Calling all new Caricaturists

GET A LIKENESS!

If you are setting up as an artist, be it portrait or caricature, some simple advice; make sure you can DRAW A LIKENESS first. It sounds basic, but I’m always amazed at the number of artists who polish their technique, without actually looking at their subject.  The artist’s EYE should be developed before the HAND. Caricatures are very subjective, but in general, your customer should always recognize themselves in your artwork, if they don’t then their friends will. If you can’t manage a basic likeness, then you might wanna rethink your career options!

Are you an Entertainer?

Thinking of picking up ya pens and taking your art to the people at Parties and Weddings? First simple question is; ARE YOU AN ENTERTAINER or simply a RETAIL SKETCHER?  Do you plan to walk amongst party revellers and wedding guests, making witty remarks, charming the guests and presenting your drawings with flair, to much applause or would you rather sit at an easel in a corner, churning out the same face, over and over, not uttering a word, while working your way through a queue of impatient punters?

If you are charging hourly fees in excess of a Solicitor, then surely you should deliver  a service as well as just a product. Plan to dazzle and enchant your audience and treat them as just that; AN AUDIENCE. You may have been used to dealing with queues of grumpy punters at a Theme Park or on a Pier, for 8 hours a day, with little thanks, but if selling yourself as an entertainer, then be prepared to entertain.

I have found there are a number of caricaturists trading today who may be better suited to working from a studio, as a Retail artist on a production line. Fair play to that, its not something I enjoy, but some are very good at mass-produced portraits. However this mentality does not translate well into the entertainment industry, which operates at a much higher level. Be aware of this before dragging your easel to someone’s wedding.

RULE #1

Always remember; WE are the ambassadors for our trade, everything WE do reflects on every caricaturist in the UK. WE make the rules and WE set the industry standards.  Lets paint a better picture in people’s psyche.

Would you rather hear:

“You’re a Caricaturist? So you sit on a street, begging for money and churning out drawings that look nothing like me! We had one last Xmas, she was shite;  late, scruffy and rude, I’ll never book one again… at least she was cheap!”

OR hear:

“You’re a Caricaturist? How clever, I saw one on TV and he was amazing! We had one last Xmas and he had us in stitches; so fast, so witty, so charming, we must book one again this year… worth every penny!”

Lets raise people’s expectations instead of lowering the bar and putting us all out on the streets.

 

Agents – A stepping Stone

Agents are a necessary evil, we use them as they use us. They promote up & coming artists, but remember; as an artist you owe them nothing. When (innevitably) they ask you to attend a promotional event, to make their Agency look good and “get you more bookings” then I suggest you charge them TWICE your usual fee, as the only person to benefit will be the agent and you’ll be waiting many years before that favor is ever returned. Most likely the agent will give any incoming work to the latest fresh faced ‘newby’ who in turn is now undercutting you by 50%… thus maximising the Agent’s profit.  Which is the sole reason they exist.

 

BUSKING

It has come to my attention that certain new caricaturists on the circuit are apparently  quoting a minimum fee for events (£150 for all-day) then supplimenting this by CHARGING PER DRAWING!!

I am speechless…. Twenty years I’ve spent, trying to raise the profile and the level of professionalism of  live caricaturists in the UK, only to have an amateur busker bring us all crashing down in the eyes of the public. I am neither a busker nor beggar, so why do I find myself competing in the same market as such traders? Have the new generation learned nothing?

Charging people for caricatures is both vulgar and unnecessary. Do you see Robbie Williams putting a cap on the floor when he sings? NO; because he is a talented professional, who is paid for his entertainment value. Anyone I find charging per head (unless for a charitable cause) will be given extremely short shrift!

Do us all a favor;  be an Artist, be an entertainer, be a professional, not a busker or beggar!

