Limitations are the greatest assets in producing a work of art

In 1976, having recently been introduced to – and quickly enchanted by – his work by way of a cover of TV Guide – seen above – aspiring artist Peter Emslie decided to contact acclaimed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Unaware of Hirschfeld’s address, Peter sent a letter to the offices of TV Guide along with some of his work, in the hope that it would eventually reach him; indeed, it did, and the following charming reply soon appeared. Peter, who has since illustrated approximately 40 books for Disney and now also teaches character design at Sheridan College, continued to correspond with Hirschfeld, and they met some years later.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Peter Emslie.

Image: Peter Emslie


NEW YORK, N. Y. 10028

TEL. LE 4-6172

2116 Saunderson Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Sorry to have kept you waiting for this reply to your recent request but I only received this packet of drawings from TV Guide this very day.

First off let me advise you that I have absolutely no TIPS on what makes a caricature as distinguished from a cartoon, I have no knowledge of any rules, formulas, systems or other calculated answers to, what makes a work of art a work of art? If there were a reasonable answer to this enigma there would not be so much bad drawing being perpetrated today. It seems to me that the personal limitations each individual is endowed with is the only true evaluation one must adjust to. I know this sounds complicated but it is about the only yardstick that makes sense. Limitations, honestly faced, are the greatest assets in producing a work of art. I am always impressed by ones ability to push his limitations to unknown, unexplored, realms rather than settling for the unexplicable endowment of talent. Anyone with their five senses operating normally is talented. The artist, or so it seems to me at any rate, takes his talent for granted and then pushes his limitation beyond the normal accomplishment of a gifted civilian. If all this nonsense comes across as nonsense I must confess it is all that I have learned across a lifetime of trying to unravel the pure magic of a simple line drawn across a blank piece of paper.

Your drawing of Johnny Carson as a feline character has a slight touch of genius…it’s beautifully drawn, expertly conceived and borrowed from the right sources (as all art borrows, changes form and invents from all that was created before our arrival) The body of work shows discipline and an insane drive to push your limitations beyond your obvious endowed talent…all to the good. Trial and error and this incalulable impulse will prevent you from ever retiring..Best of luck for the New Year…



January 12th 1976