Don’t worry about your drawing ability or style. There are ways to improve that which I mention at the end of this piece. What is important in your finished drawing, or in any cartoon you draw, is that you compose the elements of the drawing so that the idea of the joke is communicated very clearly.

When a rough drawing is ‘ok’d by an editor, you need to do a finished drawing that will be used by the publication for print. Your original drawing is going to be reduced to a small size. I suggest drawing as large as you can for two reasons:

  1. The larger the original drawing, the easier it is to draw detail.
  2. Upon reduction, imperfections in the art are lost and the drawing looks better to the eye.

One caveat: If you draw too large, when the drawing is reduced, important details may appear too small, elements of the drawing that should be separate may blend together, and line art will be too thin.

I use a Windsor & Newton series 7 ‘#2’ brush. A brush produces thicker, bolder lines than a pen, and allows me to draw large without losing the line art and detail on reduction. I begin with a pencil sketch on 11 x 14 sketch paper, filling most of the space. The completed drawing is usually about 12” x 17” including space for a border and the penciled caption below (the publisher adds the caption to the published drawing).

To determine the optimal size for your finished artwork, scan a sample drawing to your computer and reduce it to the size it will appear to your eye when published. If you are losing detail and the line art is too thin, then you are drawing too large. The original drawing needs to be smaller so that there is less reduction when it is published. That way the line art and details still come through. Be cognizant of the distance between elements of the drawing. If they are too close in the original art, they will blend together when reduced.

You want the finished drawing to fit into a mailing package if you are sending it by mail. The largest FedEx box (safer for delicate artwork) is 12-3/8″ x 17-1/2″. I make my finished drawings no larger than 12-1/4” x 17-1/4”.

If you are scanning your artwork to be emailed, you want it to fit on the scanning bed of your scanner. If you can’t afford a large bed scanner, you can scan it in sections and then join them in Photoshop. However, this is risky if there are variations in the lighting of the scan. When you join the pieces, there may be a line where the sections are joined. If you have to do it this way, scan both sections in the same orientation on your scanner and make sure the paper is pressed down completely onto the scanning glass (don’t press too hard. You don’t want to break the glass!).

At the risk of stating the obvious, the materials you use for your finished art need to show up well when reproduced. Black india ink is the best for reproduction. Some cartoonists use soft pencil, which will also work. For magazine work, you can use a ‘wash’ for shading. This is a dilution of black watercolor pigment applied to areas of the drawing with a brush. If you are going to use a wash, your paper needs to be relatively thick. Illustration board is best, watercolor paper is good too, but has a rougher texture.

Important hint: controlling the variation in values gives your drawing more pop and impact. You don’t want your drawing to be all grey. You want there to be areas of bold black and, when there is shading, make sure that areas next to each other are of a distinctly different shade. Darker shades will draw the viewer’s eye, so keep black and darks in and around the central character or elements.

Draw your central characters or elements the most detailed, and keep background elements basic. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture by making EVERYTHING detailed. Make the most effort on the central characters or elements of the drawing. The rest can be impressionistic or sketchy or just clear, but very simple.

If you wish to shore up your drawing skills, you will find everything you need and more in the Famous Artists Cartoon Course. You can find original copies on eBay; there are some cartoonists who have posted it on their website. Do a Google search.