Checking the newbies

Over the last few weeks I have been optimising my caricatures-uk  website and generally checking out the competition amongst up & coming artists now on the market. I have to say that I’m impressed with some of them, even concerned about my own standing, after looking at the highly polished studio work on show. However, I feel it is about time that the new generation had some schooling. With this in mind I have put together a few points I wish to raise amongst the caricaturing fraterntiy, a few bug-bares that have cropped up in my browsing:

 1) False marketing

We all make claims to be ‘The Best’ or ‘The Fastest’ in order to gain our clients attention and we will stand or fall by these claims. However, using your finest studio produced portraits as a USP is hardly fair in an open performance marketplace. Sebastian Kruger is a fantastic technical artist with an awesome eye for caricature and I can see that many budding caricaturists today look to him for inspiration. However, you can bet that his 5 minute sketches bare no relation to the highly polished articles we all know and admire.

By all means show your work and be proud, show your best pieces if they are for sale as a product, do the caricaturing trade proud. However, if you are selling your services as a performer, this is what you have on show… sketches, photos and references.  There is nothing worse than wasting phone time on enquiries who fully expect oil paintings at their wedding or worse still; turning up to an event and the client insisting on full colour guache portraits of all 100 guests!!

When selling a day at the Go-Karts, you’d be wrong to show pictures of F1 cars now wouldn’t you?!    

2) FEE SCALES

I recently had a long running dispute with an agent who was basically promoting a bidding war amongst caricaturists. They were pitting talented, long serving artists against newer, cheaper (possibly less talented) artists and seeing who quoted the cheapest for each gig. I was (and still am) outraged and so approached 7 of the 26 represented caricaturists, which were familliar to me, for some feedback. 5 of them reported having the same experiences as me and claimed they had been forced to quote ridiculous fees in order to secure a booking.

This only fuels the argument for a set fee structure amongst artists. This is a contentuous point and in fairness, we are all within our rights to ask whatever fee we see fit.

However, when new artists (such as the remaining 19 represented by the agent) come onto the market and bid as low as £150-200 per booking, this has the knock-on effect of lowering the whole market base-rate. When you’ve worked hard and marketed your services for 19+ years in order to earn a decent wage, it can be heart-breaking to lose your wage to a fresh-faced (possibly part-time) caricaturist who does not yet know his/her worth.

Though I realise market rates fluctuate throughout the UK, may I suggest that £300 is a minimum starting rate for those unsure of their value as yet.

I personally am not afraid to compete on an open market, as I have faith in my product, my presentation, my marketing and my reputation. However, when it comes to pricing, do us all a favour and pitch for the higher end, it works for me. Pitch low and you’ll end up with a reputation as a budget performer and receive budget jobs. Pitch high and you’ll probably lose a few agents, but just think of the clients you could gain, who look for quality, not low budget.

3) Presentation

Every caricaturist is an individual and as such each artist projects their personality through their drawings, but also presentation. I recently saw a photo of a new (Midlands based) artist at an event, wearing a long-sleeved, tie-dyed t-shirt and beads, while drawing in charcoal. If he was on a street corner in Prague I’d say good on him. However, his subject was in best civvies and so it was clearly an important event.

Please remember, whatever you do, however you behave, what ever lasting impression you leave, it reflects on the WHOLE caricaturing fraternity. Punters see caricaturists as a generic group of nameless faces with pens. If you turn up looking like a scruff and produce messy scribbles, then you’ll have ruined everyone’s chances of being hired by that client again.

Speaking as a notable individual, I am all for breaking boundaries and pushing envelopes, but even I wear a £1000 Boateng suit when required. I’d rather surprise people with my strikingly immaculate appearance than simply confirm their existing prejudices; “Do you work in Covent Garden then?” etc…

Far be it from me to preach my views and values, let alone force them upon anyone, but please be aware the image you portray each time someone clicks on your site or asks ‘How Much?’ over the phone. For some, this is a full-time career… indeed a way of life. Join it, don’t spoil it!

