Adrian Teal is a caricaturist, cartoonist, illustrator and author, and has been fully freelance since 1996. He was head of 3D celebrity caricature design on the award-winning ITV show Big Heads, has worked for QI, and has been busy with another top secret TV caricature project. He has produced illustrations and political cartoons for national and international publications such as The Sunday Telegraph, Penthouse, The Scotsman, The Times, The Guardian, Time Out, The Sun, and The Daily Mail. Adrian is currently writing and illustrating a children’s book for Bloomsbury USA with his wife, Lindsey.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
As I get older, I’m amazed less and less often, sadly. But I visited Stockholm recently, and I was pretty blown away by the Rembrandts that they had in their main museum. His handling of light is extraordinary, which shouldn’t have amazed me, really, as he is known as the Master of Light. I’ve seen his work in real life a few times, but I always forget how powerful it is.
What were some of your defining moments as an artist?
I think the first time you see something you’ve done in print is pretty great. It’s validation. And it means a cheque is coming, let’s not forget. The first time I got a political cartoon in a national newspaper was fab, as well. I turned away from newspapers, eventually, as I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I thought I would, but, seeing my drawing of ‘W’ Bush in a quality Sunday was, again, validation.
As a caricature artist do you find it hard to switch off when looking at people’s faces?
Yes. I think after 20+ years of full-time caricaturing, it would be stranger if I could switch off my Caricature-O-Vision. Sometimes my wife and I will be watching a movie, and she’ll ask me what it is about an actor’s face that I would caricature, and I always have an answer ready because I’ve already thought it out. Caricature is not simply about poking fun at its ‘victim’. Caricaturists must love the variety and individuality of human faces. They take portraiture to its logical, or illogical, conclusion, by trying to make someone look more like themselves than they do already. It’s an obsession.
Does your skill of noticing details spill out into other areas of life?
Yes. I was in the bathroom the other day and the light was catching a towel in a certain way that made it look really fluffy and beautiful, and I thought it would be nice to have the time to sketch it before the sunlight moved away. It becomes second nature. I think artists notice things more than most people, and are more observant. That’s why everyone should draw, I feel, regardless of age or ability, or concerns about not being ‘any good’.
What are the key steps from going from commission to final design?
I’m not into the artist temperament thing. I don’t wait for heavenly beams of light to ignite the touch-papers of inspiration in my noggin. Ideas come because I’ve trained my mind to work in a certain way. If I let my brain lean up against a creative problem overnight, it usually delivers a solution in the morning. Not necessarily a good solution, but a starting point or germ of a notion that can be sculpted and improved. Then it’s preliminary drawings for client approval, basically. Then I crack on.
Is there a piece of work that you’re particularly fond of? Maybe because of the recipient’s reaction, the doors it unlocked for you or that exemplifies your work.
I did an 8-foot canvas for an art contest in Michigan a few years back, and it really got me into painting what I call fine-art caricature. Now I paint more and more stuff along those lines (though much smaller), which I sell as originals and limited edition prints. And I undertake commissions. I like the direction my work has taken in recent years.
What are the challenges in turning a sketch into a 3D puppet?
You have to think three-dimensionally on paper when you’re designing a caricature that has to work from every angle in the real world, or at least in front of a camera lens. It’s important to rough out the general shape of the head before you do anything else, and slot the features into position when you’ve got that right. The best caricatures are born of the hard toil of poring over as much visual information as one can get one’s hands on. A caricaturist almost has to think his way into their subjects’ heads, like an actor or an impressionist. He has to decide how he feels about them as people, and see them talking, performing, laughing, or crying in his mind’s eye. And then he has to put all of that down on paper.
Spitting Image is returning to the TV screens. What’s your thoughts on that? Are you involved?
No comment! But I will say that as a kid I had informal tuition at the Spitting Image workshop where the puppets were designed and made. So I know the guys well. As for anything else, watch this space. But, given the charlatans running the planet at the moment, the timing has never been better, wouldn’t you say? Spitting Image made a generation laugh, but it’s also amazing how many people have told me that they learned about British politics through the show.
Do we now live in a culture that’s beyond or incapable of satire?
Good God, no. Satire is more important than ever, and if the deeds of the powerful seem more absurd and ego-driven than ever, then we just have to come up with cleverer ways to burst the tyres on their clown cars. I don’t believe satire changes much in the world, if anything at all, but it is a public safety valve for public opinion. The satirist is like the court jester whose piss-taking keeps the king grounded, or like the minion who was employed to stand behind emperors parading in triumph through ancient Rome, and whisper in their ears, ‘Remember you are a mortal, remember you are a mortal…’
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