Cartooning Basics


Twice a year I do a 45 minute, hands-on cartooning workshop at a local school. One of the questions the kids often ask is what skills does one need to be a cartoonist. There are many answers to this question, depending on the type of cartooning. A newspaper comic strip cartoonist needs to work fast and write material that will appeal to a broad audience. The drawing style can be pretty much anything they want it to be. If they’re more interested in writing and drawing Super Hero comic books, I tell them they need to be good at telling stories, and to try and draw as much life and energy into their characters as possible. Drawing people can be hard enough, but drawing a figure jumping off of a roof carrying a sword and screaming wildly can be painfully difficult if you’re just starting out. If the kids are interested in drawing a super hero, then I emphasize the importance of figure drawing. I’m certainly not recommending to a group of 4th graders that they go out and enroll in a professional (nude) figure drawing class. I tell them to draw their parents doing things around the house. Draw their friends running and climbing on the playground. Find a spot where there are lots of people and draw them doing whatever it is they’re doing. It teaches them to observe and capture the motions quickly.

Drawing human figures is an essential artistic skill. It teaches you to see and draw energy, gravity, and life. An artist who practices drawing figures will also discover the ability to pour that life and energy into drawing a tea cup, or any other inanimate object. I’ve spent many hours drawing figures, and I’m a better artist for it.


5 thoughts on “Cartooning Basics

  1. One of the best art classes I took was life drawing. Being an illustrator, it help me realize how shadow and high lights actually worked. It also taught me how not to be afraid of positive and negative space and areas of total black. Never thought of it as being useful in cartooning. Good point.

    • P.J.—Those are great points. I didn’t experience my first life drawing class until I was in college. My high school art class didn’t offer figure drawing (late ’70’s). I’d be curious to know if any high schools do now.

    • Teresa—I do a 45 minute morning session twice a year for Pleasant Prairie Elementary in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

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