Yesterday Kerry Waghorn dropped by for lunch and a visit. Kerry is one of the world’s top caricaturists — his work syndicated in more than 400 newspapers, books and other publications. You’re probably familiar with his remarkable drawings of Barack Obama, John McCain, the Clintons, Celine Dion, Bruce Willis and more than 7000 other celebrities over a thirty-year career.
Likeness is a tough order. Caricatures present even more problems. Faces need to be simplified, yet personality and character still need to shine through. Working from a vast morgue of wire photos and collected reference, Kerry roughs in a general idea in “perhaps five minutes.” Then he works up his drawing with woodless graphite pencils on as many as five tracing-paper overlays. Lines are found afresh and his distinctive design and personal touch forms up. When the character he wants to see appears, the top tracing is once again pencilled in, this time on Hi-Art Illustration Board (No. 62 or 79) with a rickety old homemade projector.
The final India-inking is done with both pen and brush, mostly Hunt’s 102 and 104 pen. Mistakes are corrected with an electric eraser. Kerry seldom uses opaque white because of the frequent need to throw on a watercolour wash for certain publications. He releases three to five caricatures a week.
One of the examples illustrated here is a fairly complex book illustration. Here the 13 faces depicted are of no one in particular, but all are nevertheless distinct individuals. The same process has been applied, one overlay metamorphosing into another, the work appearing holistically. Multi-generational refinement contributes to design and character.
For Kerry, all this takes place in the haze of eye problems. He has had cataract surgery and lives with inferior peripheral vision and no depth perception. He uses close-to-the-side reference and works both upside down and sideways. These factors also influence his distinctive style. Working at home and alone, far from the folks who are skewered by his work — and who often try to collect it — he has developed his private methodology. “An inconvenience,” says Kerry, quoting Confucius, “is an unrecognized opportunity.”
PS: “It’s ironic, but creative folks often have to deal with some sort of disadvantage. Like Oscar Peterson kept going on the piano even though he had arthritis.” (Kerry Waghorn)
Esoterica: Speed is vital in the publishing game. Editors don’t want to wait half an hour for a download. When Kerry completes a work, he scans it, purges noise and cleans it up in Photoshop, reduces it to two sizes — 1200 dpi and 200 dpi — and sends it via FTP as a tiff file. Kerry works in Vancouver, B.C., and delivers to Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City, MO. He is one artist who sells his copies and keeps his originals. Kerry is sitting on his retirement fund.
Waghorn “finds” character with onion-skin overlays in pencil before final inking in. Individual types are brought together graphically, some more refined and developed than others. This illustration is from Squandering Billions by Gary Bannerman and Don Nixdorf. The book is a critique of the medical subculture.
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
Many artists are handicapped. I am legally blind in my right eye and have been since birth. It is a problem for me with depth perception and with linear perspective. I have learned to ignore it. Painting the landscape as a focus for my work has helped. Visual accuracy is less important with trees and so forth. Being a representational expressionist has also helped. My goal has never been to copy nature but instead, to move it around to suit me. I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis, but overcoming difficulty is a normal routine for artists. From the beginning we learn that our profession will have many challenges, so handicaps are just part of the routine.
Working with limitations
by Caroline Thompson, Boulder, CO, USA
Thank you for today’s letter about Kerry Waghorn’s imaginative work, and his challenge with eyesight. I’m struggling with arthritis in my hands and a chronic sprained wrist. As an oil painter of large abstracts I find this very frustrating and limiting as to length of time I can work. Today’s message spoke to me. I shall “work” toward more tolerance of my limitations and be joyful that I can at least still do it, if not as fast and furious as I once could.
by Leza Macdonald, White Rock, BC, Canada
I wonder if Kerry Waghorn’s work would be as wonderful if his sight was perfect. Would he see his subjects as he does? Like El Greco, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and Rodin, their disabilities helped to make their work so unique and identifiable. Kerry is right in saying that somehow creative people are most likely to be attacked where it hurts the most. Georgia O’Keeffe in her 90s started working in sculpture because of her declining sight. I too have declining sight. Waghorn and these artists are an inspiration to me and take away the fear of not being able to work without my 20/20. Perfection is highly overrated, especially in art.
‘Just an illustrator’
by Hugo, Calgary, AB, Canada
I recognize the struggle you describe that Kerry Waghorn goes through. Painters I know sometimes call me “just an illustrator.” I labour about where the lines go, and to do justice to my subject (regardless if it’s a squirrel or a person), to represent the essence. And then when it comes to apply the paint (or colour when I work on the computer) there is more struggle — because I am colour blind. But I just carry on (sometimes I have to get help with colours), because the work needs to get out — completed — to be shared. Just another one of those letters of yours that was right on!
