From the Artist's STUDIO...Ben Burgraff's CARICATURIST TRAINING MANUAL!
The question I'm asked most frequently when I'm drawing at parties is "How do you GET to BE a CARICATURE ARTIST?" Well, I haven't heard of any schools offering a degree in CARICATURE, yet, but we find a way! There IS a process in making a living at it, and I'll share it with you, here! This page is for those of you who want to be caricaturists, and those of you who are, and are having trouble making a 'go' of it! While I'm not exactly an expert in this wacky field, I've been ekking out a living at it most of my life, and maybe I can help you avoid working part-time at a Blockbuster Video for a while!
First off...Ya Gotta Be Able to DRAW! Drawing BADLY is NOT an excuse to take up caricatures! It's a big field of artists out here, and the LOUSY artist will sink faster than the Titanic! So PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! I draw every day, and purposely give myself difficult subjects (tiny photos, photos in heavy shadow or too high contrast) just to push myself to take risks. If you're starting out, I don't recommend doing what I do, necessarily; the important thing is to hone those portrait and cartooning skills! Draw friends, draw family, draw from photos, draw from life...just DRAW! Don't be afraid to copy cartoons from Mad Magazines, Archie comics, or wherever you see a face or a body that 'works' (remembering that you should NEVER display a copy of another artist's work as your own!) Don't allow yourself to be "roped into" thinking that you have to draw grossly exaggerated distortions for your work to be accepted as legitimate; Caricatures have been around in a multitude of styles for literally thousands of years (the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans did them), and whatever is ultimately satisfying for you, and sells, is as valid as anyone else's work, no matter what the 'experts' say!
As far as your choice of materials...That's really up to YOU, as well! Presently, I use a variety of "over-the-shelf" markers to create my basic black and white drawings (with Extra Fine Sharpies for more detailed work), then apply chalk, Prismacolors, and Crayola markers to add color, on 80 lb.-100 lb. card stock (available at most art stores, office supply companies, and paper outlets...I prefer 80 lb. Cougar cover, for my drawings, when I can get it). I've known artists who have used everything from colored pencils, to watercolors, to airbrush equipment for their caricatures, so the bottom line is...if your finished product SELLS, you've made the RIGHT CHOICE! Next, get used to drawing a LOT! Over 50% of a freelance artist's salary comes from parties and events, where the NUMBER of PEOPLE you can DRAW per hour is a determining factor! You can't just hit one home run...You gotta hit 10 or 12 or 14 of them per hour! In a retail situation (drawing in a mall, for example) or doing a single drawing for a client, you can slow down and create your 'masterpiece'; at parties, or fairs, or shows, learn to abbreviate your drawings to the basics, and GET THE JOB DONE!
Okay, so you can draw, and now you want to make a living at it! A LOT of options are available...If you have the stamina, I'd suggest working at a theme park, for starters. You won't do gallery-quality work there, and your percentage of each sale will probably SUCK, but you'll get a LOT of practice, and an opportunity to interact with a variety of other artists (and if you see something in an artist's style or methods you like, STEAL it, and incorporate it into your own work...we ALL do it!) If the theme parks aren't your 'bag', you might consider affiliating with other artists in a loose partnership; this way, you can easily handle multi-artist jobs, or do multiple jobs at the same time. (Some of these 'companies' of artists can become REAL companies...I was affiliated with one, 'CARICATURES for ALL OCCASIONS', for nearly 13 years!) Want to be a LONER? Then I suggest you contact all the Party Planners, Photographers, DeeJays, Clowns, Talent Agencies, and Caterers in the Yellow Pages, and offer your services (at a juicy commission for THEM, of course!) Speaking of the Yellow Pages, if you can afford it, getting a listing in it is a MUST! (It's how I've gotten a LOT of work!) You might also consider a listing in some of the caricaturist catalogs available on the Internet. I'd also contact convention bureaus, local newspapers and magazines, clubs, bars, and restaurants, and plan to show them a dynamite PORTFOLIO (with at least 20 black and white and color samples of your work, at the SIZE you plan to SELL!) Remember to have PLENTY of BUSINESS CARDS, and a full quota of PATIENCE (an understanding SPOUSE with a FULL-TIME job doesn't hurt, either!) Be prepared to travel...Jobs are frequently outside of your hometown, and I'm OFTEN away from home for extended periods!
Now you come down to the NUTS and BOLTS of CARICATURES...the BUSINESS end! Be prepared to hang on to all your receipts, keep track of your expenses, and even record your car's mileage to and from events, because you're self-employed, and taxes and social security can EAT YOU ALIVE! Being self-employed also means you should either spring for a good 'Preparing Your Taxes' cd-rom, or hire a brilliant but cheap accountant! Be aware that you will probably need to get a city license (and possibly a county one, as well) if you plan to work commercially...and when you do, you'll start hearing a LOT about SALES TAXES, which all sold merchandise is supposed to have tacked on. Some STATES even require a license to draw pictures professionally (It's not like we're DOCTORS or something!) Artists are fighting a running battle in several states over how we should be taxed (WE say we are performers providing a service...THEY say we are no better than merchants selling products, and should be taxed as such, although we don't have 'inventory' to fall back on...This is how the term 'STARVING ARTIST' began, I swear!) Add to this the cost of supplies, equipment,and any advertising you can afford to do, as well as necessities like a telephone, car maintenance and gasoline, and, oh, yeah, food and rent (unless you don't plan to EAT or LIVE ANYWHERE!) and factor all of it into the price you charge your clients! While we're ARTISTS, we also have to MAKE A LIVING!
If you can deal with all this, plus the sporadic seasons, the competition, and the occasional client who wouldn't be satisfied if REMBRANDT did their picture, and STILL can keep your sanity...FIND ANOTHER LINE OF WORK! Who said SANE people DRAW CARICATURES for a living? (Just kidding! If you can handle all this...you might just MAKE it!)
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