Fun to Draw for a client? – Cartoon Case Study for a New Magazine

fire safety Matters Magazine fun to drawI have two strands of employment – art and fire consultancy.  It has always been fun to draw and I eventually developed this happy pastime into an art based business.  

I am now a professional cartoonist and run several websites.  As an ex fire-fighter I retired in 2008 but continued my own fire consultancy business.  I often trawl the w.w.w. to see what is new in the global fire industry.  I recently noted a brand new UK magazine ‘Fire & Security Matters’ which caught my attention for two reasons.

First it is an extremely informative, well laid out and slick magazine.  Second it had not got a resident cartoonist which really got me very excited.  Within the blinking of an eye I had contacted the Editor and sent him some examples of my work. Within a few days I was asked to become the magazines cartoonist. 

Setting out the artistic parameters

I have been in this position before.  After the initial euphoria of getting the cartoonists spot had passed it was time to act.   I had to find out exactly what the magazines editor wanted from me and establish the contract parameters.  Before calling the editor directly I made a list of questions to ensure I missed nothing out:

Cartoon style and format reqiurements

It was essential for me to know what type of style and format the magazine required.  I soon established that the cartoon would have to be in portrait rather than landscape format.  Full color was also required and needed to be in the style of the cartoons  I previously submitted.  I also checked the file format and was given the option of Pdf, Jpeg or Photoshop.  I opted for 300dpi Jpeg as it was easier to email than a Photoshop file and better definition than Pdf . Last but not least – payment terms and conditions.  


Always ask for the fee you want plus a bit more. You can then negotiate from a position of strength.  I used to hate this part of the process but eventually got used to it.  Be fair but be firm.  If you cave in too easily you might get a deal you don’t like and will eventually despise!  Never  start negotiating with a fee you are not happy with.

Second tip!

Establish deadline dates so that it is crystal clear when you are supposed to deliver.  And vice versa when your client is supposed to give instructions.  This is really important and I have fallen foul of this before.  I have one long running cartoon spot where I didn’t set this up.  Sometimes the client does not instruct what they require for the next edition until the day before they need it.  This gives very little time to prepare and execute the cartoons.  I have been on holiday when the request has been emailed – no fun working when you should be playing!

Third tip!

Get tip 1 and tip 2 in writing.  Or at at the very least least e mail the client with the agreed terms (which may have just been a discussion).  At least you have a tangible record to refer both the client and yourself to.

Very often the person you are dealing with will not have a clue what they want…. ‘just send me your finished cartoon I am sure it will be great’. I have heard that old chestnut before which often culminates in ‘That isn’t quite what we expected’  when you send in the finished artwork.  You really need to find out exactly what is expected before you even think of picking up a pencil.

I was in luck as the editor knew exactly what he had in mind which made it an easier task.

When, where, how…

Once I had asked about time schedules, deadlines and where to send the finished cartoons I was ready for the second edition of Fire & Security Matters which would be the first copy to feature me as their cartoonist.

First assignment as the magazines cartoonist.

For my first job I was asked to produce a cartoon on ‘Passive Fire Protection’ which is a slightly dry subject to say the least which tested my imagination to the limit…a baptism by fire (please excuse the terrible pun!).

The bulk of Passive fire protection in a building includes fire walls, floors and doors.  These are the parts of the buildings structure that ‘passively’ subdivide the building into smaller fire compartments to stop fire and smoke spread.  

In addition there are other elements such as fire stopping which is the stuff that fills up gaps between floors and walls such as around pipes passing through walls and floors (I can hear you yawning already!).

All exceedingly crusty and boring stuff and quite a challenge to find a cartoon amongst all that concrete, nails and building boards!  However! – a cartoon idea had to be found and here’s how I approached the task…

Listing potential subjects:

  • Doors
  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Flame resistant furniture, curtains and drapes
  • Fire stopping

By listing out potential topics you start the process of winding your brain up.

From this I picked out fire walls and floors and was about to run it through my tried and tested system for ideas when a thought came to me.  I had recently watched the cartoon film Rattatouille and it suddenly occurred to me that rats can find their way virtually through any barrier.  

rats robbing kitchen basic sketch
   Preliminary Sketch of the rats robbing the kitchen cartoon

So in my head I combined the idea from Rattatouille with poor fire walls.  

A team of rats carting off goodies from the kitchen through an opening in a fire wall hidden above a false ceiling.  

Just to add in the fire safety element a fire inspector looking in through a hatch.  This is what I came up with…

fun to draw by nezzy cartoonist rats stealing from kitchen

I was really pleased with the result and was about to click ‘send’ when a nagging doubt crept in. Something deep in the old grey matter was bothering me.  Something was not quite right.  Was the subject matter in context with the subject of passive fire protection? The answer was a massive YES!   But I knew I had missed something.  Something critical that had dragged out that nasty inner voice.

“Is it funny?”

“Will it appeal to the readers”

“Do you really think the editor will like it…what if he doesn’t and he fires you like a dog!”

“You do realise that there is something horrifically wrong with this cartoon…DONT YOU!’

