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Catherine Schuessler had her sketchpad open and was trying her best to draw a handful of funny cartoon faces.
And just when the seven-year old was about to finish up her sketches, some of the other aspiring cartoonists in the room flipped their pencils over and began erasing some portions of their drawings.
“The first rule of drawing is that there is no erasing. There are no mistakes here, we are just sketching,” said cartoonist Rick Stromoski. “Don’t erase, so you can learn from any mistakes. Also, sometimes you find out you made something really cool.”
Schuessler and around 30 other youngsters were at the Cheshire Public Library on July 20 for a cartooning workshop put on by Stromoski, the creator of a comic strip entitled Soup To Nutz, which runs locally six days a week in The Hartford Courant. The room was packed and Stromoski said it was his “biggest class ever.”
To start, he had the budding animators draw six circles on a piece of paper, then draw the same backwards c-style nose and same beady dot eyes. Then, he asked for different types of mouths, as the audience yelled out “angry,” “happy,” and “sad.” He then did the same exercise, only this time the nose and mouth were the same, and he changed the eyes.
“We can draw just a few lines. You want to keep the cartoons simple,” Stromoski said, as he made one of the drawings look older with a few key additions. “Try drawing it over and over again. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. See how much fun you can have with just a pencil.”
Stromoski then taught the class a quick and easy way to draw hands and fists before moving on to more complex and comical illustrations, like a cat with a mouse in its mouth and characters from his comic strip.
“I think I’m a better drawer now,” said Kelsey Mann, 8, after the workshop. “I draw in my free time, so this was a lot of fun for me.”
After Stromoski finished his instruction, he gave out some of the drawings he did earlier in the evening, pointing out that he always gives illustrations to everyone in the class. In rapid-fire succession, he went around the room asking the students what they wanted him to draw. One young boy asked him to draw a tiger, so he drew a baseball player with a Detroit Tigers hat on. Another youngster asked for a swordfish, so Stromoski drew a fish, holding a rapier, yelling “en garde,” which drew boisterous laughter from the children and their parents. When Stromoski was asked to draw a sea horse, everyone started to laugh when he drew a horse outfitted with flippers and scuba outfit.
“This was so much fun,” explained Patrick Brown, 9. “I learned some neat drawing tricks. This was really cool.”
Nina Montagna, 8, said Stromoski was a “really good teacher” and was excited to try out some of the new tips and techniques he offered in her free time.
Stromoski explained afterwards that he had no formal art education, but rather was always interested in drawing and would doodle throughout the school day. He credits his fourth grade teacher with encouraging his interest in drawing by allowing him to draw for the last 15 minutes of class and illustrate different lessons she was teaching.
“She helped me learn visually,” Stromoski said. “She really encouraged me.”
He said offering these lessons at local libraries or schools is a way to “gauge how I’m doing” with the audience.” His parting advice for anyone who wants to make a career out of illustration is to try and “get over the fear of failure and judgment.”
“I get rejected 90 percent of the time, but that other 10 percent affords me the best living I’ve ever had in my life,” Stromoski said. “Rejection is part of the profession and I always made excuses for myself. I was my biggest hurdle and once I started to put in my best effort, people started noticing me.”
More information on Stromoski can be found on his Web site, www.rickstromoski.com.