Interview with a Cartoonist – Meet Steve Barr and Learn to Draw 1-2-3!

“Cartoonist, Author, Illustrator – Self-Employed and Loving it” is what Steve’s About Statement on his Facebook Page says about him. He is the author of the 1-2-3 Draw Cartoon series and if you want to learn how to draw the cutest cartoons of people, animals, faces, cars, actually anything; then let his books be your guide. Some of the 1-2-3 Draw books are now available for Nooks and Kindles.

Steve’s also written and illustrated “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals” for Impact Books.  His clean lines and expressive cartoons are delightful to look at, and inspiring to learn with. You can find his books on Amazon here or on the Barnes and Noble website and you can find and like his Facebook page here.

If you are wondering what he looks like (or he likes to look like) here’s Steve’s Real Picture.

FroggieTransparent copyThere’s another one too for the serious folks who reach this caricaturist’s blog by mistake.


Yep! Another left-handed genius!

When I saw a window of opportunity to interview him for this crazy caricaturist’s blog, I jumped in, found a rope, tied him down to his chair, put a gun to his temple, and demanded that he answer my questions. (Before you ask, I didn’t tell him that I hadn’t loaded the gun, or he would have thrown me right back out of the window.)

Now the questions, the answers, and Steve’s Story in his own words 🙂

self_portrait_smallYou don’t have formal education in art. How did this impact your journey towards becoming a cartoonist? Did it help or did it make things more difficult for you?

FroggieTransparent copyI am self-taught.  But my informal training was amazing.  As a kid, I used to write letters to every successful Cartoonist whose work I admired and ask them all sorts of questions about the craft and how they had succeeded at it.  Amazingly, every one of them took the time to thoroughly answer my questions.  Well, except one famous guy who shall remain nameless.  He wrote back telling me that he would not help someone who could potentially become his competition later.

That fueled me more than any of the positive letters I received.  At first, I was angry.  But then I realized that he had just given me high praise.  I decided that yes, I would grow up to become his competitor.

I began submitting single panel cartoons to magazines and newspapers.  I sold my first one when I was in seventh grade.  They sent me a check for the whopping sum of seven dollars and fifty cents!  But, I realized I was now a PROFESSIONAL!  I invested that whole check into more paper, pens and postage stamps.  I mailed out even more material, and later that year I sold my second cartoon to a newspaper feature for twenty-five dollars (which was a LOT of money back in the Stone Ages).  After that, there was no stopping me.  By the time I entered high school, I was contributing regularly to several publications and even got my first book illustration project.

I gave a lot of consideration to the possibility of going to college, but ended up opting not to.  There were a lot of valid reasons for my decision, but there were also some completely invalid ones.  Do I wish now that I had gone to a university?  Yes.  But I didn’t think any of the ones I looked at offered anything that would help me grow in my chosen profession.

Things are different these days.  Many colleges have incredible art classes, and computer skills are more important.  There are even some colleges that concentrate solely on the craft of cartooning.

As my seventh grade teacher so aptly pointed out to me after I sold my first cartoon, my customers would be college graduates who probably majored in English.  Spelling, grammar and punctuation would be very important to them.  So I would make more sales if everything I submitted to my editors was prepared properly and they didn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting it.  And she was right.

I’d recommend that any young person who wants to be a cartoonist give serious consideration to a college level education.  It will help prepare them for the future.  Cartooning is a very competitive field, and a lot of people in it are incredibly talented.  So anything extra you can bring to the table will go a long way in helping you to become a success.

self_portrait_smallTraditional Art vs. Digital Art? What do you prefer and why?

FroggieTransparent copyThis will make your younger readers’ jaws drop, but when I started out there was no such thing as a home computer.  Everything was hand drawn and then sent off to the printer.  So I am still quite fond of doing my cartoons using traditional techniques.  I love the feel of a pen or pencil in my hand.  I still enjoy sketching on paper.  And quite often I’ll use colored pencils to add color to my art.

