This year I’m starting something new on the cartoon blog called Tools, Techniques, and the Trade. It’s an occasional in-depth look at the weird world of drawing cartoons for a living.
I’ll explain why my pencils have to be made from California Incense-cedar wood, I’ll show you how my Photoshop Actions work, and how I keep track of thousands of cartoons’ comings and goings. (Also, I love alliteration.)
First up is a look at the various places I write my best cartoons most often.
For years I wrote and drew cartoons at a coffee table in the living room. But when our second child was on the way we moved into a slightly larger house and I grabbed a little room downstairs for my office. It’s basically a closet, but I’ve managed to cram in two sets of bookshelves, two desks, a drafting table, a file cabinet, a taboret, a chair, a stool, and probably a quarter million LEGO in various stages of organization. (I’ll show you some pictures sometime.)
When I write in here it’s mostly at my desk. I stare out my little window and jot things down either on a notepad, or in TextEdit. If I’m really feeling writerly I’ll turn on Coffitivity.
It’s a quiet place, I’m surrounded by cartoons, and I can close the door. If you can wrangle yourself a little office in the basement, I highly recommend it.
The library is a terrific place to find inspiration, and I’m lucky enough that our local library is the second largest public library in the state.
I like to go here, pick up a few books off the New Reads shelves, grab a few magazines, and set up by the big sculpture-y thing upstairs. There’s a big window with lots of morning light, just enough background noise, and millions of ideas just waiting to be pondered. It’s terrific.
This is something I discovered recently when both of the kids were finally old enough to be in school all day. I was looking for some exercise and began hitting tennis balls at a wall after dropping the kids off.
It felt good to get a bit of a workout, but what surprised me was how often cartoons ideas came to me while I hit. And not just cartoon ideas, but business ideas too. (I sussed out most of the details for my cartoon subscriptions at the tennis court.)
Now that it’s winter, and a terrible terrible winter at that, I’ve been going to the gym and writing while on the elliptical or the stairmaster, though not as often as I probably should.
There’s a ton of info on the link between exercise and creativity. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Driving is another one of those quiet reflective times, at least when I’m not shuttling the kids and/or the Mrs. around.
Sometimes I listen to the radio mining for little nuggets to play with, but sometimes I just enjoy the quiet and let things marinate in the ol’ noggin. Often I write like crazy on the drive home from the gym. It’s like a creative supercharging twofer.
But my absolute favorite, best, and most productive cartoon writing location is…
The shower is a-maz-ing. I’ve written more ideas in the shower than I can count. In fact I’ve considered putting dry erase markers next to the shampoo. (I’m not kidding.) My buddy Jeff worked in advertising for years and will also tell you his best ideas came to him in the shower.
Apparently this is actually a thing that people have researched:
Seriously, Google “shower creativity” – you’ll be amazed.
Those are my favorite writing locations. Where do you find yourself doing your best writing?
Here’s some more on how I write my cartoons:
And here’s some good general stuff on creativity:
Henry Martin is a cartoonist that really resonates for me. I love the sketchiness of his line, his exquisitely lengthy captions, and the detailed economy of his backgrounds. He’s just terrific and so I wanted to share some of my favorite Henry Martin cartoons with you:
What a great surprise caption. Martin makes you wait until the penultimate word to let you in on the joke and lands it perfectly.
And this is a good example of that detailed economy to set the scene. With just a few lines you’ve got a grand home looking out on a stone patio, some mountains, and a tree in autumn dropping its leaves. Amazing.
There’s a lovely weirdness to this idea. Is that an alien? Some sort of fairy? A variety of elf? It doesn’t matter. What matters is this thing shows up and for some reason unbeknownst to us gives this average businessman the idea for some revolutionary new product.
But is that enough? No, this guy wants the creature to not only come back, but to explain it again. There’s a lot going on, and even more unsaid. Wow.
