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Cartoonist Joe McKeever is big ‘draw’ at The Alabama Baptist booth comment (0)

November 21, 2013

By Martine Bates Sharp

Cartoonist Joe McKeever is big ‘draw’ at The Alabama Baptist booth

With a sheet of paper, markers and a smile, Joe McKeever set up a table at The Alabama Baptist newspaper’s booth during the Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting.

For a day and a half, lines formed at The Alabama Baptist booth as the Christian cartoonist drew sketches of everyone who wanted one — and it seemed everyone wanted one. 

But even with all of the interest, no one had to wait long. Turning out an estimated 30–35 drawings per hour, McKeever was able to keep the line moving and accommodate everyone who dropped by the booth for the line drawings McKeever is famous for. 

Some were repeats — a 9-year-old boy who had had his picture done a year earlier, and a couple who had been drawn separately but now wanted to be drawn together. 

As the artist drew, he cracked jokes and engaged in conversation with his subjects, declaring to one subject, “You’re better looking than that,” and to the next one, “You’re not.” Later, “I did a good job on this one. I may keep it and sell it on eBay.”

McKeever has a system for drawing faces. “If you’re going to be fast, you have to. I always start with the left eye, unless the person is wearing glasses. Then I start with two ovals and look for where the eye is within the oval.” The shape of the face comes only after the features are drawn.

“Bald heads are hard to draw. When a person has hair, you can feather it in. With a bald person, you only have one chance to get it right,” he pointed out.

Drawing a person’s face in about a minute and a half, McKeever says he can’t worry about making mistakes. “You can’t be a perfectionist. You make a mistake — too bad.” He quipped, “My wife is a perfectionist. I say, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. It’s my concession to humanity.”

As a child, McKeever was encouraged by his father, who would sit down in a chair after work and ask the 8-year-old to draw him. “He would fall asleep, then wake up and say, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’”

Now McKeever encourages and inspires others. While McKeever was drawing, Rick Williams, pastor of Eutaw Baptist Church in Bigbee Baptist Association, pulled up a chair in front of the artist and proceeded to draw him on a styrofoam cup. Producing a credible likeness, Williams said McKeever had inspired him to work on his drawing.

The constant drawing takes a toll. McKeever finds himself mentally and physically exhausted at the end of a day of drawing and is only able to keep up the pace because of an exercise routine that he faithfully follows. “I walk every day, holding a water bottle in one hand and flexing the other. Every little while, I switch hands.” 

Seventy-three-year-old McKeever was born in Nauvoo, lived in Birmingham for several years and has been a resident of New Orleans for the past 20-plus years. He served for more than 35 years as pastor of various churches in the Southeast, then spent five years as director of missions in metro New Orleans. 

“Retired” since 2009, he remains busy illustrating books, writing articles for his blog, turning out a cartoon a day for Baptist Press, preaching revivals and holding assemblies in schools — and delighting people by drawing their portraits. 

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