Caricature Watch
Cyber-Caricaturist Zach Trenholm
Cartoons in the News / The People & Characters - Aug 31, 1998

In this month's Caricature Watch, newshound Paul Merklein interviews Zach Trenholm for the Internet Cartoons Forum. Thanks to the magic of hyperlinks, readers can visit examples of Trenholm's work as it appears at various sites on the World Wide Web.

Caricature may be an old and often conventional art form, but Net-savvy cyber-caricaturists are practicing it with style. One of the best is Zach Trenholm, whose cool, minimalist caricatures regularly illustrate Salon, one of the best online magazines. Type Trenholm's name into most search engines and you'll get a hundred or more links to his caricatures.

CARICATURE WATCH: Let's start with the nitty-gritty. Briefly describe how you create one of your caricatures from a rough sketch to the image on a screen. What are the high-tech and low-tech tools you use?

ZACH TRENHOLM: I begin by compiling photo reference of the subject. I usually provide my own and have an extensive clipping file of personalities for this purpose. It still sometimes lacks the requisite celebrity, so I supplement it with TV and of course the Internet, which is an excellent source of material with its thousands of shrine or fan sites.

After studying the photo or video carefully, I let my mind, rather than my eye, take over. With regards to likeness and character, it is far more selective and interpretive -- retaining that which is important and ignoring what is inconsequential.

Once I have a strong impression, it's just a matter of transferring it from my head to paper (with a few minor corrections). If not, (and it happens more than I like!) I sometimes will do upwards of 50 sketches to get a desired likeness.

At this point, depending on the assignment's requirements -- more sketches are done (body, background, etc.), which along with the likeness are then scanned directly into my Mac and converted into templates for tracing into Adobe Illustrator. The program is ideal for the sort of Modérne, streamline caricature I do as it allows me to easily and endlessly manipulate an image. After I have the illustration where I more or less want it, I then email a Photoshop file proof to the client, await their ok or fix, then finish up and send the final illustration back the same way.

   * See Zach's David Bowie. *

CW: Does most of your work exist only digitally? What happens if someone wants an "original"?

ZT: There really isn't one. A "print", be it a simple laser or a quality Iris, just doesn't have the same cachet as an original. In the past, I've done one of the outputs I just mentioned and signed them in pencil, which isn't terribly exciting. But I think this is more of a concern for fine artists, especially with many doing or incorporating digital art into their work now.

   * See Zach's John Updike. *

CW: Your work is featured in Salon, which seems like the ideal publication for a cyber-caricaturist. How did you get the job?

ZT: Salon's original core was and is made up of ex-editors and feature writers from the Examiner, a daily afternoon paper out here in San Francisco. I was a staff illustrator there and I more or less followed them over to the Web, doing the illustrations for the prototype and later the magazine's first issue. Salon now has a staff of over 75 and is one of the most respected, award-winning publications on the Web.

I am a staff contributor at Salon, but the relationship is probably not all that different from the one Al Hirschfeld has with the New York Times. Besides regularly doing art for the magazine, I also do their promotional material as it pertains to caricature and am presently doing 50 (!) contemporary authors of note for a first-time book Salon is having published next year. I also continue to do assignments for various local and national publications.

   * See Zach's Monica Lewinsky. *

CW: You've researched caricature's history and its artists. Who are your heroes or influences?

ZT: Jazz-age caricaturists of the 1920's and 30's. I actually got a chance to mingle with their ghosts earlier this month when I caught the exhibit "Celebrity Caricature in America" at the Smithsonian. Along with the period music and artifacts, viewing the original work of such major mentors of mine as Miguel Covarrubias, Paolo Garretto, Ralph Barton and Al Frueh was an awe-inducing experience. Much of what was on the walls can also be found in the wonderful accompanying book by curator Wendy Wick Reaves.

CW: Whose work do you watch currently?

ZT: Al Hirschfeld of course, David Cowles especially. Also Gary Smith (of the London Sunday Times), Robert Risko, Richard Thompson and Taylor Jones.

   * See Zach's Harvey Keitel. *

CW: You met Andy Warhol and caricatured him in person. Did he live up to his bizarre reputation?

ZT: No -- but he certainly was pale and ethereal! His portrait was the catalyst for my ditching Design markers completely. I had done two; one for him to keep and the other for myself which I had him sign. After a few years it not only bled and turned purple, but faded to boot! I've been using lithographic crayons for quick-sketch caricature ever since.

   * See Zach's Bill Clinton and Ken Starr. *

CW: Your online work is easy to find using a search engine, but why don't you have your own Web site?

ZT: Other than vanity exercises, I'm not really sure they're all that useful. I've heard that the majority of art directors, usually pressed for time, avoid online portfolios due to their slow download time.

Through Salon and other Web-oriented clients of mine, I have over a hundred illustrations floating around out there. Sending out select links to individual examples works as well, if not better. But I imagine I'll be putting up a site eventually!

CW: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for caricaturists?

ZT: Hirschfeld once said he viewed the craft of caricature as "a lemming profession" and as such, one with no future. They must have caught him not only at a cranky moment, but obviously before the advent of the Internet!

   - Paul Merklein

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You can read more about Zach on The NOSE Web site.