By the time I arrive at the sunny Jam Jar studio on the day of our meeting, Aussie cartoonist Joanne Brooker is already at the whiteboard drawing Captain Caveman.
‘I find that this line of work connects you with people all over the world,’ she says enthusiastically – and rightly so: before arriving in Dubai six months ago, Brooker did promotional events for Carrefour in Shanghai, where she would draw caricatures of hundreds of people every day. I nervously ask if that means she’s constantly assessing people’s facial features, whilst subtly placing my coffee cup in front of my double chin. ‘Yup, ‘fraid so,’ she laughs, ‘But I’m very kind because I’ve been drawn so many times myself!’
Phew – so, to my mission: to discover why cartoons are so popular with kids and adults alike, and of course to learn how to draw them. According to Brooker, the beauty of the humble cartoon is that anyone can have a go at producing one, as long as they use their imagination. She tells me that at her most recent workshop, ‘There was one little boy who was very shy, but he ended up drawing loads – he really came out of himself, started feeling confident and had a lot of fun. It’s a very positive art; people can’t fail at it.’
Let’s not forget that cartoons are also big business: think how fond you are of the characters of your childhood (Brooker is a Fred Flinstone woman, incidentally – ‘Donald Duck was too hard to draw!’) – and think how appealing that kind of loyalty is to global companies. ‘Cartoons are very powerful creations; they’re probably the most seen art form in the world,’ she says earnestly. Indeed, Brooker’s 10-year stint as a newspaper illustrator left her fiercely loyal to her profession: when asked about its worst element, she replies, ‘Trying to convince people that this is an actual job. They forget that cartoons are created by an artist with paper and pencil – they’re not automatically generated on the computer.’
If your kids want to try drawing cartoons, Brooker suggests that they think about their character’s personality before starting. ‘It’s about how to see and think; not necessarily how to draw,’ she explains. But, she acknowledges, there are of course some basic illustration techniques that can be taught – not that Brooker underwent any formal training herself. She reminisces, ‘I learned to draw by doodling in class – which is why I’m not very good at maths now!’
The steps below show how each layer of Captain Caveman is built up – but how exactly do we go from the simple potatoey-looking fellow at the left of the page to the walking talking finished product? Brooker believes it’s pointless to be too precise on the proportions and techniques as it’s an instinctive process. She confides, ‘Some instructors use intimidating, technical terms, whereas I like to tell people to draw a squashed peanut, then stick on a sausage nose with a big smiley grin.’ The eyes should be added as soon as possible, as this helps the drawer to psychologically connect with their picture.
Personally, I’ve always had a problem with drawing limbs: arms are either all Popeye muscle or Keira Knightley scrawn, while legs invariably resemble those of a chicken. Brooker says, ‘When people tell me they can only do stick arms and legs, I say, “Good, because that’s exactly what you need to do.”’ Then build them up with circles, creating depth – but do it quickly for a more natural shape. The artist continues, ‘Once the basic structure’s in place, you can get to the fun bit – adding the sticking-up hair and all the rest of it.’ Once the character is looking good, simply stick the picture to a window and trace over it to remove the messy lines.
So now she’s taught Time Out Kids (and hopefully yours too) how to draw, what’s next on the agenda for Brooker? ‘I don’t know yet – but I want to be involved in Dubai; I want to contribute something here.’ She’s already made a good start – and I have a feeling this is just the beginning.
If you’d like to learn more about Joanne Brooker or hire her for drawing tuition, check out www.thebrookerstudio.com or call 050 294 2750