) or an Iwata HP-SB Plus. Both are good all purpose brushes with a side feed for easy bottle exchange. The latter is a little finer but also more temperamental. I recommend the HP-SBS for beginners.

We use a set of 13 side-feed airbrush bottles, each with a different color. Iwata makes their own side feed bottles which are usable but not ideal. I have custom hardware specially made by a precision machinist and make my own 1 oz. bottles for my operations. No, I won’t sell any to anyone who does not work with us, sorry. They are expensive to make and I have to spend a lot getting them machined, so I don’t want to run out of them too quickly.

Obviously you need an airsource, so a compressor or tank is necessary. There are a lot of choices depending on if you need it to be silent, have a power source, etc. At the parks it’s noisy already and we have sound boxes or separate rooms from which we run air hoses, so a sturdy tool compressor from Home Depot works great for just a couple of hundred dollars. In the malls we need quiet, and we have a permanent power source so I use silent compressors. Jun-Air is by far the best but they are immensely expensive. If you have no power and need silence, a compressed air tank is the way to go. I’ve never used one but a good airbrush retailer can set you up. Coast Airbrush or Bear Air are a good places on-line to find supplies.

For paint we use Media Com-Art paints, both opaque and transparent colors. They are water based and non-toxic. There is a wide selection of colors, but our palette includes Iron Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Toludene Red, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Black, Lime Green, Hansa Yellow, Transparent Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Violet and Transparent Royal Blue.


Finally for paper we use a 67lb vellum bristol in bright white, 12 x 16 inches. We specially order the paper and have it cut to that size. Paper Plus carries similar stock and there are a lot of those about.

Thanks to Chris Grant 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. Chris Grant says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for answering, great info!!

    Thanks Again,
    Chris Grant

  2. Corey Cooley says:

    Thanks for sharing this info, very helpfull.

  3. Tom Breitling says:

    Howdy Tom,
    I just wanted to drop a line to say how much I appreciate your website and all the information
    you offer to every one. Much of what you write about in terms of “How to” and the details of materials etc. is difficult to find out about or locate pertinent info. Your web site is excellent.
    Did you design or create this yourself or did you have assistance?
    Your idea about a documentary on cartooning is fantastic. I’ll be writing a note out today.
    Keep on Keeping on.
    Tom B.


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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