Q) In an article from several years ago you say that you want to do caricatures of people that mean something to you. You listed Picasso, Hemingway, Van Gogh and Miles Davis, just to name a few. Have you had the opportunity to do this, and have you added any more to your list?
A) It’s difficult. About a year ago we introduced color into the service which has taken up a lot of time, but it’s great, because after 20-some-odd years of dealing exclusively with black and white, I find there is a whole new world— a lot to learn. Studying color has taken me to watercolor and oils. With so much going on in the news (after all, we still have the current administration doing what it does), it would be hard to justify doing Hemingway, Miles Davis, et al… editors would wonder why I was being so self-indulgent. I’ll just have to wait until I retire and then do a whole series of limited-edition prints. It’s something that I always have in the back of my mind; drawing caricatures not to be reproduced in newspapers, but as standalone art.
The purpose of "Faces in the News" is to draw people who are current and newsworthy. But I also have drawers full of drawings of people no one remembers anymore, especially politicians, whom I drew at the time because they were newsworthy. But at 60, I am now more interested in doing drawings of people who I believe are truly important, and of course it’s an easy step to draw those people I greatly admire (so I won't be doing a self-caricature anytime soon) and who really influenced me.
It’s a balancing act, but I try to do my best.
Q) Who has been your favorite person to draw and why?
A) There have been a few times when looking through old work, I come across a drawing I have no recollection of doing. I don't really have a favorite person to draw but have drawings I have done that I like. A drawing of Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) comes to mind. A friend of his bought it to give to him as a gift before he died. That pleased me because it was always one I liked. Presidents are fun, starting with the Nixon administration; probably have one more in me, maybe two.
Q) Two milestones come this year…30 years of “Faces in the News” and a birthday. Anything on which you would like to reflect?
A) It has been fun. My 21st, 40th, even my 50th birthdays didn’t really mean anything. I am not one who celebrates such things. I don't really care for parades, but 60 blindsided me. Like everyone else, you start to look at things in a new way; see the big picture more. Thirty years of Faces in the News is satisfying because it’s a tough game to stay in, and I have been very fortunate because I have never wanted to do anything else but draw. Because of the career I have had, along the way I have met some really incredible people. I wouldn't change a thing, save that I wished I had painted more, something I am doing a lot of now.
Q) What does it mean to you to have your work hanging in the White House?
A) Well, that was during the Clinton presidency, the original artwork for the cover of "The Inaugural" issue of the Washington Post. Based on what I have been doing for the last few years, I doubt if the current president has anything of mine around. In fact, I don't even have any papers in Texas anymore. Should Hillary win, I will probably get them all back.
Q) I heard from your editor at Universal Press Syndicate that you have work hanging in the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa. Can you tell me more about that?
A) Canada has a grand tradition of artists, for instance the incredible work of the “Group of Seven” in painting (with which, to my frustration, most people in America are unfamiliar) to the great political cartoonists such as Duncan MacPherson, Len Norris and Roy Peterson, so it’s an honor to have my work there as well.
As we speak, they are opening a National Portrait Gallery in Ottawa, where a lot of the work of mine they own will be transferred.
I actually hope to donate more to them to update and round out their collection. Although it’s only a small part of what I have done, in the end it will probably be the most permanent record of my work in caricature. I haven't really looked into to it, but I am hoping there is some way to have a permanent collection in the U.S., because in addition to living in San Francisco for 10 years, my whole career really has been there, even though I am Canadian.
Q) What was it like creating posters for rock bands during the hippy era? And how did you get from doing that to caricatures?
A) Back then you just tried to survive, doing agency illustration work, commissions, anything, but I drifted into music, which was a natural progression for me, since I’d played drums for 10 years, so music was part of my life especially in those times. I got to know the people in the scene, and even worked for a few years on the “underground” newspaper. So along with another artist, we set up a studio in an area called Gastown and did most of the poster work in Vancouver, which was the main stop after San Francisco, Portland and Seattle for a lot of the bands doing the Northwest circuit. I worked on posters for everybody from Led Zeppelin, Genesis, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, The Byrds to Elton John.
