State Journal readers are, most likely, familiar with the work of the artist featured in Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Art Committee’s current 1308 Gallery exhibit in UW-Madison’s Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St., through Sept. 22. “Tooned In — The Political Art of Phil Hands” offers viewers a glimpse of Phil Hands’ process in creating political cartoons for the State Journal from beginning to end.
“With this exhibit, not only do I want to share with you some of my artistic missiles aimed at Donald Trump and other politicians, but I also wanted to show you how I draw my cartoons,” Hands said in his artist’s statement.
Alongside digital prints of the cartoons seen in the State Journal and online, Hands is exhibiting original artwork and also, in some cases, rough sketches of the cartoons. Some of the sketches on view have notes from his editor, as well.
The development of a cartoon begins with an event in our current political era that Hands describes as being ripe for satire. With an idea in mind, he creates a rough pencil sketch on paper. After discussing the sketch with his editor and getting it approved, he uses a brush dipped in India ink to create a more refined artwork on paper — the part of the process he especially enjoys. Once dry, the artwork is scanned into his computer where he adds the color.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Hands grew up in the Detroit area. He earned his bachelor of arts degree from Kenyon College in Ohio where he majored in political science and art. Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” and also a Kenyon College alumni, is the reason Hands became a cartoonist. They both studied under the same art professor, Martin Garhart, but in different decades.
Hands later earned a master’s degree in journalism from UW-Madison. As an intern in 2004, Hands began drawing cartoons for the State Journal. However, it wasn’t his first time of having a political cartoon published.
“I drew my first political cartoon for the Grosse Pointe News in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in 1997, when I was 16 years old,” Hands said. “The subject matter was the suggestion of preppy kids wanting to add a special parking lot for Jeep Grand Cherokees, which were popular with the rich kids at the time.”
Hands moved to Madison in 2005 and became a regular freelancer for the State Journal. It wasn’t until 2013 that he joined the staff.
“In the early 1980s, more than 200 editorial cartoonists were working at newspapers across the country,” said Hands in his artist’s statement. “Today, there are likely fewer than 50, and I’m the only cartoonist still working full-time at a daily paper in Wisconsin.
Even though we are fewer in number, we have more fodder for political cartoons than ever before. And that’s not a good thing.”
Hands has won a number of state and national awards for editorial cartooning and was the 2012 recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartooning. His cartoons have appeared in “USA Today,” “Newsweek,” “Time” and “The Washington Post” and are syndicated nationally by Tribune Content Agency.
In his artist’s statement, Hands explains his chosen art form: “Since cavemen scrawled on walls, people have been using drawings to satirize the world around them. Political cartoons compress complex ideas, and point out hypocrisy with humor.”
“After seeing my work (in “Tooned In — The Political Art of Phil Hands”), I’ll hope you see that political cartoons are more than just silly drawings and jokes about the news,” Hands said. “This is art, with a clear message, that undercuts the authority of the powerful. It is a truly American art form, aimed at preserving our democracy and keeping the people, the real leaders of our country, engaged.”
Although he would rather be drawing his cartoon version of a jovial, exceptionally self-confident Scott Walker and Paul Soglin’s “epic ‘stache,” Hands finds himself “on the front lines defending our Constitutional rights from a president who doesn’t care much for the freedom of the press that allows our democracy to thrive.”
However, as Hands states, cartoonists make lousy warriors as they don’t take too much very seriously.
“But,” he said, “we add light and humor to dark times.”