An Interview with Elizabeth Pankey, Cartoonist

An Interview with Elizabeth Pankey, Cartoonist

Professional & Academic Perspectives of Cartooning

Cartoonist Elizabeth W. Pankey is a freelance illustrator and owner of e.w.p. Originals, the business she founded in 1977 originally targeting greeting cards for boat salesmen. Ms. Pankey is a professional member of Cartoonists Northwest, the Graphic Artists Guild and the National Caricaturists Network, and she won a Toonie Award for Humorous Illustration from Cartoonists Northwest in 1992, as nominated and voted upon by her peers.

Ms. Pankey attended the University of Arizona for Studio Arts and received an associate degree in Visual Communications Technology from Shoreline Community College. She also completed the Famous Artists Cartoon Course and attended the Cornish School of Fine Arts.

She lives in the Pacific Northwest, has been happily married for 28 years, has one daughter who is 26, and is an avid lover of cats. She also loves vacationing in British Columbia, golfing, bicycling and hiking.

Elizabeth & Her Career   |   The Actual Work   |   Education Information & Advice   |   Job Information & Advice   |   Industry Trends   |   Closing Remarks


Elizabeth & Her Career

How did you discover you had a talent for cartooning?

Being able to draw recognizable images at age two started me on the road to creative freedom. Like an actress, dancer or musician, a cartoonist desires positive recognition for her work. I've always doodled and like drawing people, plants, birds, animals and things. At age ten I took the Famous Artists drawing test and was told I was too young for the courses they offered and would have to wait until I was 13. While waiting to apply again, I took weekend art classes at Cornish School of Fine Arts, under the direction of Mr. Frolic. He inspired me to see art in everything. He taught the importance of 3-D imagery through sculpture. Even back then I preferred to draw the other people in class rather than architectural or pastoral scenes.

At 13 I reapplied to the Famous Artists Correspondence School. They recommended I take the Graphic Design series of classes, but I wanted the Cartoon Course. So that is what I worked on for four years. I loved the course and still use the course books for reference and a basis for cartooning classes I teach occasionally.

How did your career unfold? How and why did you start your cartooning business, e.w.p.Originals?

Is a career when you start making money with your chosen field of work? If that is so, I started selling punny painted rocks when I was ten. My sense of humor leans heavily toward puns both visual and verbal. In high school I was asked to create many posters and T-shirt designs for fund-raising events and school activities. We also had door-decorating contests that several of us competed in for status. Three of us were cartoonists.

Likewise in college, at the University of Arizona, I was active in designing homecoming floats, T-shirts, banners, posters, greeting cards, announcements, etc. I majored in studio arts and earned A's in all my drawing classes.

My e.w.p.Originals business officially began in the State of Washington in 1977. I was doing freelance illustration before that, but not as a licensed business. The business began as a mail-order greeting card business targeting boat salesmen. Self-publishing, marketing and shipping greeting cards became a full time business in about 1987. I had worked in between as a graphic designer/typesetter for a print shop, and illustrated yellow pages ads for GTE NW after starting with that company as a graphic artist. My line of Whimsigull P.R.Cards started selling so well that I had to choose between a steady income/regular hours/office politics and being my own boss/sales/marketing/shipping/creating/publishing team. I was stubborn and picked running my own company. It has taught me a great deal, but hasn't earned me a great deal of money.

In about 1992 I decided to switch gears back to custom illustration and caricatures. Though most of my income today is from freelance assignments, my P.R.Cards are still selling.

What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

Drawing cartoons is fun and therapeutic for the most part. I love to draw and paint. I love adding humor to images. Many years of solving jigsaw puzzles has prepared my brain to work on complex compositions and detailed images.

I enjoy negotiating freelance contracts and licensing agreements. Getting paid a professional rate for my work helps boost my bank account as well as my self-esteem.

Part of my joy comes from encouraging others to negotiate fair contracts as well. Most young artists are so happy to get jobs they forget about their copyrights and any future sales of their work.

What was your greatest success and biggest setback?

Picking one success is very difficult. Each job completed well is a success. Each new challenge met creatively and with new understanding brings a feeling of success. Recently I completed a full-color poster for Microsoft Information Securities Division. Ten years ago showing my line of P.R.Cards for the first time at the Seattle Boat Show and lining up a mailing list of over one thousand boat salesmen and marine industry professionals was my greatest success. I've hosted events featuring Bill Plympton, the animator, Lynn Johnston, comic strip artist, and housed Phil Yeh of Cartoonists across America and the Flying Tiger fame. I would say my greatest success, as a caricaturist/illustrator/greeting card artist, is perseverance.

My biggest setback has been Fibromyalgia, originally triggered by the death of my biggest fan and critic, my mother. FMS is like a combination of arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. This is what I mean by perseverance.

