Five CREATIVE SECRETS from Famous Cartoonist Steve Barr

Written by on October 27th, 2014 // Filed under Erika Viktor, Uncategorized

51NE1Q7MZ4LRecently I was granted the amazing opportunity to interview Steve Barr, illustrator of 11+ books in the 1-2-3 Draw series, published by Peel Productions. He had some interesting things to say about being creative, pursuing your dreams and where to find the best gems in North Carolina. I thought I would share the creative stuff with you but keep the knowledge of the gems entombed deep within my hoardy heart. Read on for some gems of wisdom, however. The North Carolina gems are mine!


1. Use Rejections as Motivation


Steve Barr was unusual as a kid. By seventh grade one of his cartoons was already featured in a national publication. He was even selling them to other students for lunch money. But perhaps the most amazing fact was that he began networking at a very early age. An age we all secretly believe was made up by Spielberg:

The pre-internet age.

You know about pre-internet. Facebook was just another word that rhymed with smace-rook and a tweet was something we answered when someone asked “Where you going with that fork and plate?”

Steve wanted to know everything he could about the cartooning industry, so he bombarded other cartoonists with letters–Charles Schultz, Mort Walker (of Beetle Baily), Gil Fox (Betty Boop) to name a few–and asked them for advice. While the majority responded kindly with letters, one or two told him they had no interest in helping an up and comer. “It would be like training the competition,” they wrote. Probably snidely.

Which was kind of a jerky thing to say to a kid who wrote a fan letter. Let’s all send hate-vibes their way. Ready? One . . . two . . . hate vibe!

Didn’t that feel good?


When I asked Steve if he felt discouraged by this type of feedback he most emphatically said, “No! I used it as motivation!”

I can’t even quantify the amount of optimism it takes to frame rejection in such a way (unless you make me, in which case I would say 487,321.3 ounces of optimism–a quantity which is illegal in 38 states as well the District of Columbia).

Steve mentioned that “Somewhere at my mom’s house there is a four-drawer filing cabinet filled with rejections.”

That’s right. While you and I were still working on how to destroy (at the atomic level) those last particles of paper from our Ploughshares rejection, Steve’s mom’s filing cabinet was gulping them in like so many free Sunday teriyaki chicken samples at Costco.

Steve credits Gil Fox as giving him the best advice:

“Persist over and over.”

If roadblocks come your way, don’t die before the yellow cone. Hop over the darn thing! Its a challenge!


2. Not Thinking Brings Ideas


In other words: not doing something leads to better doing. I wish this were true in sports. Like skiing for example. I live in Utah. Everyone skis here. I hardly know how to spell the word. Who puts two i’s together anyway? The same weirdos who strap poles to their limbs and vault down doom mountain.

But if not skiing makes me a (still) pretty bad skiier. Will not thiinking make me a better iidea-haver?

According to Steve: yes, yes it will.

“Your brain is like a computer. It can operate without you.”

Steve says sleep is a great way to stop thinking. But he also likes to take long drives across the country. I forgot to ask him if he likes Piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, but he seems the type. Driving helps his brain go on auto-pilot, which cleans out the processor and revamboots the hard drive (I don’t know anything about computers, can you tell?) In other words: you can’t be blocked when you aren’t trying to get past a block.

“I get around my blocks by doing something else. It unlocks the block.”

So go and take up those numb chucks you bought during the early 90’s. Get a palm reading. Get a palm tree. Anything to get your mind off the block so the block can get its behind off you.


3. Being Happy is not the Goal

Being famous is the goal!

Oh it’s not? What about getting likes?

While I can’t tell you the goal (and I forgot to ask Steve what the goal was), he mentioned that happiness doesn’t help you in your creative endeavors. “If you are happy you wont strive to be better.”

Which kind of answers the question about why many brilliant people accidentally look like sad clowns. They are still striving, still trying. While Steve didn’t appear to be advocating depression as an artists imperative (he is one of the jolliest persons I have ever spoken to) he did indicate that you should try not to feel satisfied with where you are or else you will not try to reach for where you could be.

And I swear to God that wasn’t Pepsi ad copy. I wrote it myself. Carry on.



4. Gorge Yourself

When Steve was a younger pup, he was caught drawing on his desk. Instead of sending him to counselors and putting him on medication (such as Colorin™ and Sketchezone™ ) his teacher very wisely handed him a piece of paper and told him that he had talent and should keep practicing–on the paper this time. It is unclear if the teacher then asked her students to recite “Oh Captain, my captain,” while music swelled. I forgot to grab that detail. The point is, Steve had some great teacher support.

To further illustrate that point: when Steve was in seventh grade, another teacher noticed he wasn’t paying much attention to his studies and pulled him aside and said somthing like:

“You want to be a cartoonist. So study math. Study grammar. Study Erika Viktor’s blog. Tell all your friends about it. Link to all her posts. Like everything she does.”

Sorry. That was uncalled for.

She really said something like:

“You want to be a cartoonist. So study math. Study grammar. Everything you learn will be helpful to your cartooning career.”

Steve stands by this advice. Gorge yourself on learning and not necessarily pies unless its the kind that make you learn stuff. I don’t know, like maybe a pie that can recite Plato. But gorge yourself on knowledge and information too. Never stop info-guzzling.


5. Do Nice

Steve has accomplished much in his career, and is giving back. He is now trying to help sick kids and their siblings learn how to draw as a way to promote healing. I will write more about this later as it is a subject very dear to my heart. For now, take a look at TARA LAZAR’S BLOG POST about the subject and check out the link below:

Click on the image to learn more about this great charity!


stevebarrSteve Barr lives in the mountains of North Carolina. He has written and drawn and nationally syndicated comic strip, designed and illustrated boardgames, children’s books, card decks and other educational materials. He’s created character design and key sells for animation projects. His background also includes drawing greeting cards, single panel gag cartoons, newspaper and magazine illustration, advertising art, hidden pictures, maps and just about anything else you can imagine. In his spare time he likes to draw.

Visit Steve’s Website

Free Joke: Steve Barr walks into a bar and the bar pulls out a gun and says: “This joke ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

6 Responses to “Five CREATIVE SECRETS from Famous Cartoonist Steve Barr”

  1. Great interview! Love your cheekiness. Not to be confused with chipmunk cheeks or squirrelliness (is that a word?). Steve’s got some good advice. Or is it really Erika’s advice in sheep’s clothing? Forget I asked that. Carry on.

    Posted by Jilanne HoffmannReply
  2. Thank you! Nope, Steve is a real guy, whereas I am sort of an ethereal-ghost-like creature that only exists in my own mind.

    Posted by erikaviktorReply
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