Cartooning 101: An Introduction

Cartooning 101: An introduction

This particular study of the art of Cartooning is intended for kids ages 12 and older. I’ll do a simpler one for the little tykes later on.

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So you think that you might want to be a Cartoonist, huh? You want the million dollar mansions, the Mercedes in the driveway, and the 3 rounds of golf that you get to play every week, because, hey, it only takes a few minutes a day to bang out a cartoon, right. Oh, and don’t forget the groupies. Groupies just like the ones that used to follow Led Zeppelin around back in the 70’s. You want thousands of those.

Before I tell you the truth, you might want to sit down. First off, there aren’t many cartoonists who own mansions. I know. You’ve read all about Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts raking in billions every year, just on Snoopy pajamas alone.

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Or maybe you saw an interview with Jim Davis, whose ability to put Garfield images on everything from lasagna boxes to moon rocks, has made him a frequent guest on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

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Yeah. Sure, there are those guys. But, for everyone of them, there are thousands of cartoonists who live from paycheck to paycheck or, worse, handout to handout. It’s not a career for the faint of heart. No mansions, no Mercedes, no golf, and NO groupies. Ok. Maybe Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County, might actually be able to attest to groupies (it had something to do with the allure of a Penguin with a big nose), but for the rest of us, no groupies.

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So at this point you may be asking yourself, then why do it? Why torture yourself with the deadlines, and the low pay and the general disrespect you get daily from editors who think that people only worship at the feet of writers. Cartoonists? We’re the low rent district. So why, why, why?

In a word. Love. We love to draw funny little pictures that make fun of the editors who pay the art form no respect. We love the ability to skewer the politicians who are running amuck throughout our communities with a single solitary image that reduces them to tears. And we love to lampoon everything from a tall soy, no fat, latte, to the poor fool who can’t afford one, which sometimes is one of us. We were the ones who learned how to draw cartoons in Algebra class. The ones who scrawled stuff on the desks at school. The ones who would rather watch a great episode of  Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner as opposed to, say, something redeeming on the Discovery channel. If that describes you, then welcome. You are one of the ones. If not, that’s OK. I’ve heard the Guitar Hero and Rock Band come with groupies…So there  you go. I hope you’ll stick with us regardless because, well,  just remember this…When you see a few funny drawings making fun of people who are playing Guitar Hero for hours on end, you’ll want to know where they come from.

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So, now, where does that leave us class. At the beginning. In these posts I’ll be covering a variety of subjects that I hope will bring you some insight and some tips and techniques that can help you become a cartoonist, or perhaps, a better one.

We’ll deal with stuff like “where DO YOU get your ideas?”, tools of the trade, the penciling and inking process of putting it all together to make a cartoon. We’ll deal with Wacom tablets, scanners and some Photoshop basics to help you color stuff for publication or the web.  We’ll talk about syndication, otherwise known as “Lawyers, Guns and Money” (just kidding about the guns part), web comics, which is where the future lies, and other models of monetizing your cartoons. Above all, I think we’ll have blast that will put us on the road to becoming one of the most noble and honorable of professions: The Cartoonist.

Stay tooned for our first chapter, which will take us into the scary and frightening mind of the Cartoonist. We’ll explore the thought process, exactly how and where to get ideas and inspiration from. We’ll reach deeply into the human soul and psyche to find out precisely where “EHHH, What’s Up Doc” really comes from. So hang on to your seat cushions. We’re about to enter the Cartoonists Zone.

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Coyotes and Creativity: Markus Pierson

“There’s no doubt in my mind that my success has more to do with luck than talent, more to do with stubbornness than vision, more to do with ignorance than insight, but the fact remains that I pursued my dream and attained it against staggering odds. I say this now to anyone who will listen: even if I had failed, it would have been worth it. Better to face a brutal truth than to grow old wondering what might have been.”Markus Pierson

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I first saw the amazing work of artist Markus Pierson on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. His depictions of Coyotes, often dressed in zoot suits, resonated with me immediately. I grew up in West Texas with a great love of the desert southwest and the animals that roam the landscape. Pierson’s art, particularly his early pieces, were full of southwestern imagery, complete with towering saguaro cactus’, enchanted moons with wistful faces and wide open, tumbleweed lined highways. So I bought a lithograph, taped a few of his images from a calendar to my drawing board and added this statue to a shelf at home.

