15 ways you should be using humour in your illustrations

Leading illustrators reveal how to make your artworks induce ROFLs not just LOLs.

Humour is simple

99 Problems is about mundane day-to-day strifes endured by a world famous rapper. I find it much better to be drawing from life experiences – a problem for you could be a problem for anyone else in the world - Jay Z included.

Focus on the funny

Humour has to be at the centre of everything within an image – the less distractions the better. It can be drawn from references or established preconceptions.  If you’re familiar with the subject matter it makes it far easier to play and have fun with.

Ali Graham (UK)

Keep it honest 

If it makes you laugh, you are on to something. Once I've got something I think might be funny, I'll often exaggerate it. That's my setup. The punchline then needs to take the expectation from the setup and do something unexpected with it. That's the difficult bit because it changes each time you do it. 

React to your own reactions

Observation is a key skill that isn't only about noticing what is going on around you but also observing how you react to what you see. I keep notes in sketchbooks and on my phone of these things. If you don't capture them immediately, they escape and never return. 

Dan Berry (UK)

Real is funny 

My illustrations are always based on a character, and the humor comes from it: as closer the character for the reality as funny it is. I am trying to illustrate from a reference, real people reference. 

And most of the time if I stay loyal to the real thing, in term of what they wear, facial look, how they walk: the funnier they are in the illustration. Of course, the illustration is going through my filters and I am stylizing everything, but trying to stay close to the real objects as they where in my reference. 

Gal Shkedi (Israel)

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A good rhyme is a sign 

I've always enjoyed how words & pictures can sit together to make something funny.  For a while now I've been making up daft rhymes about famous people. Most of my rhyme ideas are spectacularly unfunny but the ones that most amuse me, I draw.  And for me, that's key.  

To convey humour in an illustration, I need to first find the initial idea really funny.  Be it a rhyme about Louis Walsh or a drawing of a dog at the cinema; if an idea has humoured me, I'm confident that this will translate through to the illustration.

Boy Fitz Hammond (UK)

Supporting stories 

Bring small secondary stories into the image – so you have the main story, but more fun thing to enjoy in the second view of the illustration. In those places you can bring funny stuff to help and support the main idea of the illustration.

Gal Shkedi (Israel)

Make lists and doodles

I get the majority of my ideas from observing the world and the people (and animals) around me. I carry a sketchbook wherever I go (which is mostly just my studio...) and immediately write down or draw anything and everything that I see, or that comes into my head- whether it's a fully formed cartoon idea or, more commonly, just a random list of words.

I refer back to these lists and doodles often, as a starting point for new ideas.  I like to take common, everyday things and look at them from a different angle.  I never set out to make my work ‘funny’. I've always just drawn the world as I see it, through my own squinty, bespectacled eyes. 

Gemma Correll (UK)

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Start with what you know

Not all of us are clowns or comedians, but we all can appreciate what a good joke is. The key is not to try to be funny, but to find a way to relate and connect with your audience. Start with the inside jokes, make fun of yourself or make fun of your work. 

Look beyond comics

When it comes to illustration, the common connotation of illustrative humour tends to be expected as cartoons or caricatures, but it doesn't have to be that way. To me is all about storytelling and I don't only mean it as narrative form but also as pictorial representation. 

Juan Leguizamon (USA)

Boredom breeds humour

You can't force inspiration. I usually get more inspired when I get really bored. For example, some of the best drawings I'm proud of were these doodles I did during math class in high school. Yes I did get bad grades but the doodles were priceless. 

Even today I still doodle at work when I'm in a boring meeting.  You can draw your boss or your worst client and share it with the people that you know that will react to it. 

Juan Leguizamon (USA)

Don’t just riff, say something 

Referencing pop culture definitely catches people’s attention because it is something that everyone can relate to, but I prefer it when there is a motive or some kind of point to be made.

I find an illustration genuinely amusing when it has a combination of three things: a humorous visual style, a well-considered composition and a great idea behind it.

Kyle Platts (UK)

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Funny faces

The majority of my content comes from observation. Sometimes the outcome is an abstract mutation of that observation, but everything comes from notes and rough sketches. I like characters faces to be malleable and very animated; I think this can bring an image to life and accentuate the humour.

Kyle Platts (UK) 

Rubbery anatomy 

When making humorous or funny illustrations, I’ll start by designing the characters. My characters’ anatomy tends to be quite rubbery, with long limbs without joints going on every direction. I exaggerate their proportions and expressions, usually making them almost too happy, like they have compelled grin on their faces. Sometimes I add inside jokes or references to pop culture. 

Bring everything to life 

I like the idea that there are many levels of humour in my illustration, and not everyone gets all of the jokes. Part of the humorous and funny tones in my illustrations comes from their anthropomorphic nature. Usually there are lots of animals in side roles in my works, and inanimate objects have faces or some kind of personality. That’s how I’ve always seen the world since I was a child, and it still reflects to my work.

Tuomas Ikonen (FI)