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Trudeau Update – A Cartoon Video

I recorded a high speed video of a cartoon I sent out this morning, some bonus content for my newspaper clients.

The type of cartoon in this video would normally take me about three or four hours since detailed caricatures are a lot more work. Add in camera setup, periodic recording throughout the process, sourcing and buying music, and editing, and I spent about nine hours on this yesterday, which is why I can’t do these as often as I’d like.

Because of the way I’ve set up my office, having a camera on a tripod over my left shoulder while recording is kind of clumsy. I can’t have it on the right, where there is a lot more room, because my hand would obscure the drawing. With a tripod leg right behind me, I have to be careful not to move my chair back and bump it. So there’s really no way to get into the groove of drawing while recording, at least not one that I’ve found.

I’ve tried recording with my phone or iPad on a goose-neck, since that setup is much more user friendly, but the problem is that even if you manually adjust the brightness, the cameras on portable devices just aren’t designed for recording the backlit display of another screen. I’ve even tried a GoPro camera, but none of them have worked as well as the DSLR camera you see here.

In the photo, you can see my second monitor, where I’ll often put the images I’m using for reference.

The display I’m drawing on is a Wacom Cintiq 24HD and the software is Photoshop, which is the most widely used professional illustration and digital drawing/painting software on the planet. There have been plenty of times I’ve wished it were called something else, because for many years, people assumed that if you were using Photoshop, you must simply be manipulating photos.

Thankfully, anybody younger than me has grown up with this technology, so I don’t have to explain it as often as I used to.

If you like the video below, feel free to share it from YouTube.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Caricature and Cartoons

MulcairNotley
When I first started out as an editorial cartoonist, I was horrible at caricature. It took forever for me just to get a passable likeness and sometimes, I even had to put the name of the person on a briefcase or name tag just to be sure that people would know who they were looking at.

As time went on, I spent a lot of energy trying to become better at that, because this artistic shortcoming drove me nuts. I tried to do the extreme exaggeration caricature, with the huge features, but never really took to it. I tried to do faces that were far too realistic so that they weren’t caricatured at all. Eventually, I discovered my own style which is a mix of the two, leaning more toward a realistic than extreme distortion. But still with big noggins.

It has been my experience that caricature is often seen as something easy to do by people who don’t draw or paint. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because many people have seen or had their caricature painted by one of those artists at county fairs or carnivals in ten minutes or less. What most people don’t realize is that the people who can do that are incredibly talented. That kind of speed and accuracy takes years to acquire and I have a lot of respect for the artists I know who can do it. It is a skill I do not possess.

I took an online caricature course years ago from Jason Seiler through Schoolism.com. Jason is an incredibly talented portrait and caricature artist, his work has appeared in many magazines and publications. He has even painted Pope Francis for Time’s Man of The Year cover last year. You probably saw it, even if you didn’t know who did it.

I learned a lot from Jason’s course, it was well worth my time and money. I probably found my own personal value more in the painting techniques I learned from that course, rather than the caricature. That’s not a failing on his part, far from it. It’s just where my interest was. A lot of the painting techniques I still use today have core elements of the skills I learned from Jason.

When it comes to caricature, I’ve done commissions for individuals, illustrations for magazines and newspapers, business graphics, and celebrity portfolio pieces. After I discovered my animal work, however, I realized that’s where my niche was and have since devoted most of my painting time to that. My caricature skills, such as they are, are clearly a part of that work. While I will still get requests from time to time for caricature commissions of people, I most often turn them down unless there are very special circumstances.

These days, the majority of my caricatures are for editorial cartoons. As deadlines are constantly on my mind, I can’t always put long hours into them, but every once in a while, I’ll make the time.
MulcairNotley_closeupAs I’d had the idea for this cartoon on Friday, in anticipation of the upcoming NDP convention in Edmonton, I decided to devote Sunday to working on it. I started with the sketches very early in the morning and finished painting it sometime around 3 pm, I think. Allowing for time to eat, chitchat with my wife throughout the day, I would guess this one took me somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to complete.

Editorial cartoon caricatures are tough because newsprint is a muddy and unpredictable medium. Subtle brushstrokes often get blurred out so they’re not even seen. For that reason, I have to paint with more contrast, harder lines, and include black lines where I might normally leave them out in another painting. It’s about finding the right balance between how I’d really like to paint the face and what I need to do to make it stand out on newsprint and hopefully look relatively the same in all of the publications that print it. You’d be surprised how one press can make a cartoon look great, while another can make it look completely washed out, all from the same file.

