Cartooning and Creativity

Cartoons Exploring the connection between Cartooning and Creativity.

What is a cartoon? In this article I am referring to drawings with or without captions used to illustrate, tell a joke, satirise, caricature, entertain or to tell a story.

Cartooning is a fine example of the use of creative thinking. You can see a different perception of the world through the eyes of the cartoonist.

Cartooning embraces many aspects of creativity, and I encourage you to learn to draw cartoons to enhance your creative skills.

Cartoons encapsulate all aspects of life - from the serious to the humourous, and from the mundane to big things of life.

Cartoons are often drawn with great economy of line. In just a few strokes of the pen, the artist is able to capture the essence of an idea, or in the case of a caricaturist, to observe and exaggerate the key features of the subject. A cartoon presents the cartoonists point of view so you see what the cartoonist would like you to see in a situation. Observe these caricatures by Jean Cocteau of the composers Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky. (Click on the image to see what the composers look like and for more information on their works).

Portrait of Satie Portrait of Stravinsky

Our society tends to associate cartoons with fun, humour, and often childhood, and this association is a positive one. By having fun, you can open up the creative pathways in your brain.

Gary Larson's "The Far Side" desk calendars and books are seen in the workplace of scientists and computer software engineers. The zany humour and transfer of human situations to the animal kingdom creates a humourous situation.

My favourite section of the newspaper (and some magazines) is the political cartoon. Current affairs, politics and life in general are digested by the cartoonist who creates a single panel and caption of great originality, humour and insight. How do cartoonists get their ideas? What techniques do they use? And how do they keep coming up with ideas so regularly?

A brief classification of cartoons

Humourous cartoons (this includes political cartoons) are combinations of drawings and words, or just drawings showing a situation. A great source of creative inspiration is to read books of cartoons. My favourite artists are Michael Leunig (from Melbourne, Australia), and John Callaghan (California, USA). Neither of them are particularly strong artists but their powers of observation and humour are enormous. Humour and cartoons are strongly associated. MAD Magazine was part of my childhood, and I still enjoy reading the occasional issue.

Cartoons used to illustrate books. I am amazed that books on creativity can be published without a single drawing or illustration! Cartoons appeal to the right-side of the brain, and their fun nature opens up our minds making them more receptive.

A recent publishing phenomena is the "XXX for beginners books" published by Icon books. These titles use copious illustrations that are fun, yet meaningful. The books convey enough information to be useful, and the drawings are stimulation. An example is "Joyce for Beginners", being an introduction to the writings of James Joyce.

In Dilip Mukerjea's book "Braindancing" (1998), the author mentions cartooning in a chapter titled "Ideavisuals". Visual intelligence can be boosted through imagery in both generating ideas and enhancing memory. Visual images constantly solicit our attention, and our eyes take in more than all the other senses combined. We see a constant stream of images which are processed by the brain. We recall pictures, images and events because we are able to see them in our mind or in reality. This impacts our memory beneficially, and by extension, generates creativity.

He goes on to say that Cartooning is a fantastic form of creative doodling claiming immense focus and observation powers on our part. The simplest strokes of a pen or pencil can give a lot of meaning. The use of simple imagery instead of words can be very powerful. This can be used for specific periods of dealing with a challenge ans is a technique that can engender tremendous creative output.

Creative Problem Solving with cartoons

  1. Draw your problem as a cartoon.
  2. Write a caption for your cartoon.
  3. Modify the cartoon by introducing another element. Does this move toward you generating a solution?
  4. Alternatively, draw elements of your problem in cartoon form.

Here is a fun example of creativity and cartooning at work. The artist has taken several adjectives ending in "ble" (irresistable, kiss-able, excitable, and huggable) and created a visual pun with ball.

Picture codes (by Dilip Mukerjea) - a fun way to exercise your mental muscle.

Learn cartooning. Books, software, and various web sites.

Information on other web sites:

Return to Creativity index page.

Cartoon at top of page by Dilip Mukerjea and used with permission. Dilip's cartoons can be found in his excellent books.

Please send me your comments on cartooning and creativity. Last updated: 26th February 2000.