Cartoonist John Kennedy had artistic ambitions ever since he was “knee-high.”
He first indulged these aspirations by copying his childhood comic books, later entering every art contest he could find. He also sent his work to local media outlets with the hope that it might be published. His persistence finally paid off when he received a Blue Peter badge – an award courtesy of the BBC children’s show Blue Peter. Later, Strabane Lifford Notes published his first cartoon strip. And that was only the beginning.
After graduating from art school at the University of Ulster in 1990, Kennedy launched his career as a freelance cartoonist.
“I spent a lot of time knocking on doors and advertising my existence in local newspapers and magazines. Thanks to the internet, I can now reach a worldwide audience.”
The Irish Herald, The Daily Mirror, The Sunday Journal, Channel 4 Magazine, and The Independent, are only a sampling of some of the outlets that publish his work. In addition, he has held 22 art exhibitions across Ireland, the United States, and Canada. His recent art exhibition, Fame in a Frame, showcased his drawings of famous musicians. A lifelong music fan, bands and singers feature prominently in much of his current work.
“This is my dream job. Every time I sit at my desk, I am consumed by the creative energy that surrounds me. I have no idea where it comes from but hey, let the magic continue.”
Kennedy currently resides in Canada, but he was born in the town of Omagh, Northern Ireland. He spent his youth in Strabane and much of his adulthood in Belfast. Having lived most of his life in Northern Ireland, he is familiar with “The Troubles” that impacted the region for over three decades. “Thankfully, we survived with only mental scars. My art is now my greatest therapy.”
Kennedy sells his original art prints online. Additionally, he receives commissions from clients via his website and social media.
“Being commissioned is the biggest compliment,” he explains. “I never get tired of seeing my work published or hanging on someone’s wall. Not only does it help bolster my portfolio, but it is gratifying to think that my hard work is appreciated.”
Having developed and refined his artistic style over the last 30 years, he prides himself on applying a unique approach to his work. “I have never missed a deadline,” he adds. And while, like most of his trade, Kennedy has his telltale style, he creates art to meet the needs of each specific client.
In the last year, he has expanded his online store inventory to include t-shirts, hoodies, and mugs. While sales were initially slow, they have since picked up with the introduction of his line “Irish Stuff” – which has steadily gained popularity.
“Cartooning will always be my focus, but I also like the idea of developing and expanding my Irish Stuff clothing label. You never know; maybe a marketing company will help me take Irish Stuff to the next level.”
In the meantime, he is happy to keep drawing.
“There is a lot of competition in my field, so the key is to stay relevant. Also, when the workload is down, I simply continue developing new ideas. One must continuously promote oneself to keep the work fresh in the minds of current and potential clients.”
Although much of his networking happens online, Kennedy remains passionate about exhibiting his work. “It is the perfect opportunity to have that personal connection with current clients and introduce myself to new ones,” he says.
His next show, A Full Irish, is scheduled for New York next year.