Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Working Environment - The Nuts and Bolts (and wood screws) of Creating a Cartoon.

Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chain-stores.
(Marx - except for the last bit.)

I have to offer up a caveat straight away. This is the way I work and much of it is dictated by circumstance. My tools will seem archaic to most, if not all, present day cartoonists, but so what? I enjoy what I do, the way I do it.
All my initial drawings are done on common and garden photocopying paper. Sometimes I use the traditional wooden HB pencil; sometimes I use what used to be called a clutch pencil, but it's probably called something else now (Sebastian, perhaps?).
My working area may be the kitchen table or the sofa in the sitting room. It all depends on how annoying the television is. The preferred area is actually the kitchen, but this may present its own problems. It is not a permanent working area, so stuff has to be cleared away or risk being contaminated by gravy or ketchup. Actually, gaining access to the table itself is fraught with difficulties. As I type this piece of deathless prose, the table is surrounded by several pairs of female boots. There are two female overcoats hanging off the back of two of the chairs and the table top is strewn with a hat, handbags, two recipes, an empty Ferrero Rocher box and a pair of ear-muffs, none of which belong to me. I will confess to the book and newspaper, though.
As you may gather, I am the sole, surviving male in a strongly matriarchal household. My son made good his escape a few years ago. Do I envy him? Not really. Do I miss him? Of course.
As I work on my pencils at the table, I put the i-pod on shuffle and play it through the kitchen stereo. Shuffle often throws up strange juxtapositions, musically speaking, and (Morning Thought Mode) do you know, that's rather how a cartoonist thinks?
I have opined elsewhere (The public forum on the Cartoonist's Club of Great Britain site) that cartoonists are like Metaphysical poets in that they yoke together two disparate thoughts in order to express a universal truth (to paraphrase Dr. Johnson very, very loosely). It could also be argued that cartoonists are, and have been, proto-Post Modernists, again by taking two different ideas and expressing the result as a third entity in its own right; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. As I say, it could be argued thus, but I'm not bloody doing it.
Having arrived at a pencilled drawing on photocopy paper that approximates fairly closely to my satisfaction, what do I do next? Next, I haul out the monstrosity under my bed that is my light-box a.k.a. Wifesbane. It is a piece of home-made equipment that my poor wife hates. She regards it, for the the most part, as a thoroughly useless artifact, the main purpose of which is to enable her to stub her toe upon it. I have had the odd occasion to agree with her and I have the bruises to prove it. I built it based on instructions in The Cartoonist's Workbook by Robin Hall (A & C Black, London, 1995), page 60. If you build it in accordance to Mr. Hall's proportions and materials, it would more than likely turn out to be a beautifully crafted piece of furniture. Mine is A2 sized and made out of white laminated chipboard, except for the base. My base was cannibalised from an old head-board and consequently weighs the same as a baby Indian Elephant. The finished result would have Chippendale drooling, wide-eyed and babbling in the corner of some forgotten cell in a place of incarceration somewhere. But it works, dammit!
My finished drawings are made on the said light-box on Daler Rowney cartridge paper, but just recently I played around with some Winsor and Newton Bristol Board. This is just about twice as thick as cartridge paper and smoother and it is lovely stuff to draw on. It gives my drawings a slicker feel to them. I likes it I does, but it is quite expensive, so I use it very sparingly.
I use what used to be called a dip and scratch pen and Indian ink. The pen-holder is a beautifully varnished wooden body that is a joy to hold. The nib looks like brass and is quite stiff, but it is pliable enough to give me a varied line when I draw. Using a magnifying glass I can make out the nib maker as Leonardt and beneath that the letters IIIEF appear. I have absolutely no idea what that could possibly mean, I only draw with it.
Well, that's it for today. You may wake up now. In future posts I intend to focus on some of my cartoon influences.

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