John Junson, cartoonist par excellence, is my virtual cartoon partner. The interesting part? We’ve never met in person—not even on Skype video.
The fact that he was born and lived in a city that was 150 miles north of where I grew up in North Dakota created an instant kinship. Our ability to partner through cyberspace with more camaraderie and understanding than many face-to-face relationships has been a gift and joy.
I Can’t Draw
For years, I struggled when creating presentations about leadership to find the right picture or graphic to express certain thoughts. I sought a way to communicate in a simple form; one the audience remembered after the training is over. Some photos worked. Sometimes a drawing was better. Other times I needed an infographic.
However, I always had ideas in my head I couldn’t convey no matter how hard I tried. Eventually, these started to emerge as cartoon ideas but the harder I tried to draw my ideas, the less understandable the image became.
You see, “ I can’t even draw stick people” as the common expression goes. I don’t have natural artistic talent, but I am creative and a prolific generator of ideas. I tried drawing, painting, collage, and any other art lessons I could find.
My first drawing class was a total shock. Assembled in an art studio, fifteen of us were each behind an easel. A woman appeared from the shadows, draped in a sheet. She walked to a small raised platform in front of our class and dropped the sheet.
“Now,” said the instructor, “draw the spaces around the model.”
“The what?” we all asked in unison.
“The spaces. Draw the empty space around the model.”
My mind went blank. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. This class was my first drawing class since third grade. I expected her to start by saying, “ This is a pencil. Hold it between forefinger and thumb, raise it to the paper and….” But this…not quite.
She walked by the empty paper on my easel and raised her eyebrows. “You aren’t drawing,” she said.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“Look at the outline of the model. Imagine there is a world around her. Draw that.”
“All I see is room.”
“Don’t you see shapes and lines and shadows?”
Total blank persisted. “No,” I said. I left the class early and never returned. There were many other classes with not much better outcomes.
Some people will insist that we all have natural talent, that it’s just been squashed, repressed or bashed out of us. While I acknowledge those sentiments, I can tell you for certain that some of us do NOT have natural talent. However, I still have the ideas. I tried and tried to create cartoons and could only conceive of images that were barely recognizable as stick people.
How We “Met”
One day I was looking at an excellent website related to human resources and employee relations called “Employee Engagement.” I saw a funny cartoon related to management. I sent an email to the site’s founder, asking about the cartoonist. The next day I received an email from John, the cartoonist himself.
“I understand that you are interested in my work,” John wrote. “Tell me how I can help.”
“I’m not sure,” I wrote back. “I just know that I have ideas for cartoons in my head, but all I can do is create stick people examples, and those really won’t work for my purpose.”
“Why don’t you send me a sample of your stick people and let me take a look?” he suggested.
This is what I sent:
A few days later an email arrived with a cartoon image. “Is this close to what you had in mind?”
Well, no, it wasn’t. Some of the features felt right, but the characters seemed harsh and too bold.
It was, however, a start. We went back and forth for several days.
One day I opened my email to find an image that not only worked, but also resonated with exactly what I was trying to express.
“Fantastic,” I wrote back. “So, now what? What do I owe you?”
“You don’t owe me anything until we get this right. What would you change?”
I told him and the next day, a new image. Three days later, Bingo! When I emailed him about how pleased I was, he said, “Oh, I forgot to include your copyright.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “MY copyright? This cartoon is your work.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “It’s your idea. The copyright belongs to you.”
Out of that emerged the “Coach Judy” cartoon avatar I’ve used ever since–especially when I’m in a playful mood, i.e., most of the time!