4) Reliability/Intergrity

As a professional, an artist must have integrity. One new artist in particular has become renowned for letting customers down at the last minute, using such excuses as a ‘family berievement’ or ‘fee increase’, presumably having been offered more money for a gig elsewhere.  Remember that as a community we all have to deal with these disappointed customers and listen to their complaints, I have dealt with calls from 3 let-down clients in the last 12 months, all concerning one particular scribbler, one having been called ‘stupid’ by the artist. The artist has denied the complaints, but I took the calls and dealt with the tears.

Integrity counts for a lot. If you price yourself properly in the first place, then the temptation to drop lower paid gigs will not arise, but if it does, then as a community we can cover each others bookings. There is no excuse to simply leave a client in despair, without a stand-in, at short notice. Show some integrity!

In over your head??

If you’re offered a job which is over and above your range of skills/experience, you can choose one of two options:

  1.  Politely refuse the job, offering a previous booking or tight schedule to cover yourself and pass the work on to a more experienced caricaturist. If you refuse the job, no-one will think any less of you and at least you don’t run the risk of failure and possible litigation!
  2.  Accept the job, blagging all the way and seek assistance from the caricaturing fraternity, to see you through it. If however you take on the job, be sure you are either upto the challenge or that you have an adequate support crew to help you through. If you fail or let the client down, it will reflect on the whole caricaturing trade!

For example: I was offered work drawing in Barcelona for HP, drawing digitally on a portable laptop drawing tablet…. a new product they wanted to showcase. I of course had never touched one in my life, but assured the client I was up to the challenge. I blagged the job and gave myself 6 weeks to learn to use new hardware and new software (assuming this would be enough time). I am computer literate and felt confident in my abilities.  However, the hardware didn’t arrive until the night before I was due to fly to Barcelona – a close call, but too late to back out.  As it happened the software was simple and the tablet was just a new skill that I acquired in a matter of hours. I spent 3 days learning my skill (on the job) in Barcelona and the client was more than happy!  I now have my own tablet and a new range of skills to offer my clients. A job well done.

A bad example: A new caricaturist recently subcontracted me to draw with him in Berlin. The client then decided they would like us to use laptop drawing tablets (digital drawing), which thankfully I was now a dab hand at and so relished the challenge once more. The new artist however was un-equipped, but chose to blag the job (worth £2.5k each), asking the client to provide him with a tablet and software. The artist then panicked and simply dissappeared, leaving his client to worry and nearly losing us both the work! Luckily I had the confidence and network back-up to offer a stand-in artist, one with digital experience and so the job was saved. The inexperienced artist eventually contacted the client, claiming to have been ‘on holiday’. A very shoddy and unprofessional excuse and a good example of how NOT to treat your clients.

ADVICE?

In response to a flurry of recent e-mail requests for advice, from (what I consider to be) low budget caricaturists,  who constantly undercut my prices, I ask this;  please stop e-mailing me for advice on pens, techniques, Wacom Tablets, Wedding Exhibitions, magazine or internet advertising. You are my competitors and I ain’t about to give anyone a ‘fast-track to buck$ville’ until my words are heeded; performance standards and market prices are raised to a respectable level. Its taken me 20 years of hard graft, financial investment, personal sacrifice, marketing experimantation and hard lessons to learn the best way for me to trade successfully. I suggest before asking for an ‘easy-fix answer’ you consider these factors and prepare to learn the hard way instead.

HELP?

The Carix community is keen to help those up-coming artists who are serious about the business, who are prepared to put in the effort and earn their stripes. New talent is often nurtured and assisted on its journey, with work being shared amongst those who deserve it. However, simple etiquette; do not crap on those who help you, return favors when possible and remember those who give you a leg-up or you may find yourself alone in this business!


Comments
  1. Martinus says:

    A few things I disagree with:
    I have a lovely agent who has helped me a great deal in securing excellent clients and wonderful gigs.
    Secondly, regarding the newbies constantly asking for advice: When I was just starting out 5 or so years ago, you gave me wonderful advice that ensured that I was never an unprofessional caricaturist and could certainly live up to the standards of pro caricaturists.
    That little bit of advice might just be the deciding factor on whether they rock up late and in slippers, or do a great job.
    .
    Regards
    Martinus

    • George says:

      Hi Martinus, great to hear from you again.