You've received several awards for your work, including the Toonie Award for Humorous Illustration in 1992. What was this for and how did you win it?

Members of Cartoonists Northwest nominate cartoonists in various categories each year for the best in their field. Nominees must live, work or have a connection to the Northwest. I was nominated based on several illustration projects I had completed over the year. Ballots are sent out to all CNW members and the returned ballots are tallied for the results. Awards are presented at the annual Toonie Awards Banquet, usually held in March. March 2001 will mark our 10th Annual Toonie Awards.

How important is this kind of recognition to you personally? Has it benefited your career?

Positive recognition by my peers is quite important to me. Knowing trained professionals approve of my style of illustration definitely elevates my worth. Awards on my resume' help validate my work for clients and prospects. Yes, awards benefit my career.

What are some of your other favorite projects that you've completed in your career and why?

My most recent favorite project would have to be the full-color poster for Microsoft. I was given the most creative freedom and really had fun with visual puns and creating faces for the wall of computers making up the dike...with a windmill in the background. The poster featured a blonde Dutch-boy with his finger in the dike holding back the leaks. The boy, wearing glasses, resembled a young Bill accident, of course. (;-))

I had fun creating some Tarot cards for a fellow cartoonist in Arizona a few years ago.

Creating my whimsigull P.R.Cards and P.R.PostCARDS has been a defining point of my career.

Another aspect of my caricaturing has been live caricatures at corporate parties. While I was still able to draw for 4-8 hours at a stretch, those gigs were fun and profitable. A caricaturist can earn from $85 to $150 or more an hour for parties, trade shows and picnics. But remember it takes practice and equipment. I did a company party on board a party boat one year. At that party I had the opportunity to draw one of the most beautiful Jamaican women I had ever seen. She had perfect skin, high cheekbones, perfectly arched brows over gorgeous big brown eyes and a smile to light up the entire room. I loved drawing her face and will never forget that experience. The problem with live caricatures is that the artists can't keep a copy of their work.

Though I have had to stop doing on-site jobs, I still love drawing studio caricatures.

A recent job for a local website targeting police jail personnel did prove to me that I enjoy working with colored inks. The character, Bubba Bulldog, is a Neanderthal-like man with a bulldog-like face wearing a dark blue police guard uniform. Detective William Hayes of King County, writes Bubba's story.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

Al Capp, creator of Li'l Abner, was my biggest influence for line quality of artwork. Sandra Boynton, creator of punny cards, was my inspiration for creating a line of greeting cards.

Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better/For Worse comic strip, is a great writer, skilled cartoonist and an astute businesswoman. She is a member of Cartoonists Northwest.

Most respected caricaturists: Al Hirshfield, Tom Richmond, Sam Viviano, Bill Plympton, David Levine and so many more that I'd recommend you visit the National Caricaturists Network website for more names of top caricaturists.


The Actual Work

What do cartoonists do?

Draw, draw, draw and write, write, write; then sleep, eat and go for a walk.

Okay, that is too simplistic a response, but it is true. We draw for jobs, we draw for fun and in public we draw a crowd. Writing contracts, gags, greetings, correspondence and ideas are all part of cartooning. Proper English grammar and spelling are just as important for cartoonists as any other profession. Read that word again... profession. Drawing for pay is a profession and requires professionalism.

Describe a typical day of work for you.

There is no typical day for a freelance illustrator. Though most mornings I handle correspondence and/or accounting, then leave my afternoons for the fun work...drawing, painting, and creating. Client meetings and errands are fit in as needed. Phone calls interrupt the day at random. Evenings are spent with my husband or at professional group meetings. One day a month is the Graphic Artists Guild luncheon. At least two evenings a month are for Cartoonists Northwest, our monthly newsletter labeling/board meeting and the general membership meeting.

Marketing opportunities arise throughout the year. For instance this year's NW Bookfest in October and ART JAM 2000, the NW Illustrators Show where EWP is present.

When P.R.Cards orders come in, then my day is spent packing cards and processing invoices.

What mediums do you use? What's your favorite and why?

I use a variety of mediums. One of my favorites is acrylic paint for full-color illustration to be produced in high-resolution offset printing. I like rendering faces in ebony pencil, colored pencil or watercolors. For quick cards, Zig brand writing pens and colored pens are great. My best line art is done with #0- #4 rounds brushes and black waterproof inks. I like rendering characters with the W&N colored inks.

I've been working in Photoshop for illustrations that need to be digitized. Normally I render them traditionally and then scan the images into the computer for refining and saving as JPEG or tif files.

Are there specialty software programs for cartoonists? If so, what are they and what do they do?

I'm not familiar with specialty software just for cartoonists. Many of my colleagues use Photoshop, Illustrator, or other drawing software. Some of our CNW members work with Flash animation, while other animators work with more advanced animation/multi-media programs.