I got to meet a lot of the musicians, record reps, and so forth, and I loved the music; it was a great time to be young. From there, it was an easy step to album covers. To me, however, all the good work was coming out of San Francisco. The posters we did were all inspired by what was happening there, and my partner knew a bunch of people in Marin County, so away we went. In San Francisco, our car broke down, leaving me with a few hours to kill, so I went to the Chronicle with a portfolio to meet their cartoonist (Robert Graysmith, who went on to write the investigative books on the “Zodiac Killer”), but he wasn’t in. Instead, I met with Stan Arnold, the famous Sunday features editor, and my whole life changed as a result. First, because he would go on to become a close friend, the finest man I have ever known, and because he was the head of Chronicle features. Syndication of my work was his idea.
So, it ended up that I went to San Francisco to meet all the guys doing the poster work and ended up working for the Chronicle. In my heart, it was always where I wanted to be, because of the great work of the cartoonists in the paper I grew up reading as a kid. To me, the newspaper world seemed more real than the music world, and I was doing music-related work to support my real desire to become a caricaturist.
Q) 10 years ago, you had drawn Ronald Reagan more than anyone else. Have you drawn someone else more than that now? George W?
A) During the years I employed a clip service to show me where my work was being published, the George Bush, Sr. caricature was the most published drawing I had done. George Jr. still has (at the time of this writing) 487 days, 11 hrs, and 20 minutes left in his administration so there will be more drawings coming. But to this point, it’s Ronald Reagan. I think I drew him in different situations about 60 times.
Q) How has the popularity of caricatures changed over the years?
A) It’s so different now. As we all know, computers changed everything, and being in the newspaper business it has been a difficult transition. Life is acceptance of change; it’s to be embraced. I have had a good long run at this and there are no regrets in that respect. I have experienced the old newsrooms twice, The Vancouver Sun and then the San Francisco Chronicle, in the days when newspapers really were something. Those were such good times. 20 years of it, and I wouldn't trade a minute.
When I started out, I remember my agent went up the West Coast, sold San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, etc, and for years I held those papers—all papers with a reputation as new and cutting-edge. Now, all my main papers are east coast established papers that are large enough to have editorial pages. In this, my 30th year, I have been published in the Chicago Tribune for all that time. It’s one of things I am the proudest of. That, and my on-again, off-again relationship with the Portland Oregonian.
A few months ago, I was staying with a friend and his wife and he brought out a box of old issues of Colliers magazine. I spent the evening by the fire looking at all this amazing pen and ink illustration, just amazing work; all now long forgotten, the artist’s gone.
Today, looking at any frame of computer-generated graphics— say, for example, from the movie "300"— same thing, it’s amazing work. To draw one of them would take so much work, so much time, and in the end, the audience wouldn't be there.
That being said, one good caricature, whether black-and-white or color, properly done for a worthwhile editorial page has a special place; a strength that stands on its own. No photo, no graphic can replace it. Thank God there are still editors out there that realize it.
It has been and always will be that way.
Q) Have you ever had a caricature done of yourself by someone else?
A) Several times over the years, artist friends or newspaper staff artists have drawn me. Favorite one was done by Howard Stern, of all people.
Q) Who are your heroes as caricaturists?
A) David Levine, of course, is first and foremost. His subtlety of line is fascinating. And one of his inspirations, Ingre, is mine too. Picasso was a great caricaturist. The older I get, the more the line blurs between caricature and impressionist portraiture.
Q) You are a prime example of someone who really goes after what they want and doesn’t stop until they get it. When you were just starting out and your car broke down in San Francisco, you made the most of it by meeting with Stan. You even came up with 100 caricatures while sick with viral pneumonia. What advice do you have for people who also face obstacles while trying to achieve their dream?
A) Money should never be your primary motivation. It has to come from within, something you just know you love, whether you can do it or not really doesn't enter into it, if you truly love it from youth, if you are called if you like, the rest is just life working it out. In my case, my parents tell me my very first words were, even before “Mom” and “Dad,” were (badly said) “paper” and “pencil.” Plus, I was named after a popular cartoon strip at the time, “Kerry Drake,” so I probably never had a chance to do anything else, and I never wanted to. A favorite early childhood memory was getting the paper, spreading out the comics section, which in those days was a double-page spread, and spending hours pouring over the drawings and getting lost in that world, the smell of the ink and the paper… it was a magical time every day for me. Never forgot it. Much later, I would spend 25 years working for that paper.