      Regarding Agents; I have one or two, one secured me 3 months work in Bahrain last year, another just booked me for 2 corporate gigs at £450 each, a handsome fee. So no complaints about these agents, but speaking as an artist of 20 years experience, these are few and far between. The agents I refer to above are the 3 most common online agents in the UK, all of whom are paying £200 while charging clients £400 – 500!! These kind of agents thrive on the inexperience of new artists and rarely deal with more seasoned artists, who know better.
      One agent had a new artist work for 5 hours, paying just £200. This artist then went to draw at an event with 2 other artists, both earning £400(direct) while she was again paid £200… the client claimed to have paid £350 for her!!!!!!
      The evidence for above is all there; its rife in the UK and here good agents are hard to find.

      As for advice; I recall handing out advice, but in the last 2 years the UK has been over-run with part-time scribblers, all wanting a quick step-up to a fast dollar! I simply ran out of time and patience to deal with them all.

      The UK carix community still advise, as we all did recently, when Dave Lucas was ripped off by an Agent (Magical Memories) who refused to pay him after a booking. We’re happy to help and act as a united front in an effort to put people on the right path… but asking for clients, agents and short-cuts in order to start up in competition isn’t welcome anymore.

      All the best

      George

      • Martinus says:

        I also have to agree that some agents are indeed very dodgy.
        I was just defending the ones who work hard, and definitely earn their percentage.

        Trying to get quick fix advice, and make a quick buck is also obviously very crummy, but I think REAL competition is only a good thing. I have seen a group of caricaturists (Including me) Improve to keep up with each other, which is very nice to see.
        I am probably 17 years the junior of the youngest caricaturist I have to compete against in SA, and at first there was definitely a feeling of “What does this kid know?” which can be somewhat intimidating.
        I’m lucky in the sense that I did my first gigs when I was 15(My father took me to gigs he used to draw at) so by the time I had to actually do caricatures at events for a living, I had gotten most of the crummy drawings out of my system.

      • George says:

        My point about agents also was that they are a stepping stone for a successful career. After 10+ years in the business, you should aim to be self-reliant, earning a living from marketing skills and a good reputation. Always remember that when the next new artist comes along, your agent will pick them up and drop you…such is the way of life.

        Every new artist must earn their stripes and should expect a frosty, intimidating reception at first. New blood is intimidating fro old blood after all!! Most new artists are observed from a distance to begin with until they have proven if they can survive the knocks and trials of freelance living. Its a simple Right of Passage… some fail and are lampooned, others make friends, earn respect and share the successes of our unique trade.

        I remember many eyebrows were raised when I blundered onto the scene and scratched out a living for the first ten years, by under-cutting and deriding my contemporaries. I had a terrible reputation by the time I was 30! It took me a lot of hard lessons and much humble-pie eating before I was accepted and befriended by the UK carix. But such is the way….

        I still have a rep, but now for the right reasons… mostly! But I still come from the School of Hard Knocks and so can be harsh to those who rattle my cage, cos the UK carix scene is like a house of cards and all it takes is one clumsy fool to send them all tumbling to the ground again.

        You’re right tho, it is fun watching the new generation coming up and changing; we all start as crumby and hopefully end up professional 🙂

  2. Due to a variety of reasons i’m off the ‘circuit’ for the foreseeable future anyhow ,but still am amazed at how much and little has changed. Nearly 10 years ago i went to live abroad for a few years and an average evening work was about 3-350 pounds(us northerners never, well hardly ever got travelling expenses)….And now after all this time i’ve been offered jobs as low as 120.00 for a day. And ,when on the rare occassions i’m able to do a job ,i’m always glad to see and work with the ‘old hands’ that “i learnt my trade with.”…. But the majority of the ‘new kids on the block’ haven’t really impressed.
    As you mentioned Kruger, the great mans stuff is quite often used as advertising for street caricaturists, my old mate Paul Baker also had one of his piccies lifted in this way, in Edingburgh a few years back, dont tell him tho’, it’ll only go to his head.
    Take it easy
    Tim

