Stan Toohey has been working with cartoon and illustration throughout his life, painting large murals in Thailand and Zimbabwe, founding ‘Art Cake’ shops in Sydney and working as a Walt Disney TV Animation Studios ‘Inbetweener’, before becoming a live caricature artist. We are privileged to have him join us at the exetreme imagination festival on 25th October where he will transform his subjects into literary characters.
To really capture someone’s character in your drawings, I suppose you need to build some sort of connection with them. How do you do this and would you say it is an important part of your work?
Building a connection with the subject is a bonus rather than a prerequisite. In plain terms, I am booked to draw as many likenesses of guests as possible within my agreed set times. I don’t need to connect with the subject to draw them but ideally, I should be able to put them at ease and make the experience a pleasant one for them. By the way, ‘a set’ can range from two to four solid hours, or an entire day or more with breaks, if I’m drawing on a corporate stand at a trade show. I like people, so having drawn caricatures all over the world has afforded me the opportunity to meet and study a huge cross section of humanity. Before the subject has even sat down, I am scanning their face and making quick decisions about how to approach their portrait. After several decades, it’s become second nature to me.
Do you see your caricature work as a performance or an art discipline?
It’s both. As a live caricature artist, I believe that I have a dual role as entertainer and artist. You can be a great drawer but if you can’t ‘talk the talk’ in tandem with producing your artwork, then you’re in the wrong place. Developing an art discipline started for me when I was still eight years old and attending Saturday morning art classes. This methodical dedication to my art knowledge and experience continued through high school, Art College and university. Nearly 50 years later, I am still refining that discipline and discovering fresh ideas.
What did you learn from your experience as an ‘Inbetweener’ in Walt Disney TV Animation Studios?
I learnt that you must be careful what you wish for. Being accepted into Disney as a trainee Inbetweener was a childhood dream come true. I was one of only 9 applicants out of hundreds to make it though. However, I quickly discovered that the reality of operating in its unrelenting, and surprisingly uncreative environment was unbearable for me. I’m not afraid of hard work but I felt like a battery hen squeezing out eggs until I was empty. One thing I’ve learned is that nothing is a waste of time if you learnt something from the experience and Disney was just that.
How have you adapted your style to make it applicable to the exetreme imagination festival?
Every brief is different; so it’s my job to adapt and exploit what I do, to best fit my clients’ wishes and objectives. In the case of extreme imagination, I was presented with the general idea of incorporating my caricatures with young people and their favourite books. The idea of merging young people and book characters into one subject rapidly evolved into what we have today. The big issue for me was to design the templates so that they exposed as much of the subjects’ facial features as possible whilst still preserving the book character’s persona.
Can you provide me with any anecdotes from drawing your more notable subjects?
Many years ago I was booked to perform at a 15 year old girl’s birthday party in London. It was a huge sit down catered affair with parents invited as well. Early on in the proceedings, I was mobbed by scores of children and their parents wanting their caricature drawn. In fact, it rapidly became a sort of crowd crush, with parents shouting out to their offspring, things like, “Don’t lose your place darling”, “Angel, daddy’s here” and “Sweety, where’s your sister”? However, there was one father who caught my eye. He was well built and wore a dark suit with sunglasses (even though we were inside). He called out in a commanding voice to the girl directly in front of me, “You next princess” to which the girl politely answered, “Yes, please”. I quickly drew her; she had enormous eyes and big smile which I fully exploited in my drawing. I always finish the drawing off by adding the subjects’ name, so I enquired, “What’s your first name”? “Beatrice” she said, “Spelt, BEAT RICE”. “You look familiar” I said, to which everyone laughed. My subject turned out to be Princess Beatrice and her ‘father’ was one of several bodyguards peppered throughout the building (hence referring to her as ‘princess’). Everyone thought that I was joking by not recognising her, so I played along with that line. She did promise to show her grandma the caricature.