Pagemaker is my favorite software for graphics layouts. I've produced many a newsletter in Pagemaker 6.5.

One of our CNW members creates entire science fiction comic books in Photoshop.

What are some of the professional organizations for cartoonists?

Cartoonists Northwest, National Caricaturist Network, Graphic Artists Guild, and National Cartoonists Society and Southern California Cartoonists Society.

Is it important to collaborate with your cartooning colleagues? How have your professional collaborations benefited your career?

The word "collaborate" may work for animators and comic book artists, but many cartoonists do their work on their own. Gag cartoonists may work with gag writers. Networking and collaborating on special events or presentations does occur with my colleagues in CNW and the Guild. Working with other artists has helped my career by all the referrals I get from the people with whom I've collaborated. Referrals go both ways. In this profession it is more cooperation than collaboration.

I've taught basic cartooning with other cartoonists. I've coordinated shows, luncheons, exhibits and celebrity dinners with other artists in the area. Getting to know your local art supply store is a great way to get referrals. If you are familiar with designing advertising layouts, networking with local print shops, newspapers and publications can bring in quick assignments for custom illustration.

What are some common myths about cartoonists?

Cartoonists are not professionals. Cartoonists only draw as a hobby. Cartoonists are not real artists. Cartoonists can draw anything, anytime for no money...because we just love to draw. Cartooning takes no time at all. Cartoonists don't need professional training. Cartoonists are slobs. Cartoonists do it only for laughs. These are untrue statements for professional cartoonists.


Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your education, including schools, degrees and certificates. What did you like and dislike about your cartooning-related education?

This response could be very long. I'll give you the basics.

Started taking art classes at age ten after failing as a ballerina. This was at the Cornish School of Fine Arts weekend class program back in the early 60s.

At age thirteen started the Famous Artists Correspondence Cartoon Course. For electives in high school, I took drama instead of art. I loved doing stage make-up and costume design as well as performing. Won the Best Supporting Actress Award for 1968 at Queen Anne High School.

I attended the University of Arizona majoring in studio arts. Was told in my painting classes that my work looked like cartoons of still lives or landscapes, so I stayed with my natural style. Married my husband in 1971, gave birth to our daughter in 1972 and we moved back to the NW in 1977. Went back to school when our daughter was in kindergarten, and earned an associate degree in Visual Communications Technology from Shoreline Community College. Have taken many seminars on business topics such as marketing, sales, advertising, accounting and management.

The Famous Artists Cartoon Course has been one of the biggest influences on my knowledge of cartooning style and lettering. My studies at the University of Arizona gave me a foundation in design and liberal arts. The VCT program at SCC polished my knowledge and added to my experience with offset printing, typesetting, photography and creative writing. And life's experiences are constantly honing my problem solving skills.

Would you change anything if you could? If so, what?

Yes, I would change the courses I took in college. I should have taken accounting and marketing at the University level. I should have taken more watercolor painting classes, which I intend to do as soon as I can reserve the time. Along with taking more training in computer graphics software, which didn't exist back then. Several colleagues are returning to school for advance computer training in specialties such as website design, 3-D graphics, Flash animation and multi-media software.

How does a prospective art student assess their skill and aptitude for cartooning?

Like any prospective art student, the person should be able to draw realistically first before simplifying the forms to a cartoon style. Does the student have an aptitude for making people laugh with their jokes? Does he or she naturally think funny? Is the student observant of the world around him/her? Can the student come up with his/her own ideas and draw them so viewers get the joke at a quick glance? The most important aptitudes are the desire to learn, great hand-eye coordination, and a sharp sense of humor.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs for cartooning?

I'm sorry I don't have enough experience with specialized schools of cartooning. I've taught at local grade schools, high schools, community centers, and libraries. The Art Institute of Seattle has a few courses in cartooning, but no major in that area. The University of Arizona has a very good studio arts program that requires passing a portfolio review to be accepted. Tucson is a great place to go to school with plenty of sunshine and clear skies.

If someone has the art talent already, should they go to school for cartooning and why?

They should go to school for Writing, Accounting, Contract Law and Discipline. They should take more drawing, painting, sculpting classes to understand the human form in all actions and perspectives. They should never get too cocky about their talent, because there is always someone else working hard to compete for the jobs that are available.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? Are there any different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in cartooning?

Check the list of classes offered in the studio arts or graphic arts programs. Interview a few instructors by mail or email to find out what their class outlines are like.

Location of the school is also important. Is it near galleries, museums and other artistic stimulation? Is it a safe campus? Will you be living on campus or will you be commuting?

Financial considerations are very high. Do you have a school near home that will save you the housing expense? Can you attend a community college first to get the basics, then go on to the university level for in depth training?

No, you don't need a college degree to be a cartoonist. You do need a college degree to move up in the field and be able to communicate well with clients and your audience.

