Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coronavirus Catch-up Conversation with Caricaturist Mike Jenkins

Rhode by Jenkins
by Mike Rhode

I've talked with Arlington's Mike Jenkins several times here, iirc, and recently we were Zoom judges together for the Robert F. Kennedy cartoon award that will be announced on May 1. I checked in with Mike recently about the state of his business, which is normally dependent on going to places and parties and drawing the happy people there. As I suspected, his company, Capital Artworks, has taken a sharp hit from the pandemic. I commissioned a post-birthday caricature, and I encourage other readers with regular incomes to do the same (not drawings of me though).

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business of drawing caricatures?

Most of the work my coworkers and I do is caricatures for special events like high school graduation, family celebrations and company parties. We have sideline illustration and caricature commission work as well, but that is the bulk of it. The coronavirus hit in March, which is usually the tail end of our slow quarter. A great deal of the work we do is corporate and private events, which usually concentrates around graduation/summer and the holiday seasons. There’s a lull after the holidays, and the business picks up again around April. So when the coronavirus social distancing hit it didn’t affect our regular business cycle, but everything in the pipeline vanished. Even if the restrictions lift sometime before summer, there’s a strong likelihood the economy will have taken such a hit that there will be cutbacks in special events where caricaturists are hired.

But that void is a possible opportunity. There are many families who are upset that their high school graduates are missing out on all the fun and celebration of their kids’ milestone achievement, and want to commemorate it in some way. And other special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and awards are going without the traditional gatherings and celebrations. Drawings were a popular part of those celebrations, and they are affordable and still available. The only work we have coming in right now is commission work of that sort, and we're hoping that will go some way towards refilling the pipeline. Even if the full blown event caricature business never comes back, we have the skills we developed there and commission work could be the next step.
How much of your business has dried up during this epidemic? 

I would say all of the business. Commission illustration and caricature work has been a sideline to the main special event caricature business. Now that’s all we see coming in. We’ll see if that holds.

Can people still get drawings from you? How should people contact you? 

What type of information do you need to do a 'virtual' cartoon (i.e. a real drawing, but not with the sitter in front of you)?

Two or three photos of the person to be drawn are what I usually go by,  including at least one high resolution one if possible, but one decent photo will do. If it’s a color caricature I may need details such as eye and hair color. They often don’t come through in photos quite right. And I ask people to suggest a personalized background detail or two if they want more than a head and shoulder portrait style. If they have a list of details, I ask that they make it in descending order of importance. If I can’t work it all in, I cut from the bottom of the list to make sure the most important suggestions are included in the finished drawing.

As a small business owner, are you applying for some loans from the government?

I was considering taking a loan to upgrade my website before the pandemic hit, then I was glad I hadn’t. I’m uncomfortable taking on debt when there’s no guarantee the work I’ve been doing will come back. If not, I need to rethink my marketing, and at that point may apply for a loan. When I hire other artists it’s on a subcontracting basis, so the paycheck protection aspect of government small business loans doesn’t seem to apply to people like me.

Mike's website for Capital Artworks is if you want to see more of his work. He has a strong following on Facebook for his lunchbag artwork and I'm sure he'd be glad to do some of these on commission too, if you've got someone still leaving the house each day. And you can read Mike's older attempt to creating a comic strip around his life.

The coronavirus is obviously affecting a lot of local artists, stores, and companies. If you'd like to be interviewed here at ComicsDC about your comic art job, drop me a line.

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