For the professional cartoonist finding fun things to draw is easy if you just want to copy a cartoon or use some other cartoonists ideas. Getting ideas for great original cartoons and fun things to draw can have you pulling your hair and teeth out!
I used to suffer from so-called ‘cartoonists block’ on a regular basis and there is nothing more frustrating than revving up with pen in hand and the starting pistol just won’t go off especially when it’s for one of your a paid drawing jobs.
I tried all sorts of different ways to refill the creative well. Looking at other cartoonists work is great but you often get stuck in the tracks of their ideas. Looking through newspapers and magazines is very good as you can often find odd stories that will spark your imagination.
Television is another easy source and of course the Internet can take you anywhere you want to research. However I have found that the best way to get your creative juices flowing is to set yourself a challenge.
It’s also not just about finding those golden nuggets but holding onto them. Have you ever woken up with a brilliant idea…perhaps the best cartoon you have ever imagined just appeared from nowhere? It’s funny how ‘appears’ can quickly turn into ‘disappears’.
I have an awful memory and can remember vividly what I was doing 30 years ago but cannot remember that great cartoon drawing spark I had ten minutes ago. I record every idea I get and in this article will show you the methods that I use to find original cartoons and the best way (in my opinion) to keep hold of them. Recording those ideas is my way of retaining them for future use and over time I have amassed a huge bank of cartoon ‘leads’ that will allow me to find new ideas quickly and efficiently.
The following method I have developed, using a Mind Map works every time and has given me original cartoon ideas and cool stuff to draw.
What is a Mind Map? For those of you who are not familiar, a Mind Map is a way of taking organized notes without being boring and a great way of finding new ideas to plan out your projects.
In this exercise you are about to look at is a simple Mind Map that will help you create your own original cartoons.
Mind Maps are the brainchild of Tony Buzan, the international best selling author, who has helped me throughout my life in cartooning, exams, writing books, planning holidays, taking notes in meetings in fact anything that I needed to plan or remember. Mind maps are simple and work every time for me.
10 simple steps to find great cartoon ideas and fun things to draw using a mind map template
Find a quiet place on your own away from all distractions and have a piece of paper, a pen, colored pencils and a dictionary.
Draw a small blue circle in the center of the paper. Open the dictionary at any random page. The first word that catches your attention you write into the center circle.
Draw four blue lines out from the inner circle and draw a red rectangle at the end of each line.
Repeat the random selection of words in the dictionary for each of the four red rectangles
Draw three red lines off each rectangle. At the end of each line draw a green oval and repeat the random selection of words from the dictionary placing a word in each oval.
You now have a mind map template with one word in the center circle, four in the red rectangles and 12 in the green ovals. Pick one word from any green oval plus one from any of the red rectangle and write them on another sheet with the word in the blue center circle e.g. DOG + SUDDENLY + OCTOPUS
Look at the group of three words and let your mind run riot. You have to put a story together in your head (or scribble it down) that links the three words. From this, you should be able to come up with an idea for a cartoon.
My first thought was a dog fishing on the beach and about to barbecue a small scared baby octopus when he suddenly sees the huge shadow of mama octopus who is just about to flatten him! I am sure you can come up with something for a great cartoon when you let your imagination loose.
At first, you may think this is a useless idea and nothing pops up in your mind. But keep trying and once your brain realizes it has a problem to solve it will relish the challenge. You will be amazed at what ideas you can think of. With a little bit of practice, you will come up with some brilliant cartoon ideas.
Do steps 6 & 7, again and again, using different combinations of words until you have ideas for at least ten cartoons. Always use the central word (DOG) in the mix until you have exhausted all possibilities as it helps your mind the move the subject of the word into different scenarios and really gets your imagination in overdrive.
Pick out the one that appeals to you most and do a very quick pencil sketch to see if it works.
If the one you have sketched works for you then create a fully developed cartoon. If not go back to your list and pick the next best idea or return to the mind map and try another combination.
Some mind map examples that worked for my cartoons and other fun things to draw
The Mind Map template you see is one that I used a while ago when searching for new cartoon ideas. I came up with DOG + TRUMPET + RULES
Within a couple of minutes, I imagined a guide dog at a music contest playing the trumpet for its owner with the officials looking through the rule book to see if this was allowed. Here is the finished cartoon which was published in Brass Band World Magazine.
I also used the same Mind Map template quite recently with a different set of random words which gave me FIRE + BOADICEA + STAIRCASE. I thought about how to link these three random words and first considered Boadicea (or Boudica) – a fearsome British tribal queen who rode a chariot with huge blades sticking out of each wheel hub.
I imagined her racing up a large staircase and then realized that in a fire people sometimes evacuate in special chairs. If I put her blades on the wheels of an evacuation chair coming down a staircase during a fire in a building it could be a good visual cartoon – especially with fire-fighters rushing in to put the fire out.
I did a quick sketch and it worked so I produced a full-color version which was published in the Daedalus Magazine for the Institute of Fire Safety Managers in 2013. From three random words taken from the Mind Map Template, I was able to produce a full-colour cartoon fairly quickly.