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Clearly this was an artist who knew something about long drives across desert vistas that lead you a thousand miles to nowhere, and I could relate to that. Another reason I found Pierson’s work so compelling, is it’s almost, but not quite, humorous illustration, which is one of the genres I practice and love a lot. So I connected with his art on that level as well. But there was one more element that sealed the deal for me about Markus Pierson. It was the words.

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“That many had ventured farther and done so in finer style bothered me not. My journey was my own and I found it to be quite spectacular.” from the Pierson painting Spectacular Journey.

Pierson’s paintings are always accompanied by words. Intriguing sayings that seem to call out to that part of us that says “Live Fully”. And I love that.

Markus Pierson grew up in Lansing, Michigan. Not exactly the southwestern artist I had envisioned painting Coyotes next to a Kiva fireplace in Taos and driving a 57 Cadillac through the back roads of New Mexico. A near death experience at 24 left him in a place of deep reflection. He decided that life was too short not to be doing what he loved. So he quit his job as an accountant to pursue his passion to create art rather than to crunch numbers for the rest of his life. The idea to draw and paint Coyotes was inspired by a song by Joni Mitchell called Coyote. He worked as a billboard painter during the day to build a bridge to his dream, and to pay the bills. At night he painted and bonded with the Coyotes . His breakthrough came after painting of a couple of Coyotes in the throes of passion as a wedding present for some friends, simply because he couldn’t afford to buy them one. The wedding party loved it and before you know it, Pierson goes from starving artist to selling in hundreds of galleries seemingly overnight. Well, not quite overnight, but you get the idea.

Here’s Five Creative tips from the art and life of Markus Pierson:

1. Be Courageous. Markus made the defining decision of his life on from a hospital bed. Some thought he was crazy to abandon a good paying job with a relatively secure future, to follow the artists soul inside of him. Crazy? No. Courageous. Very. But it was the right choice.
2. Be in preparation for Inspiration. A song. Markus Pierson’s entire life’s work was inspired by a song. As creatives we must always be open to inspiration no matter where it comes from. John Lennon’s song “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was inspired by a poster in an antique store, almost word for word. The inspiration for the Peanuts comic strip character, Lucy, was inspired by Charles Schulz’s ex-wife. Could it be a billboard or a movie poster or a t-shirt, or a painting that inspires your next project. It could if we are open to the possibilities all around us everyday.
3. Be willing to Sacrifice. Each act of creation takes sacrifice. For Pierson it meant leaving his career in search of his calling. It meant late nights alone in a dingy, small apartment cranking out Coyotes. It meant taking that job as a billboard painter to build the bridge he needed until his paintings could pay the bills. For some of us, it may mean something as simple as setting aside an hour or two a day, completely dedicated to pursuing our dreams.
4. Create for Your Contentment. Don’t create something just because you think it will sell, because, it often won’t. Entertain yourself. Create something completely for you own amusement, your own satisfaction. Pierson found drawing and painting Coyotes was something he wanted to do. Actually something he had to do. He didn’t really care if no one else liked them. He did. That is all that mattered. When we create from this part of our souls, we create something totally unique. And that passion, that joy that we feel when we create at that level is what invites people to like it. They don’t see the art. They see the soul in the art.
5. Live Fully. Create Boldly. This is probably the biggest thing we can learn from the art and life of Marcus Pierson. Life is short. The chances we don’t take now are the regrets that haunt us later. When the race is over, don’t we want to know we’ve run it?

“No one works this hard and this smart – and has it come to nothing.”Markus Pierson

For more on the works of Markus Pierson you can see his website here.