Success in cartooning speaker: Stephen Silver

Stephen Silver is an caricaturist, illustrator, character designer and I dare say and after listening to him, I’d add motivational speaker for those in the arts.


  • Nothing just happens. Effort determines the outcome
  • Find what your passion is, make it your career
  • Stephen grew up in England but family migrated to US
  • Stephen would loiter around the caricature artists working in Las Vegas. Eventually it got him a job there.
  • Didn’t want to go to go to college.
  • Don’t fall back, fall forward. There was nothing to fall back on – I had to go forward
  • Did caricatures at SeaWorld
  • Started drawing caricatures at parties, etc.
  • Met Tom Richmond at Mall of America at the caricature booth. Was hired to do caricatures
  • Stephen earned to save money and put it away for the lean times.
  • He traveled the world for 8 months and got an appreciation of the world. It was humbling.
  • He came back and started setting up doing caricatures at shopping malls. Then started drawing caricatures at a casino.
  • His motto was to go where the wind took him.
  • His parents showed him article on animation so he started trying to get into working with animation studios
  • Sent out portfolios to animation studios. Warner Bros. called back.
  • He had to adapt and draw in other people’s style.
  • In animation, it’s a nomadic life – your show may only run a couple years or becomes cancelled. Your portfolio is everything.
  • He did work for a myriad of shows; Finally became the character designer for Kim Possible
  • Started to self-publish sketch books which were really his portfolio that people were paying him money to have in their hands
  • Finally decided that he didn’t want to do studio work anymore. He wanted to own the intellectual property
  • He also wanted to work from home to be closer to family
  • He partnered up with – an online school art school where students choose their instructors for whatever skill you want to hone.
  • Pitched a show about a boy pirate. Studio wanted a girl. Instead of changing the character’s gender, he took the concept and built an online app. He owns all the intellectual property
  • Created a pose reference app and book
  • Now helping other artists create other apps

How to succeed:

  • Define your dream – list what your dream is and be specific “I want to be a cartoonist” is too broad
  • “Mimicry is the prerequisite to creativity” – it’s vital to learn from others before you find your own voice
  • You don’t know what you can be until you know what you can do
  • Does it feel natural? If it’s not natural, it’s not going to be enjoyable.
  • Are you Walt Disney or a Disney employee? What ever you are, be that person and enjoy it. Don’t try to be the other guy.
  • Self confidence and belief – don’t offer excuses about your work.
  • Self discovery – will make you better at what you do.

Some lessons from his journey

  1. Be prepared – It’s more than having business cards and ready to respond to opportunities
    • Luck is preparation meeting opportunity
  2. Passion – You do it because it’s you. It’s not the money. You’d do it regardless of the money involved.
  3. Skill – build it up by doing it over and over and over. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about practice
  4. Practice – see above
  5. Vision – you need specific image in your mind of what you want. Put the vision out there and things start coming together to make it happen
  6. Persistence – follow up
  7. Patience – don’t be in a rush for things to happen. Things take time. Don’t wait to put stuff until it’s perfect.
  8. Courage – confidence, don’t be shy. What are you afraid of? Respect your talent, your time and efforts
    • Don’t give stuff away for free. Don’t be taken advantage.
  9. Confidence – Look at Susan Boyle’s audition on X-Factor
  10. Concentration – get into what you’re doing. Focus. You can’t say your name and count to 5. You can’t. Do one thing at a time.
  11. Don’t wait to be chosen! – it’s all about promotion and self discovery. Make the opportunities yourself
  12. You only have 29,200 days in an average lives. 10,950 of your days get you to 30 (when most people’s careers take off). 16,425 when you retire. That gives you 12,775 to do your best.
  13. Do not procrastinate. – Target your weekly goals.
  14. Don’t give up
  15. Effort determines your outcome

6 steps for improvement

  1. Portraits – Always carry a sketch book; try different mediums; do lots of thumbnails
  2. Life drawing – it’s an essential skill – lighting, movement, space, proportion. Don’t get caught up with one tool.
    • Go to art store and get excited about using a different medium
    • Finish your drawing. Draw the damn hands and feet.
    • Professionally, you’re not going to be drawing nudes, so take those nudes and put costumes on them – character design
  3. Memory sketch – Only through drawing do you learn how to see
    • Gave example where he and co-workers would go outside for lunch and they’d study a person at the park and then go back to their desks and everyone draw the individual. It was interesting what each remembered about the subject
    • Started to collect his own drawings of people and hair and use them for later as reference
    • Use Youtube or TV on pause for live drawing if no live drawing is available in your area
  4. Sketchbook – “Excellence is never granted to man, but only as the reward of labor”- Sir Joshua Reynolds
    • No one sits upright, people slouch, head’s tilted. Draw people as you are. Incorporate that into your work makes things feel more real
    • Draw whatever you suck at – hands, noses, and work on stuff you struggle with.
    • Created own sketchbook filled with different types of paper, grades, colors so he can experiment with different material
    • You draw in different styles and shapes to find out what resonates and gets you excited
    • In drawing it’s the happy mistakes that can make things come alive or go in a different direction
  5. Designs – Explore
    • Draw lots and lots of versions of the same character
    • Draw your characters in motion – not just standing there
    • Do the research. Don’t assume what a cowboy, crocodile, cheerleaders looks like. Find references
    • A cast of characters should be a variety of sizes, shapes. Much more interesting than if all characters are the same size and shape.
  6. Don’t be competitive, be creative – Wallace Wattles

One thought on “Success in cartooning speaker: Stephen Silver

  1. There is more pure gold in these notes than all the rivers of the world…

    Thanks for sharing, Alan – your website has introduced me to dozens of great webcomics and cartoonists and I am grateful for it…

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