Cartooning the New Year’s Baby

     Recently several people asked me how to draw cartoons.  There are a lot of good books with information on cartooning, but I thought you might like to see how I do it.  If you like some of the suggestions you can adapt them to your own work.  Remember that every cartoonist works differently!

     The accompanying diagram of the New Year’s Baby cartoon was done as a demonstration for a group, which is why there are a lot of little printed notes on the drawing.  I would not normally do this — I’m well aware that cartoons with too many words on them are guaranteed to turn readers off!   

     The first thing to remember is that DETAILS COME LAST!  Begin simply and get a “map” of your idea on paper before you add the details.

     Using very light pencil lines, I draw a stick figure.  I begin with the head by drawing a circle and then adding a jawline.   I also put a center line down the face so I can position the features later.  Babies have very large heads, and I exaggerate that even more because this is a cartoon. The stick figure is then “hung” on the head.

     My stick figure doesn’t have many sharp angles because I feel curved lines give a picture more life.  Also, this is a baby, and babies are made up of curves.  The stick figure is “fleshed out” with the simplest shapes possible, like fat sausages and beans.  If you need help with proportions, look at a baby doll.

     In this preliminary sketch, I feel my way with light, feathery lines.  I don’t try to make “perfect” lines at this stage; I just want to get my idea onto paper.  It doesn’t matter if you get a line in the “wrong” place — you can fix it later.

     You can see foreshortening in the baby’s right arm and leg (on the left side of the picture).  His arm is pointing away from us, so it looks smaller and shorter to give the illusion that it is receding.  His raised leg is coming toward us, so it looks shorter and fatter because the shapes are compressed by our viewpoint.  You can see foreshortening by standing in front of a mirror and pointing at yourself with your arm straight — then point behind you.  Watch how the shape of your arm changes.

     Once the preliminary sketch is done I begin detailing, still using light pencil lines.  I try to avoid too many details because over-detailing makes the cartoon cluttered and confusing.  Too many details also make the work look amateurish.  If you analyze the work on newspaper comic pages, you’ll see that most professional cartoonists do a lot with just a few lines.  (Only a few can make extremely detailed pictures work well.)

     A baby’s face is on the lower half of the skull.  The ears are also set low.  I made the eyes wide apart and rather small to add cuteness.  The little white highlight in the eyes gives life.  It’s a cartoon, so the eyes are just dots with a curved line to show which way he’s looking. 

     The trick to drawing babies is to use as few lines as possible on the face.  The more lines you put on the face, the older the kid is going to look.  Add too many lines, and you’ve got Werewolf Baby. 

     The last things I put on are his diaper and the banner.  I always think that New Year babies should wear the old fashioned diaper with a safety pin — I don’t know why.  Every cartoonist has his or her own symbolic quirks and that’s one of mine.  Can you spot the quirks other cartoonists use?  Look at the way Mort Drucker makes Beetle Bailey walk — real feet and legs don’t go like that, but he makes it work!

     When the pencil drawing satisfies you, ink it.  I used two Sharpie felt-tip pens, a thick point and a fine point.  Using lines of different weights makes the picture more interesting.  Ink only the lines that look “right” to you.  If you mess up a line, just redraw it and keep rolling.  You can fix problems later with white acrylic paint or white-out.  (Note:  you might need to use several thin layers of acrylic paint, because felt-tip will sometimes bleed through.)

     Okay!  Our drawing is done!  It’s not perfect, but nobody’s perfect.  Just do the best you can and put your heart into it.  If you can begin to see your cartoon world as a real place while you’re drawing, you’re in the right zone and your drawing will work.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like you visualized it; it’s YOUR drawing and that makes it right.  Just boldly create your own cartoon world and invite everyone to visit!

By Kay R. Sluterbeck

Published by on December 2011. Filed under HowDoit PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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