Friday, 6 August 2010

Thick Skin.

I've had a lot of mileage out of this one, although none of it for financial reward. It was conceived as a very quick (10 minutes max) response to a debate on a cartoonists' forum revolving around the sensitivities of cartoonists, and what upsets us. It has had many outings since then, usually in personal emails to colleagues who are in need of a comforting word and a little reassurance, having been at the wrong end of criticism that some people seem to think is fair game when it comes to dealing with cartoonists, using language they probably wouldn't dream of using towards most other professionals.

It's not that we're a vain lot, though some undoubtedly are, as in any field. Nor are we above criticism. And what doesn't help us is that our focus is almost always on making people laugh, so actually a client being merely "pleased" (for most professions, the ideal outcome) probably isn't good enough for us deep down, and a client actually being displeased can come as a double blow to our pride and professionalism. Nothing short of a bout of hysterics followed by astonishment that you'd done the job so much better than they could have imagined will truly suffice.

But inevitably, we usually have to settle for a little less, and develop these thick skins. Normally, they're only needed at home, and are worn in relative privacy at the other end of a critical phone call or a disapproving email. But those of us who swim the shark-infested waters of live caricaturing gigs need to wear ours in public. Live caricaturing can be the most rewarding of jobs for many cartoonists in terms of instant laughter and praise from a live audience, sending one's ego through the roof. But even the best of the best will, at some point, encounter adverse reactions, and I have to say that on the rare occasions this has happened to me, it has always been from the female of the species.

Men are very difficult to insult in terms of their looks, and consequently (generally) much more fun to caricature. If you're a smart caricaturist, you learn very quickly that the fairer sex are a completely different kettle of fish. Sometimes, you have to capture their smile within a nano-second, as they sit grim-faced and terrified at what you're about to do to them. Many will openly ask you to "make them look beautiful". My stock answer is usually that I can't improve on what God has already done, which occasionally gets a blush, but more often than not, a "blow it out your ass" wry smile. Either way, it helps to ease the tension a little.

I learned at my very first gig, a wedding at Banbury Cross, that you can be too 'honest'. One 'woman of a certain age' sat for her caricature with a beautiful smile throughout, and was utterly charming, relatively relaxed, and quite chatty. Consequently, I took a little longer to complete her picture, but I was quite pleased with the result. The 'reveal' is usually the best part, and most people take it in very good spirit, and are generous with their appreciation. This lady maintained her lovely smile ("Result!", thought I), then followed it up with, "Wonderful - it looks just like my mother!". I zipped up my thick skin and contented myself with the fact I had at least captured the family resemblance. But that pivotal early moment taught me that for some sitters, the removal of ten years and ten pounds will gain you a friend for life... or for at least long enough to make your escape at the end of the night with your fee. A valuable lesson indeed!

So - now you know all my secrets, if you would like to hire me for your event, drop me a line or give me a call. More details on my website (see my 'lynx' on the right).


  1. I refused to draw my work colleague until we have fallen out and are not on speaking terms any longer.

    It's the only way.