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Cartoonist

Cartoonists draw pictures and cartoons to amuse, educate and influence people. They may work in many different formats, including gag cartoons, humorous illustrations, editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels and animation.

They produce work for a wide range of products, from newspapers, books, and comics through to websites, computer games, films and greetings cards.

Some cartoonists specialise in drawing or painting cartoon depictions of people, and are known as caricaturists. Others are editorial cartoonists who comment on society by drawing pictures that are humorous. Cartoonists also produce comic strips, utilising recurring characters and telling short stories with a series of pictures. Some cartoonists also work as animators and design the visual part of animated cartoons for films, television and computer games- see Animator.

Cartoonists may sketch drawings and use computer drawing tools to develop ideas.

Most cartoonists are self-employed and are largely free to set their own working hours. Some work in an open plan office or studio, but most work from home.

Most cartoonists work freelance and are paid an agreed fee for each commission, which varies widely. Earnings may range from around £15,000 to £100,000 a year.

A cartoonist should:

  • have artistic talent and excellent drawing skills
  • have creativity, originality and imagination
  • have wit and a good sense of humour
  • have good communication and negotiation skills
  • have an interest in art and graphic design.

There are limited opportunities for salaried employment as a cartoonist in the UK with publishers, television studios and advertising agencies. Consequently, it is a highly competitive area of work and it can take a long time to become established. Self-employed cartoonists often supplement their income by working as freelance illustrators, animators and/or caricaturists.

There are no set entry requirements to become a cartoonist. However, most professional cartoonists develop their skills and portfolio through a foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject, such as illustration, fine art or graphic design. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Cartoonists wishing to broaden their skills can take relevant postgraduate degrees, for example in illustration, sequential design and illustration, and animation.

Success depends upon building a strong reputation. Cartoonists may specialise in a particular area of work, such as political cartoons, comic work or animation.

What is the work like?

Cartoonists draw pictures and cartoons to amuse, educate and influence people. They may work in many different formats, including single-panel gag cartoons, humorous illustrations, editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels and animation.

Cartoonists produce work for a wide range of products from newspapers, books, comics and magazines, through to advertising materials, websites, computer games, films and greetings cards.

Some cartoonists specialise in drawing or painting cartoon depictions of people, and are known as caricaturists. Others are editorial cartoonists who comment on society by drawing pictures that are humorous, but often have a serious underlying political message.

Cartoonists also produce comic strips, utilising recurring characters and telling short stories with a series of pictures. They create the story and write the captions. Comic strip artists may also work in book-length form, creating graphic novels.

Some cartoonists also work as animators and design the visual part of animated cartoons for films, television and computer games. For more information, see Animator.

Cartoonists may sketch drawings using a range of pencils, pens and paints. Many professional cartoonists also use high-level computer drawing tools to develop ideas.

Cartoonists agree a brief with the client and then produce a 'rough' drawing or set of ideas for the client to review or use to choose a final image. When a final image is agreed, cartoonists then produce the finished artwork and supply it to the client in whatever format, traditional or digital, the client wants.

Hours and environment

Most cartoonists are self-employed and are largely free to set their own working hours. They may have to work long hours in order to meet deadlines.

Some cartoonists work in a well-lit open plan office or studio, but most work from home.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

Most cartoonists work on a freelance basis and are paid an agreed fee for each commission, which varies widely.

  • New freelance cartoonists may earn around £15,000 a year.
  • Experienced cartoonists may earn between £30,000 and £50,000 a year.
  • Highly established cartoonists may earn up to £100,000 a year, or more.

Skills and personal qualities

A cartoonist should:

  • have artistic talent and excellent drawing skills
  • have creativity, originality and imagination
  • have wit and a good sense of humour
  • be able to work to a brief
  • have an understanding of the context in which they are working
  • have good communication and negotiation skills
  • be self-motivated and able to work to deadlines
  • be flexible and possess good organisational skills
  • have good computer drawing skills.

Interests

It helps to be interested in:

  • art and graphic design
  • the history of comics and cartoons
  • politics, culture and social events, for an editorial cartoonist
  • fantasy and science fiction, for a graphic novelist.

Getting in

There are limited opportunities for salaried employment as a cartoonist in the UK. Consequently, it is a highly competitive area of work and it can take a long time to become established.

Publishers, electronic publishers, magazines, newspapers, television studios and advertising agencies may employ cartoonists. Self-employed cartoonists often supplement their income by also working as freelance illustrators, animators and/or caricaturists.

Many cartoonists start by sending their ideas to editors, in the hope they will get noticed. Attending cartoon conventions, such as the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival, with a portfolio of work, can be a good networking opportunity for new and established cartoonists.

Some cartoonists employ agents to promote their work and pay a percentage commission for their services. Many also have a web presence to promote their work.

Entry routes

There are no set entry requirements to become a cartoonist. With talent, commitment and experience it is possible to develop a career without formal qualifications.

However, most professional cartoonists develop their skills and portfolio through a foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject, such as illustration, fine art or graphic design. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Foundation degrees and degree courses may include elements of cartoon work, and are offered by universities and art colleges across the UK. A good portfolio of artwork is usually expected.

Applicants to foundation degrees usually need a minimum of one A level, including an art and design subject, a relevant BTEC National Award or BTEC Diploma in foundation studies (art and design). Courses are usually full time over two years.

Applicants to degree courses usually need at least two A levels including an art and design subject, plus five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent. Many colleges and universities also require the BTEC Diploma in foundation studies (art and design) or an equivalent art foundation course. Courses are usually full time over three years.

Applicants should check entry requirements with individual colleges and universities as they vary.

There are currently two specialised degree courses available:

  • Swindon College offers a degree in illustration (sequential and narrative), aimed at students who wish to work as illustrators specialising in narrative and sequential work. This includes the comic or cartoon strip, the graphic novel, film/TV/theatre animation storyboarding, some forms of children's storybook, computer games characterisation and web graphical illustration. Contact the college for further information.
  • North Wales School of Art and Design offers a degree in illustration for graphic novels, aimed at students who wish to work as illustrators in the graphic novels industry and related creative industries. Students specialise in developing illustrations for graphic novels. Contact the school for further information.

Training

Cartoonists wishing to broaden their skills can take relevant postgraduate degrees, for example in illustration, sequential design and illustration, and animation. Entry to these courses is usually with a first degree in an appropriate subject and a comprehensive portfolio.

The Cartoon Museum in London runs a programme of public lectures and events. The British Cartoonists' Association, with the Cartoon Museum, runs the annual Young Cartoonist of the Year competition. The Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain and the Professional Cartoonists' Organisation (PCO) also run meetings and events. These events are useful for cartoonists to network, keep up to date with trends and share ideas.

Getting on

Most freelance cartoonists remain self-employed. Success depends upon building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work. They may specialise in a particular area of work, such as political cartoons, comic work or animation.

There may be opportunities for established cartoonists to run workshops in schools, libraries or museums or at cartoon conventions.

Further information

The British Cartoon Archive, Templeman Library, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NU. 01227 823127. Website: www.cartoons.ac.uk

The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH. 020 7580 8155. Website: www.cartoonmuseum.org

Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain. Website: www.ccgb.org.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Website: http://www.creative-choices.co.uk/animation

Federation of Cartoonists' Organisations (FECO). Website: www.fecocartoon.com

The Political Cartoon Society, PO Box 3516, Barnet EN5 9LF. 07973 622371. Website: www.politicalcartoon.co.uk

Professional Cartoonists' Organisation (PCO). Website: www.procartoonists.org

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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