All photos by Chantelle D’mello
When most people look at a face, they see the sum of its parts. But for Australian expat Joanne Brooker, a bold brow, a plump lip, a birthmark or a signature smile form the basis of her art.
Brooker, who has lived in Qatar for three years, is slowly making a name for herself as the “go-to” caricaturist in Doha.
She studied art in university and honed her craft in China, saying painting and drawing are great avenues for self-reflection.
Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“Caricatures (are) how our brains actually ‘see’ faces! When we describe a person, we say he has large eyes, a long face, small ears, a broken nose, or curly hair.
We look for features that set that person apart from others. In caricature, the artist takes his mental ability and adds an artistic (flair). This is why we laugh when we see a caricature – because your brain actually recognizes the person better than in real life or in a photograph. It’s the surprise that makes us laugh,” she said.
Brooker’s drawings – which are done in color or in black and white – and her quick turnaround have made her a regular fixture at corporate events and parties here, where she is often surrounded by a crowd of adults and children eager to be captured on paper.
Part of the charm, she said, is in trying to bring out the best – not the worst – in her clients. She explained:
“Many people think that caricature means drawing people ugly or exaggerating features in a negative way. I never do that! I really don’t see bad features in people, just the features that make them recognizable.”
Brooker’s journey into caricature followed the course of her lifetime. An avid art student in her youth, Brooker went on to study commercial and graphic art in university. Following that, she worked as an artist at an advertising and screen printing firm.
But it was a 10-year-long stint as an editorial artist at a newspaper in Australia where she found her “perfect niche.”
“(I created) artwork for every section of the newspaper. I drew every style to size, brief and deadline. I love(d) the artistic challenge,” she said.
Late, she was offered a job as a live caricaturist for a Shanghai Promotions Company, where she traveled to some 14 cities all over China.
Though strenuous – Brooker was required to draw a caricature on the spot for over six hours a day – the experienced helped hone her skills, she said.
“Since then, I have used this skill to take me all over the world. Drawing caricatures is a wonderful way to share a happy moment without the barrier of language,” she added.
Setting up shop
Three years ago, Brooker accompanied her husband Kris to Qatar, following similar postings in Dubai and Kuwait, and has slowly made a name for herself as one of Doha’s most prolific caricaturists.
At events, she brings along large A3 folders of her works. Subjects thumb through her many past works, choosing to be depicted as rock stars, astronauts, artists, or any number of different likenesses.
Once notified of her subject’s request, Brooker begins to draw. An initial pencil sketch precedes a marker overlay, with eyes, mouths, noses and faces coming together in rapid succession. Within minutes, the work is done, signed and rolled up for the client’s use.
“As a caricaturist, I am spoilt for faces here in Doha. There are so many wonderful varied people all happily living together in this growing vibrant city,” she said.
Since moving here, Brooker has also exhibited her more traditional works – a series of oil paintings based on the legend of the mermaid in Gulf history – at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Center.
In her spare time, she illustrates simple picture books. Her most recent work is on a character called “Qit the Sand Cat,” an adventurous cat who resides in Doha.
In the future, Brooker said she hopes to hold workshops on illustration, cartooning, portraiture and oil painting.
“I have taught my workshops for many years all over Australia, Dubai, Bolivia, Barcelona and China, and (I would love to have them) here in Doha. I am asked all the time about (then) and (hope) to find a venue to run them at. Believe me, cartooning is not just for kids!”