How A Caricature Artist Uses His Site for Lead Generation and More

IndieMade: Thank you for agreeing to this interview!  How did you get your start?

Chuck Senties: To answer the first question I would divide it into three phases:

  • Childhood Beginnings. I decided at the age of four that I would become an artist after watching an animation demonstration on TV by Woody Woodpecker's creator, Walter Lantz. I was very mesmerized by the notion of bring drawings to life as well as the very act of watching cartoons being drawn. I drew my first group caricature at age 12 which consisted of my entire sixth grade class. 
  • Art School. Upon graduating from high school I began requesting catalogs and brochures from art schools across the country before deciding on the American Academy of Art in Chicago since I was seeking an institution that emphasized commercial art and illustration. As a teenager, I also took a correspondence cartooning course from Continental Schools of Los Angeles. I took a number of Animation classes at Columbia College in the late 90s.
  • Caricature Artist. After responding to an ad at my school's bulletin board I got my first steady job as a caricature artist at the Six Flags Great America theme park. Although it is more accurate to say that I first took an interest in caricature in high school and from reading Mad Magazine! 

I had some previous experience in the medium with an occasional assignment, however, the theme park gig was my first big break in the field. Since 1985 I have been dedicated to the art of caricature as my main source of income.

IndieMade: What factors made you decide to create a website and your online business?

Chuck Senties:  I had been made aware of the importance to advertise through the Internet since the 90s. I knew that the days of phone calls and mailings wouldn't be part of the future in self-promotion.  After attending an event at the Chicago Cultural Center I took a card from IndieMade and found out about creating my own website. This was so attractive to me because of the ability to make changes and updates at any time without having to rely on the web designer. Not to mention having to proofread all the text each time!

As more people turn to social media, the referrals obtained as a product of my website continue to increase.  Word-of-mouth, repeat business and business card handouts are still a key part of my client base, of course. 

IndieMade: Is this Full Time or Part Time for you? 

Chuck Senties:  I get this question asked all the time. My answer is neither, I am a freelancer. Work flow varies from 14-hour-day marathons and long dry spells in which I'm wondering for a week or more as to when the next job is coming.

IndieMade: What do you like most about your online business?

Chuck Senties:  Aside from the fact that it is a pretty inexpensive way to advertise, even more so with the do-it-yourself method, it allows the public to find you as opposed to you having to find them.  I definitely enjoy the vehicle that a website is for showcasing my work to all.

IndieMade: What advice would you give to someone who has objections or is hesitating about starting their online business?

Chuck Senties:  I would say to that person that there is no better way in this day and age to self-promote one's business. As mentioned earlier, Social Media and the Internet continue to become our main sources for information and resources. It has truly become more a question of "why wouldn't you have an online business"?  If that person has an aversion to technology due to age, generation gap or otherwise, finding a person to help set them up might do the trick.

IndieMade: How has your life changed since you started your business?

Chuck Senties:  I must do a lot more for my business than I am currently doing. I feel like I am coasting somewhat. It is not enough to put a site up and let it do everything for you. I am an unfortunate procrastinator when it comes to keeping my site fresh and updated. Email blasts should be sent on a regular basis as well as special offers and promotions. Even printed postcard mailings and reminders continue to have a place.  Otherwise, I am not complaining too much. People still keep me in mind for work. As a studio freelancer and special event caricaturist I will continue to do what I'm doing as long as I can!

A caricature by Chuck Senties of infamous Chicagoan, Streeter.

IndieMade: What’s new in your business?

Chuck Senties:  I have added a few new clients in the past couple of years for Gift Caricature work as well as new clients seeking live caricatures for their company and private events. The commission I got for the opening of the Tortoise Club restaurant in Chicago's River North area in 2012 was of great exposure for me. The assignment consisted of 10 large caricatures rendered in oil of colorful and infamous Chicagoans from the early 1900s. Former mayor Big Bill Thompson and Cap Streeter were among the subjects.

A Dallas area client has assigned several projects involving caricatures of present and former NFL stars to be signed by the players themselves at various sports conventions.

Cincinnati-based company Parody productions, maker of a line of novelty playing cards named Hero Decks has continued to contract me for work illustrating their 54 image deck of cards with mostly MLB, NFL and college sports teams related cards. The most recent titles have included Purdue University, the Cincinnati Reds and updating the Chicago Bears deck.

A caricature by Chuck Senties of infamous Chicagoan, Dunne.

IndieMade: Do you do any offline promotions such as craft fairs, pop up shops, etc. to tie it all together?

Chuck SentiesI set up a caricature booth at several fairs and festivals throughout the summer season and promote my business by drawing live caricatures, displaying my work to the public and handing out cards. Some of the venues that I have had in the past and ongoing include Navy Pier, the Chicago Auto Show, the State Fair of Texas, Miami's Art Deco Weekend and the Chicago White Sox.  Some of the party gigs come from agencies which also promote me.