Monday, May 31, 2010

Start Cartooning

Grab a bit of paper, big or small—a grocery list or a post-it note, the back of an envelope or fresh drawing paper—and draw something, anything, as elaborate as you want, as simple as you want.  Do it every day.  If you miss a day, forgive yourself.  If you miss a bunch of days, forgive yourself.  If your cartoons suck, hate yourself, but forgive yourself.  And get back to it.  That’s what I do.  Here’s how I got started: 

In the summer of 2008, my Larry took a one-week cartooning workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.  He was jazzed and buzzed and all happied up from it.   But as the last day approached, I started to dread what would come next.  Larry would go back to work, stop cartooning, get depressed.  Not big depressed, just wilted.  I didn’t want that to happen. 

One of the speakers in the workshop was James Kochalka, the creator of American Elf.  Kochalka draws a cartoon every day and posts it online.  (Here’s the cartoon about the day he spoke.)  A cartoon a day.  That seemed like a good idea.  But I knew Larry wouldn’t do it on his own, and I knew I didn’t want to prod him to.  Companionship might help.  Problem is, my hands are limited.  Lots of pain.  As regular readers of this blog know, even a short piece of writing such as this is transcribed for me by a friend.  [Hello, from the friend!] 

But, hey, I’ve always liked stick figures.  Larry’s dad draws a stick-figure note for Larry’s mom most days.  I adore them.  I could do that, I thought.  I could draw a stick figure every day.  I could probably, almost certainly, even on my worst days, draw a 30-second stick figure.  So I challenged Larry:  If you’ll do it, I’ll do it.  And, with some lapses, but not very many, we’ve been scribbling little pictures with pen on paper every day for a few months shy of two years now.  Even if Larry is consumed by work, one of us can still get a cartoon out of it.

One of mine (click to enlarge):

One of Larry's:

I had no idea cartooning would become such a thing for me.  I always thought cartooning was something I couldn’t do, like singing opera.  But I’ve never even wanted to sing opera.  I’d be thrilled if I could sing decently at all.  Recently, however, I’ve decided I’m just going to make my goofy little noises and enjoy them, which I do.  It’s pretty much what I do with cartooning too—just make my funny little marks, and be glad.

Because of my hands, as well as my other medical issues, I had been out of art-making for over eight years when I started drawing stick figures.  Cartooning is completely different from the fine-art type work I did before.  Hallelujah.  I’m not doing a frustrated, restricted, time-bound version of what I used to do.  I’m just doing something else.  Miraculously, despite the fact that I can usually only draw for a few minutes a day, it’s very satisfying. 

The Center for Cartoon Studies has a gorgeous, somewhat overwhelming web-site.  Take a peek.  (Looking at a class photo on the site, Larry remarked approvingly, “Clearly, these are people who know how to value fantasy over reality.”) On this page, you can download a PDF of their program brochure, which doubles as a guide to cartooning.  It’s quite charming.  The cartooning intensives this summer are happening July 12–16 and August 2–6.  Check it out.  I got at least as much out of the 2008 workshop as Larry did, and I didn’t even attend.

(Cow and burger on shopping list by Larry Gilman)


  1. I regret that I stopped striving to become better at drawing when I was around 12. It was the faces. Attempting realistic faces just killed me.

    Now it's one of those things I'd like to pick up again, and don't have time for. Even good stick figures take more understanding than most people think.

  2. Very inspiring post, especially the bit about cartooning not being a limited version of your fine art. Glad you've got something so positive in your life. Take care.

  3. That CCS is an interesting place. I hope they're still doing First Fridays at the Schulz Library when November rolls around.

  4. Hi, I've just started following your blog. I enjoy and admire what you do. I also use cartoons in my blog to talk about my different-ness. Your "do it every day" advice is so true. Thank you for this window into your world and I look forward to more of your work!


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