However, almost every client I have now requests that I e-mail them the art or send it on a disc, so I have to use a computer.  Digital art is the way the world is going, and I do enjoy doing my color work in either Photoshop or Illustrator, depending on what types of files the client asks for.

So I hand draw my cartoons, then scan them into my computer and digitize them.

I do have to say though, I am a HUGE fan of many cartoonists who now work exclusively in digital creation.  It is amazing to see the things they can create on their computers.  Take a look at some of the stuff Bob Staake does for the New Yorker and his children’s books.  I’m also an admirer of the work James Burks creates, especially his illustrations for Tara Lazar’s “The Monstore”.

I do think that beginning artists should learn to create their art traditionally.  It will help make their transition to learning computer art programs smoother, and give them a better understanding of the creative process.  So that actually takes us back to the education question.  The more you learn, the more you’ll have to offer later.  Writing professional correspondence is part of the key to success, so mastering grammar, punctuation and sentence structure is extremely important.  Computer programs change and are upgraded constantly.  If you can find a college that offers you training in both of these areas, go!

1-2-3 Draw Cartoon Faces by Steve Barr

Stop making that face…draw one! (Click to view Steve’s How to Draw Cartoon Monsters book on Amazon.)

self_portrait_smallMost artists who didn’t go through a structured art education program, learning of techniques can be a difficult proposition. How did you decide upon your favorite drawing tools and techniques?

FroggieTransparent copyLike I always say in my books, “Experiment”.  Throughout my life, I have tried all sorts of coloring techniques and drawing tools.  You’re never too old or too young to improve.  Try any pen, paper, ink, paint or new product you encounter.  Some just won’t seem to suit your personal needs, and others will be so amazing you’ll wonder why you didn’t try them out sooner.  When I go to an art supply store, I’m like a plumber in a hardware store.  If I’m not very careful, I’ll leave with an empty wallet.

Cartoon of monster with a mace.

The Right Tool? Anything you fancy! (Click to view Steve’s How to Draw Cartoon Monsters book on Amazon.)

self_portrait_smallYou say that anyone can draw. Most of us drew as kids, but then we just laid that love aside and never looked at it again. Yet some of us want to rekindle our passion for drawing but can’t take the first step towards it.  Could you give us an inspiring thought that kick-starts the process?

FroggieTransparent copyI think this story sums it up nicely.  Several years ago, I set up a booth at a street festival in a small southern town and taught kids how to draw.  One little boy’s parents dragged him over to my table, and he began throwing a fit.  He kept complaining that he couldn’t draw, and didn’t want to.  I just smiled at him and said, “I bet I can show you how in just a couple of minutes.  If you did draw, what would you like to create?”

He mumbled that he’d like to draw a turtle.  He followed along with the steps that I showed him, and shortly after that he created an amazing cartoon turtle that had his own touches on it.  It didn’t look exactly like mine, which was great.  He was already beginning to develop his own style.

He ran up and down the street showing his turtle to anyone who would take a peek and I heard him tell them, “Look!  I CAN DRAW!”

About three years later, I did a cartooning class at a local library.  A young guy plopped down right in front of me and began creating some of the most interesting cartoon characters I had seen.  About halfway through the class, I realized it was the same kid who had drawn that turtle years before.

When I finished my presentation, I bent down and asked him if he was the same guy.  He grinned at me and said, “Yup!  I draw all the time now.  You know why?  Because I CAN!”

I hope he never lets that fire go out.  And I have a feeling that one day soon, I’ll be competing with him for clients.  And I’ll be happy about that.  Because I’ll know he’s doing something that he absolutely loves.

How to draw awesome animals by Steve Barr

Look, you can draw animals too 🙂

Steve has also shared an autobiographical story that tells us how he became a cartoonist…and that story shall be told in the next post. I know I am being stingy, but I know that my visitors don’t like long posts 🙂

If you’ve got questions for Steve, please leave them in the comments to this post, if you want to learn how to draw cartoon animals, cars, monsters, people, and enjoy the process of learning; check out his books.

Read Steve Barr’s story of his becoming a cartoonist here.