I showed this to my son and he wanted to know what machine that guy was using. Sigh…
So the typewriter dates this a bit, but replace it with a laptop and this cartoon works as well today as it did years ago. And this is a good example of that long Martin caption that I admire. Three sentences and not a well-crafted word wasted. (“…brighter tomorrow” kills me every time.)
I love the darkness of this idea contrasting with the banality of the wife double-checking that the husband has everything he needs for the day. You could never do this cartoon today, and I think that only adds to the appeal. And look at those chairs!
Look at the beautiful wash on this. Everything and everybody is nicely defined, the light is going where it should, and there’s a fun casualness that only comes after thousands and thousands of cartoons. And that sucker punch caption is marvelous.
Picking just the right word(s) can make or break a caption. For me this cartoon hinges on emphasizing the word “this,” the slightly pretentious name, “Arthur,” and “markedly altered.” A lesser cartoonist might have gone for “really changed” or just plain “altered,” but “markedly altered” slows and shifts the rhythm of the read perfectly.
And please take a moment and admire that terrific shading again.
Another odd but wonderful idea for a cartoon, and a real challenge to depict visually. I mean, what does apotheosization look like? And the “in an unprecedented move” in the final sentence is just brilliant.
This dinner party kind of scene has always flummoxed me because, to be honest, I don’t go to many dinner parties. I don’t know how the room looks, where people stand, how they dress… But I think this is a really nice scenic middle ground and I intend to ape it a lot in the coming months.
Here’s another cartoon that could totally work today. And look at the way the scene and demeanor of the characters reinforce the idea of the caption. So nice.
The expressions on both the floating head and the wife make me laugh out loud when I read this. Then there’s the shading around the head, the detail on the tablecloth, the goofy I-told-you-so-ness of the caption… This is an embarrassment of cartoon riches.
What I love most about this cartoon isn’t the controlled ease of the shading, or even the caption that illustrates a truism of marriage at bedtime, but the fact that this is drawn from behind the couple! Look at that angle! It would never have occurred to me to frame it that way, but Martin pulls it off effortlessly.
Here’s another cartoon that’s a bit dated technologically, but I suspect you could still show this to most people and they’d understand the idea behind it. And I respect anyone who can pull off a purely wordless gag this nicely.
Another knock-it-out of the park example of Martin’s greatness. Economy of scene, beautiful line and shading, and a gag that not only surprises but implies something more. Even the name, “Miss Beckerman,” is great!
I love the melancholy in the humor here. And the giant bare desk, window, and cityscape support the gag so nicely.
The gag here is very nice (and well punctuated), but the art here is what stands out for me. First off, that’s a lot of flowers to draw and not skimp on. Then the deft shading implies even more foliage really nicely. Finally the overall shape and framing of the scene is so fluid and natural and so hard to get just right that you can’t help but linger and marvel.
This final cartoon is so damned funny in every way. I think it’s my favorite Martin cartoon and embodies everything I love about his work.
So there’s my appreciation of cartoonist Henry Martin. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Want to know more about Martin? Here’s some additional reading:
And here’s some stuff you can purchase:
Want to know more about other cartoonists I like? Here’s some other posts to check out:
The holidays are fast approaching, and this year I thought I’d show you how to draw your very own cartoon reindeer!
When you’re finished, feel free to tweet, pin, email or otherwise share a pic of your reindeer with me and I’ll post it over at Pinterest! And if you’d like to grab the tutorial to post on your own blog or website, you’re more than welcome to. (A link back would be appreciated.) Enjoy:
Easy, right? You should try out my other how-to-draw tutorials too! Here’s just a few:
Feel free to check out my Christmas cartoons too!
Hi there, this is Mark Anderson from Andertoons.com. In this video, I am going to show you how I shade my cartoons in Photoshop. This is cartoon #6748, it’s about some bendy straws and one of those wacky curly straws, the teenage daughter has brought home the wacky curly straw, and there is no caption on here yet, I’ll fill in on the caption at the end but this is about shading, so let’s talk about that.
