The neatest of tweets

John Shakespeare shares his experience with interactive cartooning on social media.

John Shakespeare's preliminary sketches for "The Royal Family"

John Shakespeare’s preliminary sketches for “The Royal Family”

Every week I host a live drawing demonstration on Twitter, where throughout the day I upload progress photos of an illustration from pencil to final art. The general theme is “political animals”; I’ve always enjoyed drawing animals and politicians, so I decided to combine both.

This concept started in late 2013. Twitter had just started allowing embedded images in the feed, so rather than having to click a link to view, it was now possible to view images instantly, which opened up lots of possibilities for visual content.

My wife’s stepdad had just died, and I was asked to do a caricature for the wake. I was halfway through the illustration when I thought it might be a nice thing to post, so I took a close-up photo of my brush applying colour, then uploaded it to Twitter.

Cartoon by John Shakespeare

Cartoon by John Shakespeare

I got an instant reaction from the community – people loved the sentiment of it, but seemed to enjoy the handpainted aspect, too. I continued uploading progress pics throughout the afternoon, until I’d finished.

I got such positive feedback that I decided to draw a political illustration the following week, to test the waters. I decided on Tony Abbott as an ape, and used the same technique, uploading as I went. It was a great success, and I gained 100+ followers in a day, so it seemed like there was interest for this type of medium.

I then started it on a weekly basis, and I found that a lot of people were commenting and suggesting ideas as I went, so I decided to make it more interactive, inviting people to contribute to the drawing process. At the start of the week I’d name a politician to draw, then leave it up to the community to think of an animal to suit. I’d then tally the votes and draw the winner, such as Bill Shorten as a koala.

It then evolved to everyone being involved in the concept – I’d suggest a base idea, and people were welcome to add to it. Then, at the end of the week, I’d do the final drawing, and post a high-res image at the end for all to download.

I’ve found social media has opened a whole new way of working for me. It’s fantastic getting instant feedback and engaging with the readers – you gather a real feel for what the community is thinking, and it’s fun letting everyone be involved in the process.

It’s also a chance for me to give back. I sometimes give mini tutorials sharing drawing techniques, and I recently auctioned a Budget illustration on Twitter, with proceeds going to the Smith Family.

John Shakespeare is a Walkley Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator for The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Media. His work covers a variety of mediums, from cartoons and caricature to 3D computer illustration; johnshakespeare.net

Click here to view more Political Animals on John’s blog; or get involved on Twitter.