For those who follow my artwork, but not my editorial cartoons or Canadian politics, the guy is Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party of Canada. The woman is Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta, also with the NDP but at the provincial level. Neither is very popular right now and they’re both struggling for relevance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, not only the faces, but also painting the car, just spending time on the whole image overall. Without worrying about whether it gets widely published or if my editors like it, I had fun painting it, nitpicking over the details, trying a few experiments, improving on my skills. It was time well spent.

While there will always be room for improvement, likenesses are a lot easier for me now than they used to be. And best of all, I’m confident that I don’t have to write their names in there anymore.

Cheers,
Patrick
MulcairNotleyCartoon

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Fine Tooning

WynneToonI spent most of Sunday (and a bit more of Monday) working on the cartoon you see above, featuring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a comment on this week’s provincial budget. From an efficiency perspective, it wasn’t the best use of my time. I could have easily done two or possibly three cartoons in the same span. But I love to paint and it’s been quite some time since I’ve poured everything into a caricature.

From an hourly perspective, I doubt I made minimum wage on this one, but it was fun and good practice, so it can’t really be seen as time misspent. I would love to be able to create this kind of detail in editorial cartoons on a regular basis, but in the quest to find the middle ground between best art and making a living, sacrifices must be made.

Like every other creative I know, chief among the questions I’m asked about editorial cartooning is, “where do you get your ideas?”

The short answer is that I follow the news closely, pretty much all the time. Newspapers, television, Google, websites like CBC, CTV, Global, National Newswatch and social media if you want specifics. While I won’t have the cartoon idea right away, I’ll be able to see from a headline and summary that there is likely one to be found within. That just comes with experience.

I’m what you call a self-syndicated editorial cartoonist. This means that I create one or two cartoons each weekday on regional, provincial, national and international topics, which I then send off to newspapers across Canada. Some clients only run my work; otherwise I am competing for space with other editorial cartoonists.

There are some daily newspapers that have a staff cartoonist, which is an endangered position, especially when layoffs seem to be the quickest way to cut expenses. I’ve often said that I’m glad I never got a job with a daily newspaper, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t still have it today.

From 2001 to 2006, I was self-syndicating to newspapers across Canada while holding down a full-time job to pay the bills. I would get up at 5:00am each day to draw and send a cartoon before heading off to work. I would also draw evenings and weekends. When I finally became busy enough to quit the ‘real job’ and still pay my half of the bills, I continued to get up at the same time simply because I’m a morning person. While most think it’s nuts, I truly do enjoy getting up that early. A lot of other artists work late at night into the wee hours, but that’s just not me. I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 most nights.
WynneCloseI work almost every day, though on weekends I have a little more flexibility. Saturdays I try to paint in the morning, but my wife and I will usually go do something the rest of the day. Sundays, I’m working on editorial cartoons. I squeeze in painted work and writing whenever and wherever I can.

The big challenge with freelance editorial cartooning is the speed at which cartoons need to be done. Someone who draws for a daily newspaper has the luxury of taking time to come up with the right idea and then enjoying the whole day to draw it. Nobody is going to take that spot on the editorial page from them as it’s reserved for their work.

For freelancers, however, it’s all about getting a good idea, drawing it fast, and sending it out to as many papers as possible before they go to print. For some weekly papers, that’s before noon on certain days and if there’s a time change in the wrong direction between here and there, that window of opportunity closes fast. This is where the early mornings help.

Not only do I have to make sure I deliver on time, but I’m also competing with other freelancers, not to mention a syndicate that resells cartoons from the few cartoonists who still work for the major dailies or the ones who’ve been laid off.

While I’m comfortable spending my days working alone, the isolation does have its stresses. For example, when big shifts happen in the world of newspapers, like last month’s round of Postmedia layoffs, things change quickly. Those Postmedia daily papers that used to run me quite often, well there’s been a sudden drop this month as editorial page editors have lost/left their jobs and new ones have started in. When there’s a shift like that, I often have to figure it out on my own and adapt quickly. Freelancers don’t get invited to meetings.

There’s also been a noticeable lurch to the right in much of the commentary on some of those daily pages, so any cartoon I draw that doesn’t paint the Conservatives in anything but a positive or persecuted light, well lately they don’t see the light of day. I’ve got no love for the Liberals or NDP, but I can’t bash them every single day ‘just because.’ That’s the Opposition’s shtick.

