I recently received a very sweet (WHEW) email from a very sweet (WHEW) guy who said he admired my work and could relate to where I was when I started out.
As he put it, I was and he apparently is ” an aspiring cartoonist that doesn’t draw too well” – his words, not mine. I would say I couldn’t really hardly draw at all, but just kept trying. We can split the difference.
He asked some really good questions and I told him I’d share the answers here for whoever might benefit from or relate to them. So here goes….
QUESTION: Clearly, you have learned to draw rather well. What were the most important things you did, learned, or used that helped you improve?
RESPONSE: Before I became syndicated, I was maniacally focused on producing at least one funny cartoon every single day. The process of coming up with a joke and then drawing the fancy little stick figures that were little-by-little becoming more defined was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I was consumed with that process.
After I became syndicated, I looked for some help with Photoshop basics and purchased a Wacom tablet and really got serious about learning how to draw people rather than stick figures. I would think about what I wanted to draw and then look it up on the internet. After finding a model on the net who looked like what I envisioned, I would use that model as a guide.
In the first few years I focused mainly on proportions and perspectives. These days I try to learn more about how to draw motion. I look up hands and lips and wrists and elbows in motion and learn about how changing one part of the body affects the rest of the body’s angles and tensions. I try to add one new angle each week and I’m usually the only one who notices something new, although my editor probably notices too.
Question: Are you working digitally or with traditional tools? If digitally, what are your thoughts?
RESPONSE: I am working digitally and my thoughts are really limited because I don’t have much to compare digital too. I would say I grew up on digital, not because I’m young (I’m not – I’m actually ancient), but because I entered the world of cartooning after Photoshop had taken off. I never learned or practiced drawing cartoons by hand.
I will say that whenever I try drawing cartoons by hand for charity events or hospital visits to kids or other spontaneous reasons, I get completely flustered without the ability to draw in layers. I am a huge fan of layers and I would go so far as to say layers are a natural fit for the way I think. I’m probably stronger in my left brain than my right and layers speak to my need for organization and logical flow. On an empty canvas with only a pen, I have trouble imposing an organization.
Question: I am fascinated by your decision to do both a strip and a single panel cartoon. What was your thinking going into that choice? How do you see the strengths and creative possibilities of the two forms? What are your thoughts on the two forms in light of the current and emerging media context?
RESPONSE: There was never really a decision to do both – it really just kind of happened. But the reason it happened is interesting, I think. When I first became syndicated, my obsession was growing my audience. So I quickly figured out that posting on Facebook was critical. But I needed to post new or fun content on Facebook. So I began doing quick single-panel cartoons for the sole purpose of pumping up the social media.
The single panel cartoons were really effective for building social media and they taught me a lot about viewers’ clicking habits. You have to keep the number of clicks you require of the viewer pretty low. Single panels are great because they can be read without clicking – so the click goes to the “Like.”
Eventually, the single panels got syndicated and that’s how that happened.
I end up doing a lot of single panels separately for social media. The Facebook, Twitter and Instagram crowds tend to like ‘slice of life’ observations more and the newspaper crowd still tends to like a punchy punchline. I would say that difference is my greatest challenge. I’m much better at slice of life observations, so coming up with punchy punchlines is definitely keeping me on my toes every week.
So those were pretty cool questions.
Questions are easy to ask. If you have any, send them along!
Otherwise, draw every second of the day that you can. That’s my only advice to anyone who wants to learn to draw.
On another note, Ivanka Trump wrote a book about being a working mother. I’m not a mother, so I won’t comment on advice to working mothers.
But I will say that I’d like characterizations to be more honest in terms of what they represent. I’m fairly certain her experience is more representative of the rich and well-supported, high-profile working mother than the basic (no offense intended) working mother.
I felt a similar rage when Leaning In came out.
I remember thinking that a rich, Ivy-League educated, well-supported, monied woman couldn’t possibly advise me on how to lean in. I can really only learn how to lean in from someone who understands my struggles, most of which are heavily influenced by the lack of support and resources I experience as a basic (no offense taken) working woman.
This has nothing to do with cartooning. It’s just on my mind.
So when you take my advice, remember I’m a basic cartoonist – no training, no official skills, blah blah blah. I really just know one way that worked for me. Take it for what it’s worth.
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