Most cartoonists aren't classically trained artists (myself included), so we tend to learn as we go.
Want to draw like a professional cartoonist quicker? Here's some common cartoon art errors to avoid:
1) Start with poor writing
So this first one's not really about the art per se, but if you're going to draw an entire orchestra staffed with gorillas in Hawaiian shirts, that had better be a really inspired gag.
2) Live in the past
I'm not saying you need to sweat accurately drafting design changes in the latest iPhone vs. the iPhone 3Gs, but drawing a businessman in a fedora chasing his secretary around a giant CRT computer monitor is a sure way to not to sell cartoons.
3) Draw everything and then some
That scalloped rim amber cherry conference table surrounded with chrome trimmed leather lumbar support chairs and a mandaianum fern in the corner sure is fun to draw, but your standard bar graph gag really doesn't need all that.
One way I've found to edit myself is to draw my scene, throwing in whatever I think I need, then drawing one box around what's important. It forces you to focus on what' needed for the gag, and not just what you like to draw.
4) Hand hiding
If you can't draw a decent hand, learn. Stop putting characters' hand in their pockets. Just stop.
5) Kill your line
Nothing leeches the life out of a line like drawing it over and over and over and over and over until it's juuuuust right. No one will notice that little imperfection but you, and the loss of that just-dashed-off vibe isn't worth it.
This is why I still use good old fashioned ink and paper. No undo for little surprises.
Take these to heart the next time you're at your drafting table and your cartoons will improve dramatically.
What stuff do you avoid when you're cartooning?
I love words.
And it's a good thing since writing is really the crux of the whole cartoonist thing. You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if your writing stinks, believe you me, nobody is going to be buying.
One of my favorite tricks when I'm stumped is to hit the books. Actually, a few specific books. I've got a number of different reference volumes to kick start the writing process:
So if I've got a specific topic in mind, say for a custom cartoon, I'll obviously start by looking for that specific word. Each book is organized a little differently, but they all make finding related content fairly easy.
If I'm just writing to write, however, I love to just leaf through and see what strikes my brain's fancy. I try not to linger too long on any specific page, I just quickly skim and see if anything pops.
A favorite trick of mine is to look at phrases about and/or containing a word and seeing if there's some way to combine them. It doesn't always end up in a successful cartoon, but, if nothing else, you're priming the cartoon writing pump.
Now remember, these books aren't going to solve all of your problems. Nothing beats just sitting yourself down regularly, staring down a blank piece of paper and actively writing cartoons. (You'd be surprised how often I hear budding cartoonists complain about waiting for their muse to visit.) But used judiciously, they're all great tools to have in your gag writing toolbox.
It looks like a few might already be out of print, but you should be able to pick them up cheaply on Ebay or Amazon.
Got this in my email the other day:
I am a product design student from Wales, UK and I am working on an assignment where I have to come up with a business plan. I just wanted to know what it takes to set up a business in cartoon illustration, and what it involves, as this is an area I have great interest in. What do you do that sets your business apart from other similar businesses?
I'd be very grateful for any information you could offer.
Thanks very much for your time.
Normally I just ignore stuff like this. I get a fair share of "tell me what all your markets are and how I make money" emails, but the above note seemed nice and it gives me an opportunity to blog about the business side of gag cartooning.
Let's see... Business plan...
I've used the phrase before, but to be honest, cartooning isn't the kind of business where you get your idea, get a loan, set up shop and hope to make a profit in a year or two.
Here's some advice on how I've done it so far (I say "so far" because it's a precarious job and I may very well be wearing an orange apron next week while directing you to the key copying guy), and I'm going to keep it more on the financial end of things:
I worked for a screw manufacturer, a metals distributor, and an auto advertising website for a combined total of about six years before making the leap, and even then it was with the caveat that I juggle cartooning with being a stay-at-home dad.
Being a professional cartoonist most realistically means fitting it in, even when it's your only source of income. I drew cartoons early in the morning before work, on my lunch hour and at night for years. Now I do it while the kids are at school, and on the weekends.
As I said, cartooning isn't business as usual, but there are some things I found helpful starting out:
Even more important is avoiding unnecessary expenses. Don't bother with:
Anyone will tell you most businesses fail early because of accounting issues. Know how much you are making, spend as little as you can initially, and track it to the penny. Generally artists don't like the business end of things. Learn to be good at it, or be an instant success and hire an accountant.
It's hard, it's discouraging, and you're going to fail almost constantly. But if you love it you'll keep doing it because, in the end, no cartoonist really does it for the money.
I recently had a student email me some questions about creativity for a class. I get a fair amount of this, and normally I don't respond, but for some reason this one got through.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's the creativity Q & A:
1. How do you define creativity?
Working with what's available to make something new and unique.
2. Do you believe that each person has the capacity to be creative? Why?
Certainly. Not everyone is a painter or singer, but I think everyone has the ability and the desire to create in their own way. I think deep down we all want to say 'This is me. I made this.'
3. How did you find your creative niche?
It sort of found me. I love to draw, and I love being funny. I'm also a fairly adept musician, and I floundered at that for years, but in the end cartooning just sort of manifested itself.
4. Do you think creativity is innate or learned? Explain.
Both. It's one thing to have that flash of wonderful inspiration, it's quite another to shape that into something meaningful or useful, or to come up with something on a deadline.
5. Who or what experiences have inspired your work?
6. Have you always wanted to do what you are doing? If not, what made you decide to start?
Yes. I started tracing the Sunday comics pretty early on. I'm lucky that I had some innate abilities, and people along the way to point that out.
7. Does spirituality and culture play a role in your creativity? Explain.
Culture plays a huge role in what I do. To be a humorist is to be an observer. I subscribe to a ton of magazines, watch a fair amount of TV and surf the internet a lot. You need to be informed to be funny.
8. How important is education to your creative process?
A good sound liberal education is the base of what I do. To be a cartoonist you have to know a little about a lot.
9. How do you deal with creativity blocks?
Often you can push through them through sheer force of will. Other times you just have to wait it out. There's no set procedure, but after a while you learn a lot of little tricks.
10. Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
I think we all want to be accepted and acknowledged for our creations, but I don't believe it's a necessary part of being creative. If you want to be a singer, sing. Want to be a cartoonist? Draw cartoons. Being a professional is another layer entirely.
I hope I come across well. I tried to be substantive and brief without getting too self-helpy.
Again, normally I just don't respond to these because, honestly, there's about a million more creative and successful people than me, but I thought these were fairly well thought out questions