    • George says:

      Hey Tim, good to hear from you. Always remember attending Alton Towers with you and Glynn Edwards back in 2001. I’ve got your drawing on display in my new Portraits section, you should take a gander at the variety of artists I’ve collected! https://spotongeorge.wordpress.com/portraits-of-george/

      Take ya point about prices though, fallen drastically in the last year or three. Partly due to the recession and partly due to a flooded market of ‘Newbies’!! Sorry to hear ya not doing the rounds so much, catch ya soon I hope.

      All the best mate.

  3. Tony Parsons says:

    Mornin all!
    What a super debate. Personally I come down more on Georges side – I don’t belive anyone benefits from a price war and I get a lot of calls from tired PA’s trudging round looking for the best price without bothering to look at the work.

    My most recent sales lines have gone something like…. ‘Oh gosh you’re a bit more expensive than some of the others I’ve seen’ to which I enjoyed replying ‘ no I’m sure I’m the most expensive that you’ll find, you’ll be very lucky if you manage to book me’. For some odd reason this seems to work quite well.

    Some of the work I put out when I started makes me shudder when I remember it. I now realise that every one of those pictures I handed out in my early days represents one less client for all caricaturists today (sorry guys). I got chatting to a guy at a party who was handing out total crap and politely nudged him in the direction of the NCN who have done wonders in nurturing me, I hope he went and had a look.

    Congratulations George on an excellent site.

  4. subwaysurfer says:

    I agree that newbies should bet out there and experiment and find out what works for them, rather than ENDLESSLY asking questings abotu pens pads paper etc. I had a group of wannabees literally waki up to me and ask” Where do you buy your stuff, get your contacts , so we can do what you do?”

    Its kinda rude and offensive to ask someone ther trade secrets theyve spent years learning. A lot of the younger generation sincerely think that just because they ask that they are entitled to a detailed answer. Maybe its not their fault… after all in the online internet culture, a lot of the info ion any subject is “just there”. I believe that attitude translates into other areas. Im an old timer though and feel closely guarded secrets are reserved for a few friends and trusted acquaintences ive built relationships with over time.

    I agree also with fake advertising. A lot of artists will display beautifully rendered pieces that i can look at and KNOW they havent dashed off in ten minutes. People end up hiring them thinking they’re getting that only to find they’re getting a quick sketch. not a BAD one, but certainly not what they were expecting.

    Im enjoying your blog a little TOO much I think!

  5. …No malice Mick, but I stand by my opinions. You can charge what you want at Alton Towers, but when competing in the performance market, I find your prices (that I’ve seen) offensive and believe they do our joint cause no favours.

    Let me know what you think of the rest of my Blog.

    Merry Xmas.

  6. Jed Pascoe says:

    Excellent copy, George. I noticed you quoted me in there, so thanks, buddy!

    A note to those fresh in the market:
    If you make a claim, as George says, make sure you can live up to it on the night: I once had a client who bragged to all her friends I could draw her in less than two minutes. Hers was the first drawing of the evening, I’d just walked through the door and had barely had time to draw breath, let alone her incredibly complicated hairstyle (and she was a bit of a dog, too, which didn’t help). The drawing seemed to take ages and she looked so disappointed. Fortunately, I said that was just a warm up- then drew her bald boyfriend in under thirty seconds! Phew!

  7. simonelli says:

    Hear, hear, George!

    Unfortunately, you’re fighting a vain battle against market forces. I keep getting four or five emails from 1st Choice every day, submit my reasonable quote from £300.00 upwards, and never get a single job from them.

    Best to ignore the newbies, keep aiming high and build your own exclusive corner of the market. But you’re doing that already aren’t you, ‘Top London Caricaturist’? Did you already know that I am THE London Caricaturist? Turf Wars!

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