There is no doubt that the winds have changed. While I don’t expect any sympathy for having to adjust my sails to compensate, especially when so many have been outright laid off from their jobs, it has got me a little concerned. With an overactive OCD fueled imagination and a lot of time alone to think bad thoughts, the stress multiplies.

Thankfully, I have my painted work and print sales to reinforce the hull where it shows potential signs of leaking, but in a down economy, art isn’t a priority for a lot of people, either.

So what does one do? Well, the only thing I can do, I guess. Keep working, scramble a little harder, draw a little faster, look for new revenue streams, try to keep my current customers happy and borrow from a famous prayer. Accept what I can’t change, change what I can and figure out the difference.

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An Editorial Cartoon in Two Minutes

This is just over an hour of sketching, drawing, and painting, condensed down to two minutes.  From sketch to finished work created digitally using a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display and Photoshop CC.  While the majority of my editorial cartoons are sketched on paper first and then scanned, this is pretty much the whole process I go through for each cartoon.  This is best viewed at full screen in HD.   To learn how this is done, you can purchase my cartooning DVD at PhotoshopCAFE.

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The Royal Fishbowl

Let me begin by saying, I am NOT a royal watcher and there is no chance I’ll be up watching the wedding in the middle of the night.  That being said, a lot of people are following the media feeding frenzy leading up to the nuptials, so I had to do a cartoon or two on the event.

One of the most difficult things for me to do is create an image like this for an editorial cartoon.   Newsprint is a muddy, ugly medium for illustration.  The usual effort that I put into a painting is completely lost when the image is printed in a newspaper, so I have to be careful not to waste my time on detail that will never be seen.

Skin, hair, texture, subtle transitions of light and shadow…it’s all a big waste of time.  Unfortunately, it’s also what my painted work is becoming known for, so when it comes to including it in my portfolio, I’m on the fence.  It doesn’t belong with the painted portraits and caricatures of people, but probably will be fine in the Illustration portfolio.

Another reason an image like this is tough is that there is a tight deadline on it.  Editorial cartoons need to be drawn and sent as quickly as possible.  Not only am I often competing with other cartoonists for freelance spots in many newspapers across Canada, but the news changes so quickly, that the work put into an editorial cartoon often has to be balanced against the likelihood of getting paid.  This is a big event, most of my newspapers will want to cover it, so I felt it was worth putting a lot more time into this cartoon, as it can be used not only in the usual editorial cartoon slot, but as an editorial illustration as well.  I planned ahead and started sketches three or four days before I intended to send it out.  While I didn’t keep track, I’d estimate that from sketch to finish, it took around eight to ten hours.

For those who have purchased my DVD, you already know the process of sketch, ink, flat colour and shading.   I changed it a bit for this image.  While I did do an initial sketch of William and Kate, I went right to painting on a different layer, with the sketch layer as a guide.  All of the other elements were roughed out in Photoshop, with no paper sketch.

I was pleased with the painted image, and it if it were for a magazine or online publication, I would have continued with the painted look, but had to add an ink layer for newsprint, so it would be sharper and stand out more.  It wasn’t until all of the shading and painting was done that I added the ink.  Many publications have different printing processes, so the cartoons end up lighter in some newspapers.  The ink layer ensures that the image will still look decent, even if the shading gets washed out a bit.  You’ll notice, however that the ink layer was done with much thinner lines than I normally use, because the thicker lines wouldn’t work for this image.

Other challenges with this image included creating a fishbowl castle version of Westminster Abbey, which is very tall and narrow.  You’ll notice mine is squashed, which was something I had to do to fit it in the fishbowl.  I also intentionally went with the molded porcelain ‘fishbowl castle’ look for the Abbey, rather than the crisp pristine stone look of the real church.  It really didn’t end up looking all that much like the real building, but people should get the gist of it.

Not knowing if Kate would be wearing a veil or tiara or what her dress would look like (oh the suspense is just KILLING me, don’t you know?), I didn’t worry about it.  I just put William in the same outfit his father wore when he married Diana.  While I do prefer painting more detailed work, I did have some fun on this.  Were it not for the deadline looming over me on the day I put the most work into it, I might have enjoyed it a little more, but that’s the necessary compromise every commercial artist needs to make peace with.  It’s an enjoyable job, but at the end of the day, it’s still a job.