I knew it was none of the above reasons. Off I went searching for the notes I had made when discussing the cartoon with the editor. There it was as bold as brass…Portrait Format! (did you spot it?).

I had produced a cartoon in landscape – a basic and terminal error.  I could see that it was not viable to crop the cartoon from landscape to portrait.  The editor had stipulated portrait due to the magazines own layout constraints. So it was back to the drawing board in the literal sense!

Second Attempt! – The Portrait Cartoon

After seething at my gross stupidity for half an hour I had to get the brain back in action.  I tried to think of another fire wall/floor idea but I had a head full of rats so I picked another subject – fire stopping.  ‘Fire whatting’ I hear you say! – Fire stopping is basically filling in all the nooks and crannies in fire walls, ceilings around fire doors, pipes and anything else that makes a hole in a fire wall.

I listed out all possible factors linked with fire stopping that I could think of and picked out ‘Intumescent Foam’.  This is like a large aerosol  can of pink shaving foam that is squirted into gaps around pipes and small holes in fire walls.  It expands, sets and is fire resistsant and stops fire and smoke spreading through holes and gaps.

I created a mind map and threw in some relevant and random ideas see my article on how to create  original cartoons for further information here…

From this I visualised intumescent foam expanding so much that it fills the hole in a ceiling then keeps expanding into the office above – causing havoc.! This idea would also work really in portrait format as it would require both rooms (office and room below) to be featured.  Another advantage with this scenario would be that the cartoon would not require a caption – a massive plus as a purely visual cartoon is, in my book, so much better than one with a caption.

I produced the cartoon using Photoshop Elements 15 (see price and details on Amazon) on my Wacom Mobile Studio Pro graphics tablet (see price and details on Amazon).  The beauty of Photoshop is that you can build on the initial sketch using the layers feature.  Here are the layers from first sketch to finished cartoon…

fun to draw for clients sketch cartoon by nezzy

A very rough draft with two workmen in the room below the office…

fun to draw outline cartoon by nezzy

Still fairly rough – I thickened up the lines…

drawing for fun cartoon black and white fire stopping with intumescent foam

This is the finished black and white drawing with more detail and refined lines…

fun to draw cartoon intumescent foam by cartoonist nezzy

Addition of color and shading….

fun to draw intumescent foam cartoon by Nezzy

And finally some background color to make each room distinct and give the cartoon definite borders…

I treble checked the cartoon before submission to the editor!  Everything was in order and after a couple of tense weeks the magazine arrived and there it was in the Editors opening notes.  The  cartoon had been accepted and published!  Making sure I re-read the brief given by the editor was a lesson learned and I will not be making that mistake again!

fun to draw - extract from Fire & Security Matters Magazine

Cartoon as it appeared in ‘Fire & Security Matters’ Magazine.  You can view the complete Fire & Security Matters magazine here…

In Conclusion – Is it Fun to Draw for a Client?

fun to draw for a client artist using tablet on easelFor me it’s a resounding YES!  and even though I made a fatal mistake in the process the
end result and satisfaction outweighed any mishaps along the way.  This was a very important assignment for me as I needed to nail this cartoon firmly to the mast and make sure the magazine editor was happy with the work produced.  

I needed it not just to have another client but because I have other plans to run a cartoon site based around the fire service and fire safety industry in the future.  This is a great way to get my work in the faces of thousands of people involved in this specialist industry.

It can be a stressful process but it is always fun to draw cartoons wehatever project I am involved with.  Having deadlines and a high standard to maintain makes the fun in drawing a little more edgy but I find it also works to my advantage.  

There is a fine line between stress and enjoyment and adrenaline is produced in bucket loads for both.  it’s the way you manage stress that counts and if you strive to make it fun to draw rather than a chore then you will be more focussed and produce better work.  Even tight deadlines work for me as this makes the brain block all other distractions and worries out allowing total concentration on the drawing.

If I ever get into a spiral of hopeless apathy and am filled with stressful emotions I have a method that I learned from a T.V. program on stress (my apologies as it was a while ago and I cannot recall which program/station it was on).  Basically you need to do two things:

  • Regulate you breathing so that you take deep breaths for about 5 minutes
  • Tell yourself outloud several times “It will be fun to draw this ………” or words to that effect.  

fun to draw overcoming nervesI play a brass instrument and before a concert or contest I used to suffer terribly with nerves.

It got so bad that it affected the performance which I had practiced so hard to get perfect.  

This method works every time for me and can be applied to any type of stressful situation.  

It may sound bonkers but I assure you it produces great results and channels adrenaline to work for you not against you – try it and see!

One huge thing you should take from this case study (if you don’t do this already).  If you see a newspaper, magazine or well established web site which appeals to you and does not have a cartoonist then ask the question!  What’s the worst thing that can happen? – the editor says no.  Big deal – if you don’t ask you don’t get!

fun to draw for a client artwork flying out of portfolioIf you would like to see some more ideas for generating original cartoons see my own method for coming up with some original cartoon gems here…

If you are looking to upgrade your existing graphics tablet or need to get a second more portable tablet see my extensive selction of graphics drawing tablet reviews…