But to get back to your question, I think that it’s important to learn from everyone, to be like a sponge— a focused sponge— and you will learn what you need to; learn because you want to. Never compare yourself to anyone but yourself, and know that you will always get better, and as you do, there will always be more to learn.
If you cut a bunch of firewood, haul it up from the beach, stack it outside to dry, take the dried wood inside, and then build a fire realizing you are using up some of that wood, which part of that whole cycle is the enjoyable part? To me the answer should be all of it, not just the fire.
Q) Have you drawn caricatures of your friends and family for them to show off in their homes?
A) There really isn't time. Lots of people in my life have asked for caricatures I have done, and I give them away because they have longer life on a wall; create more enjoyment then on a newspaper page for a day. A very good friend of mine who is a musician has a half-dozen of my caricatures of his favorite guitarists, ones that I have done over the years.
Q) When did you discover your talent for drawing people?
A) It’s funny. I was hanging around the Vancouver Sun but at that time it was just spending time with the cartoonist who I greatly respected. The other major daily needed a drawing for page 1 right away, some breaking story, so they phoned me and I worked all night getting it in, only to have the editor tell me that they had changed the lead and wouldn't need it. I’ll always remember him telling me that he really liked my drawing, but that I had to work on caricature. Maybe all these years have been spent just trying to prove him wrong. There have been times, though when I think maybe he had something, there.
Q) Which celebrities have bought your caricatures?
A) It’s a good list, one from which I take enjoyment. I guess my favorite was Paul Newman, who I believe is known for not giving autographs. He wrote a nice letter which is framed on my brother’s wall. Jackie Kennedy wrote a letter, think she purchased a senator I had drawn.
Michael Eisner, who was, at the time I drew him, the head of Disney, because I grew up drawing Disney characters. Sometimes, it’s especially pleasing— as in the case of Harvey Keitel or Michael Douglas; someone whose body of work I really enjoy. George Lucas, Renny Harlin, Bruce Willis, Michael Crichton, William Hurt, James Caan, Sydney Pollack, Billy Joel, Iggy Pop, Margaret Atwood, Paul Anka, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ovitz… lots of others.
Q) How close are you to drawing the president of every country?
A) Right now, the emphasis for me is to concentrate on the catalogue that is posted online— 330 drawings, making sure that the list is totally current and that as soon as someone leaves office or fades from the news they are replaced by someone more current.
Its more work than it sounds, but by the time of my 30th anniversary, in mid October, it should be complete.
I don't know if I will ever accomplish drawing all the world’s leaders. Think I have drawn about three-quarters of them.
But again, it’s hard to justify drawing the leader of some small country that isn't in the news when there is so much else going on. Every now and then, I sneak one in, but it’s slow going. It’s amazing, really, when you follow politics, how much change there is. But then again, if Hillary is elected, then it will be 24 years of Clintons and Bushes ruling the country so maybe not.
Q) What it is about the ocean that gives you inspiration?
A) First and foremost, the cry of gulls. To this day, I hear each and every note. And in the north, the vastness of the sky. It’s that way on the Canadian prairies or in Wyoming, of course, but on the water, it really stuck with me. There is so much movement in both the ocean and the sky, and so much color and mood change as a result… two separate forces that are one. In places off the west coast of Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), you can run inlet after inlet for several days and never even see another boat. You are on your own, just you and the weather.
Q) And you enjoy ocean fishing. What kinds of fish do you catch?
A) Doing it for as long as I have, I have pretty well-defined preference for the fish I like. Due to over-fishing and environmental destruction, the fishing is now in such steep decline that it’s easier to trade with the native villages for your favorite fish as you are traveling up the coast. Why catch a bunch of fish you don't really want? So we basically trade crab for deer steaks from hunters, then the deer steaks for sockeye or whitefish, our favorites. In some villages, we are even able to trade for smoked salmon. We still fish, though now it’s more catch-and-release, and even that I don't really like doing because you can harm the fish. It’s not like the old days, although we do get the odd blue ling cod.
Editor's Note: Hilary Clinton by Kerry Waghorn. All rights reserved. Copyrighted 2007.