I hadn’t planned to be a cartoonist. I had a firm career plan when I was nearing the end of high school, that I would become a Child Behavioural Therapist. I did some work experience working with kids while I was at school, and then work shadowed a Child Behavioural Therapist during my studies at Sixth Form. I loved it, and mapped out my future to get a degree in Child Therapy alongside volunteering before working my way up the ladder.
As with a lot of best laid plans, it wasn’t meant to be, but that’s for another blog post. I can’t imagine loving a job more than I love being a dog cartoonist anyway. It wasn’t a completely random result, as I did have some cartooning roots from way back when I was a nipper…
When I was little, I loved the original Disney cartoons. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Bambi, Thumper, Dumbo, Lady & The Tramp… I loved them all.
My parents bought my sister and I "Walt Disney's GIANT Story Book", a thick book of original Disney stories with illustrations beside each story. I loved it, and still do. It sits on a shelf opposite me while I work each day.
Pops (my Dad) is a man of many talents and great humility, in equal measure. The cartoons that he drew for me when I was a kid were amazing. If you ask him about it now, he will tell you they were rubbish. I don’t mean the kind of comment where someone says it in order for you to go “Oh no! You’re amazing!” But more of a factual, “Don’t be so silly complimenting me on that”, baffled reply with a laugh. But this is my blog and I am a professional cartoonist so I have the authority here: Pops is a bloody brilliant cartoonist. So there.
He is also an incredibly kind and patient man, and would sit at the ‘big table’ in the living room with me for hours when I was a kid, with the big blue book open, and showing me how to draw each of my favourite characters.
He even made up a few characters of his own, with Patch the dog, Gercha the rabbit, and Egbert the Lion, being three of my favourites. I cut around each cartoon that he drew, and stuck them on my wall or wardrobe door with double sided tape (sorry Mum and Pops, for the paintwork in my room!) As a result, these drawings have become a bit battered over the years, but they are 30 (ish, ahem) years old, so a little wear and tear is to be expected, like an old beloved teddy bear.
I would get frustrated that he could look at a Disney character and just draw it. I looked at one and then drew something that resembled something more like Grouch from Sesame Street. Great, if that’s who I was attempting to draw, but not such a great lookalike for Mickey Mouse, who I was actually attempting. Pops never told me that maybe it wasn’t my thing after all. He saw that I still loved doing it, and so kept encouraging it. I will be forever grateful to him for that, because all of that practice came in quite handy later in life!
Some cartooning advice that Pops gave me back then, that I still live by today:
1) Patience! (This has never been my strong point!) If something isn’t going well, then stop and take a break, and come back to it with renewed patience and a fresh outlook.
2) Draw from smaller references. If you have a complicated reference picture that you’re drawing from, make it smaller in comparison to your artwork. That helps to get the main parts without being overwhelmed by detail. Then you can enlarge when you’re ready for detail.
3) A bad workman (or woman) blames his tools! If something goes wrong, take personal responsibility.
4) Look after your tools. As much as number 3 is true, drawing with a blunt, chewed or cracked pencil will affect your attitude to your work, and you’re unlikely to put as much care in if you don’t care about your tools.
5) Enjoy! Find what you love doing, and keep building your skill at it.
I still have a soft spot for the original Disney characters, and marvel at the fluidity of their line work and expression. But most of all, my soft spot for them is because they immediately take me back to those cartooning days up at the big table with my fab Pops. Where my cartooning all began.