What I normally do is, I still do the ink on paper and then I scan it into Photoshop and create a layer, and the ink layer is a multiply one that’s on top, and then I shade underneath it. What I’m using is a pattern stamp tool, and the pattern that I’m using is actually one that I created from my old Prismacolor markers. I usually do all of the shading on the paper and then scan it all in and I miss being able to do there, but the older I get the larger I have to draw, because my eyes are – my vision is abandoning me as I get older.
So I have to draw bigger and that takes a lot of marker to shade, and it takes a lot of time, I was going through markers like crazy. So what I began doing a while ago is that, I still do the line art on paper but now I do the shading in Photoshop. So what the pattern I am using is I scanned in, I took my markers and did big, big swatch of shading on my paper and then I scanned it into Photoshop and created the sort of like never ending patterns from them. I tried to find, I usually have the bookmark of the tutorial that shows you how to do it, but man I cannot find that anymore.
So it’s a good thing I have those patterns, I backed them up so that I have them, but if you look online, I am sure there is no end of tutorials on how to create repeating patterns that don’t look terrible. Just Google that repeating patterns that don’t look terrible, I am so helpful. So what I am doing here is I am – what I tend to do is I shade big swatch of stuff, and then I go in and erase out the parts that I don’t like, you can see there is like some overhanging there on the couch that I am getting rid of now and I’ll sort of erase around the straws here so that they pop.
Normally, I wouldn’t shade this much on a cartoon, I don’t like to shade the furniture, I just normally shade what’s important and I will shade characters and their hair and their clothing and what have you. But for this one, the straw is needed to pop out, they need to be like those standard white bendy straw with a little stripe, so what I chose to do was shade the furniture and sort of cut them out of the, oh wrong layer, sort of I do that a lot. I’m not great at Photoshop, I’m okay at it, but I can get by – if nothing else by watching this video, maybe you will feel better about your own Photoshop skills because I am not great at it, but I am good enough and maybe if nothing else you feel better about your skills having watched me flounder around here for a little bit.
So yeah I cut out the stuff that I don’t want, so that’s what I chose to do on this, I am using like a 10%, what would be like a 10% marker, a real, real light, light shading so that they pop out a little bit, and I will probably shade the bendy straw so that he pops out a little bit as being different from the other straws, and those crazy whacky straws, I don’t know what the name for those are, but they are using like fluorescent, purple or green or something like that, so I am sure I will shade him a little bit later on here.
I’m not sure how these straws are seated – that was one of the problems of drawing this cartoon. My theory is this, is that there is shag carpeting and at the bottoms of the straws are stuck in this shag carpeting, and then they are really good at balancing up against the furniture so that they don’t fall over, that’s my theory, and you would think that I know being the creator but I don’t really and it’s one of those things like the more you think about it, the less you go like, the more you go like this doesn’t make any sense, I am shading the – some more furniture back there now and I’ll fiddle with the opacity, looks like I am fiddling with the opacity a little bit.
What I found recently is that, when I work in layers like this, opacity is not the greatest idea and I am sure everyone out there is like, well no because then everything becomes like see through and no, so what I have, hey look at that, I am adjusting the brightness, good job me, maybe this is the cartoon where I figured that out, and wrong layer, take two. What I do now is that I adjust the brightness or contrast, I forgot where that tool is in the menu, but adjust brightness I like using a lot, and then I can sort of fiddle with it, I like to fiddle, I like to shade things and then I’ll fiddle with them.
So here I am sort of cropping to the size I keep my full-size originals at, and then I should be putting the caption on here pretty soon, I got to get rid of that little scanning shadow out there, that’s a problem, yup, got rid of that, and here comes the caption, see — anybody want to take a guess there, before I fill it in. I will leave there little space, any caption ideas, alright here it comes. The caption is, I am creating my paragraph box, the suspense is killing you, isn’t it? Here it comes. Come on man, type it. “Philip is an artist!” That’s the idea behind this cartoon, so they are just regular straws but he is that curly straw and so he is not just any boyfriend, she is really pleased because he is an artist. And so that’s why he has got that curly top, so it looks like the mom is okay with Philip there, dad not quite sure, although I think the dad’s probably not quite sure of any straw that she brings home just because he is a dad, but I love the look of his face where he has got that raised eyebrow and that little line underneath where he is sort of squinting like, I don’t know what to make with this young man, I don’t like him, I don’t like him and I don’t approve.