Heres another example where I used the same mind map method to pick out FORK + BABE MAGNET + SHARK. Imagining a shark with a knife and fork was easy and after a couple of minutes, my mind was on the trail for the third piece in the jigsaw challenge. I had a quick blast from the past and based the babe magnet on someone I knew (hopefully they won’t have a clue) who was not exactly babe magnet material but thought that he was!
It’s strange how your memory and thought can find inspiration from seemingly nowhere. In this case, it helped make a decent cartoon.
After a few sketches, I found the layout I wanted to get the right visual balance between the shark and the ‘Babe Magnet’ and scanned the pencil drawing into the graphics tablet. Photoshop Elements did it’s magic with a little help from me and I think the cartoon works and fits the three words together nicely.
Here’s another that came from a mind map. I was looking for a new cartoon for Brass Band World Magazine based on conductors. In this case, the words were not all randomly chosen as they mainly had to have a musical theme and after creating a mind map using the same method (with only the outer words being chosen randomly) I found three words CONDUCTOR + IPOD + FUTURE.
At first, I was thinking of what a conductor would listen to on an iPod but nothing seemed to tie in with the ‘future’. Then as if by magic my brain made the connection. orchestra pits are always complaining that technology is replacing and taking away musicians jobs.
So what if an iPod could replace an orchestra? The cartoon soon fell into place with a conductor on stage waving his baton at an iPod – with the caption “The future?” Here is the result which I was pleased with (and so was the editor!).
I use this method all the time because it sets me a challenge and while trying to overcome the challenge of linking the words together in a cartoony story I usually come up with something original I can use to draw. Note the word ‘original’ which keeps you away from copying others work.
I have tried many other methods which have given moderate success but for me, this is the one that works. An easy challenge that gets right to your competitive nature erupting in creative output.
The process of making your brain combine the three words into a story can be very powerful in finding a new idea, a fresh slant on a situation or simply finding fun things to draw. The ideas for cartoons are half the battle and this simple little drawing exercise lets you get on with what you do best – drawing!
Creating Your Own Catalogue of Fun Things to Draw
Once you get into this process you will find ideas easily and don’t forget that practice soon becomes a habit. There is a danger of finding a bucket load of ideas and not keeping them recorded where you can find them quickly and easily.
I keep my ideas immediately to hand in a leather bound, refillable journal. It might sound a bit old fashioned in this techy world we live in but it works for me.
Why leather?…simply because you can thrash the living daylights out of it and it will still look good after a bashing.
I have used journals with hard card covers but they end up falling apart, so for a few extra bucks you have something that looks good, feels good, smells good and keeps your ideas wrapped up and protected.
The refillable versions are really handy as you can replace the paper pads when you fill them up. I tend to leave the first couple of pages blank to create an index which saves hours of searching.
Take a look at my review of 5 top rated leather bound refillable journals (including my own above) that you might like to consider. If you are wondering what else you could keep in an artists journal I have an article on how to step up your game with ideas, motivation, goals and more to keep the creative juices flowing. See the article here…
Capturing ideas and fun things to draw electronically
If this isn’t ‘techy’ enough for you there are plenty of App’s out there such as Evernote which you can run on any device such as a mobile phone and sync it with your PC or Mac at home.
Evernote is really useful as ideas often come any time, any place anywhere! You can type in, record your voice or take an image and sync it to your chosen device – easy peasy.
I use it now and then but I am a bit pen and ‘paperish’ when it comes to making notes for ideas. If you are into app’s then Evernote is just one of many that you can use to grab hold of any fleeting ideas.
Another device that has proved popular is the Boogie Board LCD mini tablet which is a handy little electronic notebook that you can capture ideas, notes, and sketches. If you come up with a brilliant cartoon just quickly sketch it out and sync it later on your main computer. There are several types and variations and are relatively cheap and very easy to use. Check out my article on the Boogie Board range and see if this clever little device would be a better option for you.
However, if you are unlike most of us mere mortals and have a photographic memory then don’t waste your money!
Another simple and immediate way to record is direct to your phone. The Apple iPhone comes with a simple app for recording your voice. For other Android phones, there are many recording apps you can download. When I am on the go and come up with an idea I often record my voice and then add it to the journal later. Here are a few suggestions for free android voice recorder Apps that do a great job:
- Titanium Recorder
- Smart Voice Recorder
- Voice Recorder
- Voice Recorder by Splendid Apps
- RecForge II
The whole point of finding fun things to draw is to have fun doing it. Your brain is like a muscle and like any muscle the more you exercise it the better it will develop giving you far more ideas than you thought possible.
You will find that once you have turned practice into habit your brain will enjoy problem-solving and increase your output at an incredible rate.
The only downside is that you will probably generate far more ideas than you can possibly draw – wouldn’t that be a great problem to have. for any cartoonist, this approach will serve you well.
Working to a deadline and hoping something will pop into your head usually works. But wouldn’t it be so much better if you had a library of your own original ideas in advance that you can draw on…excuse the pun!
They say that every cartoon you see is an old one recycled and with your own back catalog of great ideas you can either use or recycle into something with a new twist.
Give this a go and I guarantee you will be overwhelmed with great cartoon ideas if you stick with it.
If you are thinking of getting into digital art check out our review to the best drawing tablet for cartooning