All in a day’s work: Equine cartoonist David Stoten *H&H Plus*

  • David Stoten, H&H’s very own Thelwell, on Lester Piggott’s tiny Spitting Image puppet and the challenges of caricature

    I’m absolutely not horsey, so the hardest part of this job for me is drawing horses. They’re surprisingly hard. Thelwell nailed it, especially the cute ponies, but for Horse & Hound I’m more likely to be drawing a thoroughbred, and I don’t want to offend anyone.

    There’s a truism I have to get across, even more than for humans. You can have more fun with people, whereas I can’t just do a goofy cartoon of a top Olympic horse; I need to be more respectful. Readers will notice inaccuracies.

    I don’t pretend to understand horses; it’s an enormous field. But Thelwell wasn’t horsey either. You just have to have feeling. We go racing a bit at Beverley and I’m always looking at the people. For an outsider, the horse world is full of amazing stereotypes – there’s the rural horsey type, the townie racegoer, there’s so much in there.

    For me it’s a whole new and very visual world with all the different disciplines, the characters, the props, situations and different backcloths.

    Caricature was my first passion. My dad bought me a Mad magazine and I was blown away by how the caricatures looked more like the people than the people themselves. Then I started drawing them of my teachers and schoolfriends, and eventually for Mad magazine itself.

    I later moved to Spitting Image, and then into animation, things like Gnomeo and Juliet, Thomas the Tank Engine and Paddington. I’ve done illustrations for most other magazines and newspapers.

    When I first joined Spitting Image I only drew the caricatures, but learned to sculpt them in my first couple of years. I should probably say that my favourite was Lester Piggott. He was an extra small puppet and spoke with a bunged up nose.

    The first puppet I made that garnered the most publicity was the Queen Mother, so she stands out for me. However, in the upcoming reboot I have done Dominic Cummings, who has a great face but now I’m not sure he’ll be around for the series! The drawbacks of political caricature…

    I seem to live in an alternate universe in terms of how I see faces and I’m often surprised how other people see them differently to me.

    I once did a fun day’s training for the Royal College of Surgeons and it was apparent how cosmetic surgeons and caricaturists share an inherent sense of a perfect face and how each one falls short of ideal proportions. Then, as a caricaturist you have to take into account character and traits, give them props and context.

    For example, for the H&H anniversary cover last summer, we had 21 characters and 12 horses in the context of a garden party. The jokes come from the combination of ideas, the visual gags, such as putting William Fox-Pitt in a sandpit to signify a dressage arena. It was fun getting involved with all the characters.

    The most attractive people are the hardest to draw. Carl Hester was so difficult, which is why we ended up putting a peacock with him as that’s something he’s interested in. Young people and females are also harder. I found Lucinda Green hard, so I watched videos of her to understand her better. It’s always better if you can see them talking.

    My wife grew up riding but I never gravitated towards it. However, my son has special needs and so we started taking him to a local stables, as riding is good for core strength, and he still enjoys going. What’s quite fun is one of my wife’s childhood friends is still actively horsey and she came over with the magazine to show me the H&H cover I did. That was a thrill for me.

    Now when I’m on an H&H job, I find myself using certain terminology like hogged manes, piebald, withers and snaffles, which makes my wife laugh because this is not vocabulary I’ve ever mentioned in our whole marriage. It’s a different language yet now I use these terms in normal conversation.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 July 2020