GTPulse: Local Teacher Has Been Drawing Caricatures For 20 Years

Getting a caricature done is a fun way to see how an artist perceives you in an exaggerated, cartoon format and when people get them done they typically end up keeping them for a long time. A caricature drawing of me and my brothers from 20 years ago still hangs up in my parents’ house. What is it about caricatures that we love so much? Is it deep rooted narcissism? Probably not. I think that it’s just fun to see ourselves in a silly way that someone else sees. Local artist Jill Justin enjoys drawing caricatures and has been drawing caricatures at Traverse City’s Friday Night Live for 20 years.

Jill works at East Middle School in Traverse City where she teaches social studies, but when she’s not teaching she’s at all the big Traverse City events drawing up caricatures. She has worked Traverse City Film Festival, National Cherry Festival and many more.

Jill grew up in Northeastern Ohio and has been an artist for her entire life. She does watercolor paintings, silhouettes, pottery, charcoal drawings and other types of artistry along with her caricature drawing. She took art classes through high school and when her senior year came around her art teacher urged her to apply to a company that supplied artists to amusement parks. Jill kept insisting to her teacher that she didn’t know how to draw people so she didn’t apply to the company. After enough prodding from her teacher Jill finally applied  and got hired by the company. At the time there was a Sea World in Ohio in addition to Cedar Point and a few other smaller parks. Jill worked at multiple parks and even lived at Cedar Point.

“I was about 20, so it was great. I’m not sure that’s something I would do now. You know when you’re 20 you can do pretty much anything.”

Jill started in caricature art at 16 when she graduated high school. She went to college to study German with a minor in social studies while working, and after college moved down to Florida to do caricatures at Sea World in Orlando. All in all Jill spent about 10 years doing working amusement parks.

She continued her caricature art after her amusement park days and moved to Traverse City in 1999 because she had always wanted to live here. That summer she received a call a asking her to draw for Traverse City’s Friday Night Live. To this day she doesn’t know how anybody in TC found out about her caricature drawing.

“I had probably drawn something here or there or somewhere, but not much yet so I’m not sure how they got my name.”

This Friday will mark Jill’s 20th year doing caricatures at Friday Night Live, and it has been a wonderful experience for both her and her subjects. She sees some of the same people every year.

“There’s just a lot of cool community dynamics that go on with this. There are families that come back and they find me and they tell me that they come to Friday Night Live to get their kids drawn again and they’ve come back for seven, eight, even 10 years. I almost feel like they’re my friends even though I only see them once a year.”

A lot of these families have small galleries of Jill’s caricatures in their homes, and the pictures are markers of life and growth within the family.

“I’ve gone into people’s homes and have seen caricatures that I did eight years ago. You can really capture the dynamics between different family members in a caricature.”

Jill also has students that have been drawn by her in their younger years. Every year at least one of her students will find out that she draws caricatures and will go home to find a caricature she drew of them.

“I drew them back when they were like, five and here they are at age 12 in my classroom. It’s cool.”

Her caricatures draw nostalgia from more than just kids, she has adults who have returned to have her draw them. A couple years ago she was doing caricatures for a large company picnic and had a couple in their late 40s approach her for a drawing.

“They had told me that I had drawn them in 1999 at my first Friday Night Live when they had just gotten engaged. As I was drawing them their three kids came running up and one of them said, ‘mom that looks like the picture you have hanging in your bedroom, except you’re a lot older now,” Jill laughed. “I feel privileged to be a part of that.”

Jill often hears people describe caricaturing as selecting one feature of a person to exaggerate, but that’s not what she does. She considers all aspects of a subject’s face and said that the caricatures are more about proportion than anything else. She is grateful for the opportunity to be able to utilize her passion.

“In high school everyone worried about college and what they would do and what their passions were and I always knew that I loved art.”

Jill will be at the remaining Friday Night Live events in Traverse City drawing caricatures, and she is available for commissioned portraits, or caricature drawing for events as well. Contact her at jillsTCstudio@gmail.com.

Categories: GTPulse