Does Kerry know Jerry?
by Camille Muller, Toronto, ON, Canada
The info about Kerry was most interesting, perhaps because I have a school chum who works in the same field. His name is Jerry Dowling and he’s from Ohio. Jerry is also an award winning artist. I only recently (at a high school reunion last Sept. in Windsor, Ontario) learned of his career. When we all go our separate ways on graduation, we so often lose track of friends. Perhaps Kerry knows Jerry.
Working in isolation
by Jack W. Jones, UK
Time and again you mention the work of artists who persist on their own and in isolation. There must certainly be many roads to Rome in the caricature business just as there is in other forms of art. There is really something to be said for being forced by circumstance or remoteness to figure out unique methodology and having this methodology eventually determine style. With Kerry Waghorn we have an artist who determined to keep the job simple and stick to a formula that gave him independence and international fame. I for one can attest to this system and its value in keeping one off the streets.
Coming back after an accident
by Teresa Hitch, Saltspring Island, BC, Canada
On Christmas Eve, 1999, as I was undoing my seatbelt on an airplane, another passenger opened the overhead bin above me, and a heavy box hit me on my head. The blow left me unable to stand, walk, etc., and unable to do my precious raku. I struggled cognitively as I never had before. I seemed to have lost my sense of self. My motivation had never been lower. One day I saw Donna Dewberry on the Shopping Channel creating roses and tole art florals, and my inner voice said, “Give this a try.” My MFA inner voice was not impressed. However, I was painting again, and achieving small things. “Small things eventually build up to great things,” said Mother Teresa. This painting led to more complex paintings, as my MFA inner voice increasingly expressed discontent, and I tried to please her. But my motivation was returning! Physically I had many difficulties with painting, but I was determined to discover what my body would allow me to do, as well as find my new individual artistic voice. I had many failures. Yet, with each failure came knowledge and definition. For everything I couldn’t do, there was a reason for my work to be unique and recognizable as my own. Not only was I finding myself again but rediscovering my individual creative voice! With encouragement from others, and by being determined to create, I am getting back on my feet. The high standards I had set as a young artist have returned.
Trust is the ultimate technique
by Alex Bilu, Brooklyn, NY, USA
What about the value of the amount of time used to create a work? I’ve recently found joy and a new direction by creating paintings that at one point use a single, continuous action to create the main subject. There is additional work done, but never disturbing a certain line that basically gets done in a matter of seconds. I paint in acrylic on canvas. I found in the recent past, that I was painting too much on any particular painting. Layering and rediscovering and often, imposing myself on top of something I should have left alone. But I liked the journey. I liked the under life that existed behind the final painting. It was like a past for the life of the painting. But I realized I had this rhythmic stroke that I’ve always done. It started with graffiti in high school in Brooklyn. I’ve been doing these lines my whole life; doodles, penmanship, signature etc. I feel it’s time I just trust it again. And do it. And do it once. And leave it alone. I like the phrase “Trust is the ultimate technique.”
Delighted to open you up
by Jack Turner, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Thanks for the story of Kerry Waghorn. One of the truly spectacular things about your letters is that you give informed technical input as well as brilliant philosophy and psychology regarding our lives in art. I know of no other with professional connections as well as financial and creative success who can give thought and motivation as you do. No one else cares as far as I know. As a subscriber for some time I’m always delighted to open you up on Tuesdays and Fridays and find out what you are talking about now. By bringing these concerns and ideas into our studios you enrich us and show us a bit of the wider world of artists. Also, you never seem condescending or dismissive of anyone, amateur or professional. Refreshing. Definitely the best thing for creative people on the Net.
Enjoy the past comments below for Design and character…
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Barbara Yalof of PA, USA who wrote, “After reading about Kerry Waghorn I have absolutely NO excuse not to pursue my art despite aches and pains, and to stop feeling that physical problems should in any way be a factor in artistic enthusiasm and production. Thanks for the push!”
And also Jerome Thome of Chartres, France who wrote, “An electric eraser, now that’s going a bit too far. Pourquoi?”
(RG note) Thanks, Jerome. Yep, and darned handy they are too, just like the electric pencil sharpener. Deadlines mean time is money. Electric erasers take away ink nice and easy. Some studios can’t get along without ’em.”