Is A.I. Art Killing the Live Cartooning Business?
Keeping ahead of the Generators gobbling up my bread and butter is getting a little bit silly: My year of drawing on on Mugs. Wine Corks. Napkins. Coasters. Your Face. Whatever.
December 20th, 2023
New York, NY
December 4, 2024 will mark 20 years to the day that I did my first live caricaturing gig in Perth, Western Australia. It was awful.
I was dressed in a vest, wearing a berét, and carrying an easel around a long wooden table, drawing guests at a medieval-themed wedding. (Think: Medieval Times meets Outback Steakhouse.)
I wasn’t prepared.
I did a terrible job and I gave the money back to the client out of pure guilt. I shudder every time I think about that wedding.
Months passed, and I kept doing the live gigs and getting ever-so-slightly better at it as I went. I read books on live caricaturing that I ordered from overseas. I started looking up people like, Keelan Parham, Jan Op De Beek, Joe Bluhm, Ed Steckley— anyone who was doing this professionally who could give me a tip or three.
In 2005, Tom Richmond ended up very generously critiquing some samples I sent him. He was harsh but fair. I got much better after that critique. (He started out in 1985 and his book on caricature is now required reading for any artist interested in working in the field.)
After 19 years I can say, with shaky conviction, that I have some experience doing this to make ends meet. I’m now one of the only people left in Manhattan who are available to do live caricatures at corporate and private events. A lot of artists left during the pandemic, leaving a gaping void of talent where my servicable skills filled the gap. Many now come in from out of state to take the gigs when they pop up. A lot of artists also do face painting, temporary tattoo art and other live art to broaden their skillset and book more gigs.
I got to draw somewriters live at a Substack Event in New York earlier this year, along with fellow New Yorker cartoonist which was a lot of fun. Sofia and I often talk about the state of the dramatically evolving industry. She is one of the most innovative and motivated cartoonists in New York. (Go followed her on Substack)
The Digital “Revolution”
Making ends meet got a little trickier when digital art started seeping into the game: I had to buy a portable printer, an iPad/Drawing Tablet, A big TV monitor, and all kinds of cables to keep up with the gimmick of having “digital” art drawn live and in colour at events. I lugged a suitcase around to holiday parties and conferences with all manner of power plugs and cables, trying to keep up with the trends.
Then came A.I.
People were gleefully posting their A.I.-generated selfies as their social media profile pics, posting stunning cartoon art that was whipped up in microseconds, rendering 20 years of skill obsolete within months.
Between November 2022—November 2023 art commissions dried up.
Advertising illustration and concept sketch work vanished. Graphic Design jobs— Ha! Forget it. They’re out the door. Caricature portrait requests: kaput.
I saw a booth set up at a holiday party this year where people could get their photo taken on a phone which then uses DALL-E3 to generate their cartoon portrait (complete with the company’s brand on the bottom left corner) that gets sent to their phone to post on Instagram. It takes around 10 seconds.
While I do love the convenience of an iPad/Wacom/Xenselabs tablet… I can’t ever replicate the joy of using analog tools. I’m starting a new Substack in 2024 called “Process Junkie” to explore all of the joys of the Process of making art. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, you can sign up here.