The Job and What's Involved

Cartoonists, or humour artists, draw pictures and cartoons to amuse, educate and influence people. They produce work for newspapers, books, magazines, greetings card companies, the internet, films and television shows.

Some cartoonists specialise in drawing or painting cartoon depictions of people, and are known as caricaturists. Most editorial cartoonists comment on society by drawing pictures that are humorous, but often have a serious political underlying message. They regularly depict famous people. Editorial cartoonists write their own punch lines.

Cartoonists also produce comic strips, telling jokes or short stories with a series of pictures. Some work as part of a team where others create the idea or story and write the captions, but most cartoonists are also writers and are known as graphic novelists.

Animators produce a series of images or use 3D models to create cartoon-animated films. For more information, see our job guide - Animator.

Most cartoons start out as an idea on paper, acetate or Bristol board. Cartoonists may use a range of tools, including pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paints, transparent washes and shading sheets. Many professional cartoonists today prefer to use high-level computer drawing tools to develop ideas. A computer is essential in animation or games development.

Clients or editors may give a cartoonist a very precise brief, explaining the type of image they want and preferred backgrounds. They usually expect to have a range of options to choose from and pick the one they like best. Alternatively, the cartoonist may simply be commissioned to consider a subject area and create something original.

As most cartoonists are self-employed, they are largely free to set their own working hours. They may have to work long hours in order to meet deadlines and clients may request cartoons at short notice.

Some cartoonists work in a well-lit open plan office or studio, but most work from home. Some traveling to meet clients may be required.

New cartoonists with regular work may earn up to about £15,000 a year. Established cartoonists may earn between £24,000 and £50,000 a year.

Most cartoonists are self-employed and very few have regular work or long-term contracts. Consequently, salaries can vary widely. Rates charged usually depend on experience. A highly skilled colour cartoonist may charge £300 per picture.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

A career as a cartoonist can be challenging, with limited opportunities for salaried employment. There are only an estimated 250 cartoonists working regularly in the UK. Consequently, it is a highly competitive area of work and it can take a long time to become established.

Only a few cartoonists manage to support themselves entirely from commissioned projects, and it is quite common for a cartoonist to supplement their income by working as an illustrator or graphic designer. However, the internet has generated new opportunities for cartoonists.

Publishers, magazines, newspapers, television studios and advertising agencies may employ cartoonists. However, most are self-employed. Some caricaturists work at theme parks or holiday resorts.

Some cartoonists will create their own channels on social media platforms to showcase their creative process and inspiration as well as the results of their work, which will attract a large number of fans. And they can turn their creations into products for sale, such as custom keychains, custom enamel pins, custom stickers and others. Using the manga characters they designed as customized templates, they can do retail or give them to their partners and fans.

Most cartoonists win new work through recommendations and word of mouth. Many start by sending their ideas to editors, in the hope they will get noticed. Attending cartoon conventions, such as the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival organised by Federation of Cartoonists Organisations (FECO) members, with a portfolio of work can be a good networking opportunity for new and established cartoonists.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become a cartoonist. With talent, commitment and experience it is possible to develop a career without formal qualifications.

However, most professional cartoonists have a degree in illustration, fine art or graphic design, or another art-related subject. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work. Cartoonists are usually selected by employers based upon their skills and ability to convey messages visually and with humour. Computer skills can be an advantage. It is increasingly important for cartoonists to have their own website's, showing examples of their work.

Most cartoonists develop their skills and portfolio through a Higher National Certificate or Diploma (HNC/HND), foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject, such as illustration, graphic design or fine art. Courses may include elements of cartoon work, and are offered by universities and art colleges across the UK. A good portfolio of artwork is usually expected. Some colleges offer courses in portfolio preparation.

Applicants to foundation degrees and HND's usually need a minimum of one A level, including an art and design subject, a relevant BTEC national award or BTEC Diploma in foundation studies (art and design). Courses usually last two years full time.

Applicants to degree courses usually need at least two A levels including an art and design subject, plus five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent. Many colleges and universities also require the BTEC Diploma in foundation studies (art and design) or an equivalent art foundation course. Most full-time courses last three years.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Applicants should check entry requirements with individual colleges and universities. Occasionally, applicants with an outstanding portfolio may be accepted without the usual minimum entry qualifications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Established and well-regarded cartoonists frequently run short workshops for adults and young people, either at conventions, privately, or at the Cartoon Museum in London. Training events, workshops and seminars are also run by the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain and the Professional Cartoonists' Organisation (PCO). These events are useful to keep up to date with trends and share ideas. The Cartoon Museum, with the British Cartoonists' Association, runs the annual Young Cartoonist of the Year competition, usually around September/October.

Cartoonists wishing to broaden their skills, and possibly work in graphic design and illustration as well as cartooning, can take postgraduate degrees and diploma courses in fine art and illustration. Entry to these courses is usually with a first degree in an appropriate subject and a comprehensive portfolio.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A cartoonist needs:

  • Artistic talent and excellent drawing skills.
  • Creativity, originality and imagination.
  • Wit and a good sense of humour.
  • Their own style, as well as an understanding of the latest trends.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • Good communication and negotiation skills.
  • Self-motivation to cope with working in isolation.
  • To be able to take direction from senior art editors and clients.
  • Flexibility and good organisational skills.
  • Persistence and self belief.
  • Computer drawing skills, if this is his or her preferred way of working.
  • Entrepreneurial and business skills for finding clients and selling work.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most freelance cartoonists remain self-employed. Success depends upon building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work. A successful project can lead to further jobs and assignments. They may specialise in a particular area of work, such as political cartoons or comic work.

Some cartoonists broaden their business, developing skills in related areas, such as graphic design, illustration and animation.

There may be opportunities for established cartoonists to run workshops in schools, libraries or museums.

Get Further Information

The British Cartoon Archive, Templeman Library,
University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NU
Tel: 01227 823127

British Cartoonists' Association,
3 Clapham Park Terrace, Lyham Road, London SW2 5EA.

The Cartoon Art Trust, The Cartoon Museum,
35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH
Tel: 020 7580 8155

Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain

Federation of Cartoonists Organisations (FECO)

The Political Cartoon Society, 32 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS
Tel: 020 7580 1114

Professional Cartoonists' Organisation (PCO)

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