What types of majors can one graduate with that will lead to a career in cartooning?

Graphic Arts, Illustration, Journalism & Creative Writing.


Job Information & Advice

What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students who specialize in cartooning?

That question requires some clarification. Cartooning covers many areas of expertise. Humorous Illustrators can market themselves in editorial illustration with magazines and newspapers, in children's book illustration with publishers, in advertising illustration with design firms, ad agencies or newspapers, and possibly in creating studio greeting cards for firms such as Hallmark, American Greeting or Recycled Paper. For those interested in gag cartoons, get a good full time job and do the gag cartoons on the side. For those interested in doing comic books, get a production job with a comic book publisher to learn the trade and get a foot in the door. Animators can seek employment with website developers, TV ad agencies or video game producers. Comic strip artists better get a job that puts bread on the table, because the chances of getting syndicated out of school are slim to none. Actually getting a job lettering or inking for someone else's strip can start the person making connections.

Caricaturists can find work right away by proving themselves at street fairs then contacting a talent agent in their hometown. If good and fast and charming, the talented caricaturist can make a good living doing live gigs for corporate clients, schools and individuals.

What are the best ways to get a job in the field of cartooning?

Work hard, Listen and Learn, gain humility and Network.

Put together a professional portfolio showing the best 15 pieces you've done. Then design a great business card with creative graphics and have 500 - 1000 cards printed. Write and design a clean one page resume' to hand out to prospective employees. Dress conservatively until you know where you'll be working. Comb your hair, brush your teeth and bathe before your interviews. Yes, appearances do count. Please show respect to other cartoonists, artists, art directors and most preciously your target markets.

Who are three of the most renowned cartooning professionals in the world right now? How did they get to the top?

Sam Viviano, Art Director at MAD Magazine.
Al Hirshfield, World Famous Caricaturist of Stage, Screen & TV
Lynn Johnston, "For Better, For Worse" comic strip

I could list many more names. The above names are listed in random order. Sam I thought of first because I've always admired his animated style and caricatures in MAD spoofs. His success is due to his talent, attention to details and persistence. Al's caricaturing style is so fluid that very few artists can even mimic its elegance. Another man who's gone to the top by sticking with what he loves to do. Lynn's success is due to assertiveness, the school of hard knocks, persistence and an acute business sense. I think I respect Lynn Johnston the most. I've never met Al, but have met Lynn and talked with Sam on the phone.

What is the average salary for cartoonists in the US? What are people at the top of the profession paid?

There is no average salary. Incomes may range from below minimum wage to $300,000 a year.

How available are internships in this field?

Sorry, I don't know of much internship in cartooning. There are starting jobs in production work that will help beginners learn more about specialties...such as lettering and inking for comic book publishers.

How is the job market now for the cartooning industry? What do you think it will be in 5 years?

The markets are good for cartoonists with computer experience. The markets are bad for gag cartoonists. Markets change as fast as technology and legal issues allow. I bring up legal issues because of clip art firms taking away the low-end custom illustration markets. Newspapers are using fewer and fewer local editorial cartoonists. Comic strips keep getting smaller and smaller. Funny comic books sell better in Europe than in the United States. Animation seems to be the strongest cartooning specialty right now. Humorous illustration and caricaturing will always have a market niche.


Industry Trends

What are some of the trends that you see in the field of cartooning which could help students plan for the future?

There is a strong future for computer animation. Take computer classes in multi-media software, animation software and 3-D software. Take drawing, painting and sculpture classes to get a feel for fine art. Take as many creative-writing classes as you can fit into your schedule. Read magazines, comic books, drawn books and children's books to see where humorous illustration and cartooning is headed.

How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession? and other online stock greeting card companies are lowering people's standards of excellence for greeting cards. I was just talking with a colleague about this over the phone today. Stock photography, stock illustration and clip art businesses are killing the freelance illustration markets. Cartoonists and illustrators are paid relatively less than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Why? Because young artists entering the field are happy to work for hire and get paid diddley-squat. Large corporations consider artists like construction workers. That is the down side.

The up side is the increase in markets for website illustration and animation. But the pay is still low for the quality of talent doing the work. There is a slow learning curve for consumers to realize the value of original artwork versus the ease of downloading copyrighted images.


Closing Remarks

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in cartooning?

Now is my chance to be a little philosophical about our fun and frustrating profession. People who pursue cartooning are nuts, nice nuts, but nuts. We love to draw funny pictures, create weird characters or capture a person's essence in just a few lines. We like black and white as much as color. We can get excited about perspective. We can appreciate talented line work and creative writing. We enjoy reading pictures and words. Cartoonists are very visually oriented people. We need to see something to be able to draw it. But once we've drawn a person or object, we never forget it. Drawing is never boring for a cartoonist. Yes, Cartoonists do it for Laughs... all the way to the bank.

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