Patrick McDonnell Shares His Thoughts for Aspiring Artists | MUTTS

Patrick McDonnell Shares His Thoughts for Aspiring Artists

Books & Art People

Our May Manifesto focus is “to love our fellow humans.” That’s why for this month’s Q&A, I’m chatting with Patrick about topics that might provide help or inspiration for other aspiring artists and creative professionals.

While Patrick’s not the type to position himself as an authority on such things, he does have a decades-long career from which to pull insight — plus, of course, a genuine love for his craft and fellow craftspeople. In the interview below, we chat about art school, his early days of freelancing, and how MUTTS became a syndicated newspaper strip.

At what point did you know you wanted to seriously pursue illustration as a profession?

Illustration was a secondary calling for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist. During college I took some illustration classes, and on a lark I brought my student portfolio to the Village Voice newspaper. To my surprise, they gave me a job. So it was something I fell into and really enjoyed, but before I knew it, ten years had gone by. The time had come to either create a comic strip or give up on that dream. That’s when I started MUTTS.

What were some of the most valuable things (technical or otherwise) that you learned during art school?

My two favorite classes were more about finding your voice than about the craft of drawing. Adrienne Leban’s class was called “Originality” and Jerry Moriarty taught “Drawing from Memory.” Both inspired my work tremendously.

A common piece of advice for creative professionals is to develop your own style. Any advice for others struggling to find theirs?

My advice is to draw, draw, draw. And it’s okay to be influenced by other people; we all are. Internalize it and give it your own spin.

(Before MUTTS), what was the most rewarding thing about being a freelancer? The most difficult?

Freelancing was extremely enjoyable since my work was transactional. After I handed in a job, I was pretty much clearheaded and ready for anything. Usually that meant going to a music store, bookstore, or a museum and enjoying the rest of the day. And I never knew what the next opportunity would be. Being an illustrator gave me a very nice life. Probably the most difficult part was knowing that I really wanted to be a cartoonist.

The job of being a daily cartoonist is much more demanding, but it’s more rewarding, too.

How did MUTTS become a syndicated strip? Did you pitch it, were you approached by an editor, etc.?

For many years, I played with the idea of creating a comic strip for the newspapers. In 1993 after I unexpectedly won multiple illustration awards at the annual National Cartoonist Society Reubens Awards Dinner, I was approached by a few syndicates asking me to submit a comic strip idea. The process is to create six weeks of daily strips and three weeks of Sundays. This gives the syndicates a sense of your characters and to also prove somewhat that you can actually come up with a cohesive idea and follow it through.

It happened that an acquaintance from college, Jay Kennedy, was now the comic strip editor at King Features Syndicate, so that helped too. He took me to lunch and candidly pointed out all the demands of the job. He knew much better than I how hard it is to produce a strip every single day, and potentially for decades. But I was determined, created MUTTS, and Jay ended up accepting the strip and becoming both my boss and an extremely close friend.

What’s something you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out in your career?

Sometimes I wish I actually listened when Jay told me it was a tough job. But truthfully, I’m glad I didn’t.

By MUTTS staff writer Ali Datko

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