Chris Barr combines a good sense of humour with his graphic arts skill to create amusing and memorable gifts and promotional pieces in the form of caricatures. Focus swung by his home studio in Bellingen, where he told us about drawing live at festivals in the USA, being up against one of his cartooning heroes at the Rotary Cartoon Awards, who inspires him today … and much more.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I arrived in Coffs Harbour in 1991, after migrating from the USA. I have progressed my freelance caricature business, along with periods of full-time work as a graphic designer. I now live in beautiful Bellingen.
What is a caricature, and how does it fit into the world of art?
Putting it simply, a caricature is an exaggerated cartoon portrait of a person. It is one of the oldest art forms, along with cartooning. It began mainly as a tool for political satire in early newspapers, for which it is still used today. My main focus though, is the novelty side of the art form and creating gifts for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, farewells, retirements, to name a few.
How did you get started in cartooning?
Ooooh, many moons ago! I have been cartooning ever since I could pick up a crayon. My late father, in fact, used to take credit (and probably still does) for my talent after he introduced me to paper after drawing on the bedroom walls.
I started out copying my favourite cartoons like Peanuts and Garfield from the Sunday paper. I later developed a love of caricatures after becoming an avid MAD magazine reader. My early influences were the legendary Mort Drucker and Jim Davis, both MAD artists.
My early professional gigs were drawing live caricatures at local festivals and markets around Iowa. Today I work exclusively out of my home studio from photographs. It’s a much more peaceful and enjoyable process.
What have been some of the highlights of your cartooning career?
It would have to be my two Rotary Cartoon Awards. The first year I won I was up against one of my favourite cartoonists, David Rowe from the Financial Review. It was a huge shock, but one I will always treasure.
Another was becoming manager of the Bunker Cartoon Gallery from 2014 – 2015. It was a huge learning experience, as I threw myself into a position that was as much new to me as it was exciting. I wore many hats – manager, exhibition curator, marketing co-ordinator, events manager, graphic designer, web designer and social media officer.
Although I was only there a year, I believe there were great advancements made in promoting the Bunker to not only a wider audience, but reaffirming the presence of the Bunker Gallery to locals and tourists. Of course to make this happen, I had a lot of support from the volunteers and the Board. It is now in the great hands of Margaret Cameron, who has taken it to the next level.
Who currently commissions your caricatures and for what occasions?
Virtually all my commissions are from private individuals, and a vast majority of those are gifts for special occasions. I do occasionally get commissions from businesses that desire a caricature for promotional purposes.
Over 80% of my caricature subjects are male. I would like to see more gender equality in this area.
How important is a good sense of humour when doing this work?
Paramount! You need a sense humour and the skill in order to exaggerate a person’s features, still make them recognisable and place them in humorous situations. As far as caricaturists go, I’m probably one of the kinder ones in relation to exaggerating features on a grand scale. Let’s not forget that the person receiving the caricature has to have a sense of humour also.
Who inspires you at the moment?
There are several excellent Australian cartoonists and people who inspire me – David Rowe (Financial Review), Anton Emdin (The Spectator, Penthouse), Judy Nadin (Winner of several Bald Archie awards and 2017 Rotaries Cartoonist of the Year), Dee Texidor (illustrator, designer and my soul mate) and my kids – Mitchell, Celine, Connor and Bella. I’m also a huge fan of Jason Seiler from Chicago. He’s a very talented digital caricaturist and has been featured on the cover of Time magazine. Everyone should Google his Trump illustrations for a good laugh.
What do you look for in a good caricature subject?
The more character in the face the better. I don’t necessarily mean wrinkles and such, but personality. If someone likes to pull faces, I will always encourage those types of photographs to be supplied. That way I can capture a person’s true personality, along with their main interests.
Can you describe your creative process?
I still work the “old fashioned” way to begin with. I start with a pencil sketch and then move on to a more refined inking of the caricature. From here I go digital and scan the inking and “paint” the image in Photoshop.
I supply all my caricatures as a high-resolution digital image. I do this because there are so many options available nowadays where the caricature can be printed on to various media like paper, card, canvas, T-shirts, mugs, etc. I can easily advise each customer of how to go about this if required.
You are also a graphic designer. How does this work influence your caricatures and vice versa?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I think processing good typography skills and having an eye for balance of space is vital for both. Having the knowledge to use a caricature effectively in promotional material is also a good skill to have. Having a good sense of humour also helps in my design work. Us graphic designers can sometimes take things way too seriously.
Where can people see more of your work and get in touch with you?