So now I am going to do some more shading here, here it comes, so I am going to shade him and then we should be finishing up. I hope you have enjoyed this, I have a bunch of other videos on YouTube where I show you sketch and ink and do all sorts of other things, and of course please visit Andertoons.com where I have thousands of cartoons on all sorts of subjects including Bendy straws, thousands of cartoons on all kinds of stuff that you can use for presentations and newsletters and blogs and social media. I have the new cartoon subscriptions feature, which is really, really great if you need or want to use cartoons to complement your own content, so yeah come on over and check out andertoons.com, if you get a chance I’d appreciate it.
So just finishing up here, I am not exactly sure how much time I have left because they changed up iMovie on me, and it’s hard to tell, I know, wait, thanks to that little thing there, I am at 8:06 minutes and I think this is just about 9 minutes long so we are just about at the end. Usually the last thing I do is spellcheck before I save, because I am sort of paranoid about spelling, so when I see the spellcheck you will know that we should be just about done that’s sort of my ritual is, that’s the last thing I do. So I am not sure, hey look at that, spellcheck.
Alright everybody, thanks so much for watching, I hope you enjoyed it, have a great day. Good bye.
Christmas is coming up quick, so I thought I’d share this year’s batch of Christmas cartoons. Grab some cocoa and enjoy:
I don’t know a lot about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, so I’m a little uncomfortable writing cartoons for them. For that matter I also avoid the religious aspects of Christmas, preferring to stick mostly to Santa, etc… But every year I do try to offer at least one winter-themed cartoon to round things out a bit more, and I’m really happy with this one.
I worried that it might be a bit subtle, so I gave the Dad snowman four buttons instead of three to drive the point home. Seriously, this is something I think about.
This is one of those Christmas cartoons that needed a little help. The joke was always there, but when I was shading I noticed that I’d drawn the leg the boy is sitting one much smaller than the other. Honestly, Santa looked like a pirate or maybe something out of an old Twilight Zone episode. (The boy gets his wish but is then horribly and ironically disfigured!) Anyway, it was Photoshop to the rescue and Christmas was saved!
This one took the most most effort of this year’s batch of Christmas cartoons. Firstly, it’s a really long caption that I had a lot of trouble nailing down. So the number of words written, then rewritten, then revised, then thrown out completely and restarted was absurd. Secondly, drawing all those little Christmas tree branches and needles and lights… Ugh! And it didn’t come out right until about the third ink. Then it was on to shading which meant testing all kinds of brushes and patterns and opacities to get the tree just right. Finally I showed it all to my wife and she didn’t get it. Did! Not! Get! It! But after a few more rewrites I think it ended up pretty good. Mostly I’m just glad it’s done. (Bah! Humbug!)
When I get stuck for a caption I like to take the subject I’m working on and put it in a banal business setting to see what happens. So you put some overworked elves, that burning empty carafe smell, substitute cocoa for coffee and you’ve got yourself a cartoon!
There are a lot of more straightforward ways to write this caption:
And normally I advocate for trimming captions as much as possible, but for whatever reason this cartoon felt like it needed a longer caption.
OK, the aforementioned tree cartoon probably took the longest of this year’s Christmas cartoons to draw, but this cartoon took the most time to conceive visually. It’s a very specific caption as far as the ornament goes, so you can’t really fudge the art. I spent quite a bit of time in Google images researching DIY yarn decorations, mouse shaped ornaments, and how yarn looks close up. All in all I think it turned out well and I think it rings true.
So that’s it for this year’s batch. Looking for more? Head on over to the main site and check out the rest of my Christmas cartoons!
And here’s some other Christmas blogs you might like: