'Waltzer Boy' - Pete Mckee
'Coolest job in the world'
by Laura Givans
Cartoonist Pete McKee is inspired by his working class roots, doing what he loves, Waltzers and Henderson's Relish. Laura Givans discovered what keeps him going and what inspiration he has for budding cartoonists.
* September 2005 *
Cartoonist Pete McKee is hot property this year - after an exhibition of his Urban Legends paintings at the Forum, a slot on Toby Foster's show and a successful exhibition at the Botanical Gardens' Art In the Park this summer, it seems everyone's looking for a splash of his paint.
I met up with the brown hatted artist (it came all the way from America). He gave me a barrage of the passion and inspiration he's used to get to where he is today, and advice to help out anyone with similar dreams... or even dreams of any sort at all.
So how did you get started?
My dream was to go to art college but I ended up working in a factory. I kept my artistic influences in the band doing logos and stuff but at that time I was in a band and all my focus was on trying to find a record producer.
I started sending drawings to the Fanzine for Sheffield Wednesday and they rang offering me £50 - not much but something! Then I started drawing for the Sheffield Telegraph too and I've been doing that for about eleven years now.
Pete McKee - 'You need the imagination'
It's important not to just aim for the big ones but to keep yourself in print. It's getting that first step on the ladder and having self motivation. I need a stable job too because I've got a family to support, so before I was a postman and now I work at Tesco.
I find it really strange but when people ask what I do if I say I'm a cartoonist they say, 'oh, right', and if I say I work at Tesco's they say 'ooooh what do you do there then?'! To me being a cartoonist is the coolest job in the world!
You just send copies of your cartoons to people then?
I'll send gags and pictures to them and you need to be able to do both - it's almost more important to be able to write gags. You need a good gag because you could be the best cartoonist in the world but people need to understand you.
To be a good cartoonist you need the imagination. You've just got to get going. You can draw for greeting cards - it doesn't matter if you've got any training what they want is whether you're any good or not.
Do they ever ask you to change your designs for them?
Sometimes they say they'll take it if you change a certain aspect. If they offered £5000 for your cartoons if you changed a bit then I wouldn't say no, you know, but maybe it's when you're a bit further up you can say 'no it's my cartoons, take it or leave it'.
How did you get onto painting your cartoons?
When I started painting I was using emulsion on MDF because they're cheap materials, and I started painting my cartoons for fun. I did five or six paintings and had some friends over and they bought them and thought they were great.
So it was a spontaneous decision that's kind of come around as my career - paintings are classed as more serious. People don't take cartoons as seriously as 'real' art. What I'd say to them is Picasso drew cartoons.
Do you have to do a lot of promotion yourself?
So much of my time is taken up with promotions and checking emails etc. I have to do it all, because if I don't do everything then it doesn't happen. I'm not well known enough to have a manager and have someone else dealing with them!
It does eat into time when I could be doing cartoons. But that's what being a freelancer is about and how you choose to spend the hours of your day - you have to be self motivated.
A lot of your work is inspired by Sheffield isn't it?
Sheffield's a city on the up. There's all this underground art and music and it's going places, alongside its industrial past. I'm proud of Sheffield because it's where I grew up, in the North, and I like to relate my work to it.
Yorkshire Mix (c) Pete McKee
So there might be a Henderson's Relish on the table, or the interior of the pub might just look normal to someone else, but it's actually the inside of The Washington Pub. But I don't want to exclude Southerners either; often it's more working class than just Northern.
It's about being inspired by where you come from and if it's good then big it up, if it's bad, then it can still be inspiration because not all inspiration has to be good.
You have a few quotes with some of your cartoons which are quite ironic or sarcastic.
Yeah that's just my sense of humour! Sometimes a quote will inspire the painting, or the other way round. I think stories help people to relate to the painting though and give it an extra meaning.
Do you have a favourite painting?
I can't say I have a favourite painting - there's a famous quote from Picasso that his favourite painting is 'the next one'. You're always thinking about what you're going to be doing next. But I really like 'Morris Man' - there's something about the terraced houses on the street and the whole image.
Do you think your art appeals to young people?
I think it does, yeah. There's one boy of 16 or 17 who emailed me to say he loved my paintings and was saving up to buy one for Christmas. That kind of thing keeps me going, and if it's a price issue we can work it out. I'm also going to be collaborating with some local graffiti artists soon, because we like each other's work
'New Tattoo' - Pete McKee
You've already given a lot of advice and inspiration for young people to get drawing, but do you have any last words?
You've got to believe in yourself, especially in the times when nobody else does. Be your own biggest fan. This doesn't mean bursting into rooms shouting you're the best, but keep it in your head and use it to motivate you to be brave enough to knock on doors and ask people for advice.
Visualise where you want to be in your life, then work out what you need or who to ask to get there. For example, when I wanted to design greeting cards, I went into a card shop, looked at the designs that I liked or were similar to mine, looked at the back of the card for the address, went home and phoned up the company, asked for the name of the person who was in charge of submissions, then duly sent them some photo copies of my work.
Expect to get the knock back quite a bit but this is where being your own best fan comes in handy. Eventually, if you persevere, you will achieve your goals.
last updated: 11/05/2009 at 10:27