• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Versailles artist Ware wanted to draw – even as a kid

Ever since he was a little boy, Chris Ware says he liked to draw. His parents cultivated and encouraged their son’s interest.

“My mom,” Ware says, “let me draw on the refrigerator with Crayons because she could always wipe those off. …Those are my earliest memories about drawing.”

Like so many other aspiring young artists, cartoonist Charles Shultz was influential in Ware’s early artwork. The Louisville native later got to meet the creator of the Peanuts comic strip in San Francisco, and today says he remains in awe of Sergio Aragonés – known for his artwork in Mad magazine – and many others who found a niche to earn a living while doing incredible art.

When someone asks Ware what he does for a living, the Lexington Herald-Leader staff artist tells them, “I work as an artist.” He knows his art is better today than five years ago, but says there’s always room to grow.

“It’s a bonus if people like it,” he says. “I certainly draw with the hope that I’m not offending anybody, and it either educates or entertains.”

Ware started taking studio art classes at the University of Kentucky, but he also knew the likelihood of him being able to earn a living as an artist was slim. That reality compelled him to switch to business classes for a semester before he figured out that wasn’t for him. So he decided to pursue a degree in art education and become a teacher like his dad, who taught high school math.

Ware never got a teaching job. Instead, he continued his education in grad school and then in 1979 started working part-time for the Herald-Leader.

It was a chance to get paid to draw.

Ware was soon working full-time doing a little bit of everything in an art department of four or five. He eventually moved from advertising and promotions to the newsroom in the late-1980s.

“As much as I liked doing art,” Ware says he realized “there’s a thousand artists out there better than I am, there’s 10,000 artists better than I am … but God opened the door for me on this one.”

Ware, 65, smiles when he reflects on his career – an artist with “a modest amount of talent,” who’s been able to provide for his wife of nearly 33 years, Denise, and their seven children. And he never gets tired of what he gets to do for a living, and feels blessed to have been able to earn that living while often being able to do freelance artwork on the dining room table of his family’s Versailles home.

Ware says he never needed “a space of my own” to draw. He always wanted (needed, really) background sound – music or TV these days, but his children’s voices in years gone by.

“When the children were little,” explains Ware, “what a blessing. Why would I shut myself off?” All he needs to create his art are a mug filled with pencils and pens, paper and a brush to neatly remove crumbs left behind by his eraser.

As the Herald-Leader’s staff artist, Ware does maps, charts, graphs, caricatures, cartoons and serious illustrations, including a color pencil sketch of Barack Obama when he was elected as president in November 2008.

His artwork can be seen in McClatchy-owned newspapers across the country, and was also published in newspapers owned by Knight Ridder, the previous owner of the Herald-Leader.

Ware does regular work as a freelance artist for other publications, including Horse Illustrated Magazine, Cobblestone Magazine and National Geographic Kids.

“This is what I love doing,” says Ware pointing to some of his cartoon illustrations spread out on his home’s dining room table during an interview. Sometimes drawing a caricature of a real person can be fun, but most times they are just a lot of work, he adds.

So whenever National Geographic Kids has an assignment for him, Ware responds, “Are you kidding me? …This is the most fun I ever have is getting to work for you guys.”

His “Laugh Out Loud” ideas become funny cartoons for readers of the child-focused monthly magazine. Kids, cats, dogs, fish and other animals are now his favorite subjects.

“I still can’t believe it,” says Ware, “you mean, I get to sit here for a few hours and draw whatever comes into my head and you’ll use it?

Not only will you use it, but you’ll credit me and you’ll pay me to do it?” Being an artist remains as thrilling today as when he was a 4- or 5-year-old boy drawing on his mom’s refrigerator.

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