After a 30-year professional career, Joe McGuire spends his days guiding art classes, substitute teaching and capturing personalities through caricatures.
"Guess like crazy! Guess like there's no tomorrow! Guess like your pants are falling off!" If you grew up in central Illinois in the late 1970s, you might remember this catchphrase from The Captain Jinks Show, a wildly popular children’s show that aired every weekday afternoon on WEEK-TV. The exhortation came courtesy of sketch artist Bosun Joe, a show regular played by Joe McGuire.
"I was on the show for four years… during a time when there were only a few channels on TV," McGuire recalls. "It had a big audience with fan clubs all over, even at colleges. I received lots of mail every week and signed a lot of autographs."
During his twice-weekly appearances—and years before Pictionary came along—audience members would race to guess what Bosun Joe was drawing. Wearing his signature white sailor hat, he taught the "basic shapes" of drawing and even introduced the audience to television’s chroma key technique, also known as the “green screen.”
But the role of Bosun Joe was not McGuire’s first appearance on the nautical-themed show. As a kid, he was a big fan of Captain Jinks and his shipmate, Salty Sam. When he submitted a drawing of their signature ship, the SS Albatross, to the show, it was pinned up on the set for all to see, much to the young artist’s delight.
To this day, The Captain Jinks Show continues to follow McGuire, now known as “Joe the Art Guy.” Decades later, kids still play the Bosun Joe game when he fills in as a substitute teacher, and people still recognize him when he’s out and about. "People stop me in the store and ask if I went to high school with them,” McGuire says. “It takes a little while for them to remember me from the show. But it never goes away."
Roots of an Artist
Just prior to his stint on the SS Albatross, McGuire began a career in ad sales and media for WEEK-TV and later, the Peoria Journal Star. He enjoyed a rewarding career across three decades, but he never forgot his love for creating and sharing art. "I was an art major in college, and my first job was a graphic designer for Brown’s Sporting Goods," he explains. “I always felt a tug back to art, so I started an 'escape plan.’”
McGuire says he and his wife came up with a "starving artist" plan that would allow him to focus on art in his semi-retirement. He hadn't shelved art during his years in media, however. "All during my career, I did some caricature work," he says. "Fifteen years ago, my wife Kathy got me a Bob Ross art class for Father's Day. I took this class and ended up really enjoying it, and after that, I started to do more oil painting." Today, he works four or five events a month, creating portraits and caricatures at birthday parties, weddings and corporate events.
"I think people are nervous about having a caricature done—like they worry that I'm going to pick out the ugliest part of them and emphasize it," he says. "But I like to create more realistic caricatures, which give a peek into a person's personality. I like to find what is special about them."
Pursuing his Passion
There is a moment, McGuire says, when someone looks at their portrait and sees that it has captured some unique part of themselves. That flash of recognition is the reaction he loves most. "I once showed a woman a caricature of herself and her eyes welled up because it reminded her so much of her mom," he recalls. "You really touch people, and that makes you feel like you've really done something."
McGuire can often be seen at local arts fairs and events, including the Pekin Marigold Festival, Peoria Riverfront Market, IGNITE Peoria and the Washington Arts Festival. One family attends the Washington Arts Festival every year so McGuire can draw their children as they grow up and get older.
"Caricature is different than a photograph because it captures the [subject’s] personality," he says. "I feel fortunate to have art to grasp onto. It's almost spiritual for me. It's wonderful to be able to draw a four-year-old and see their eyes light up at the finished product."
That personality goes beyond people, says McGuire, who began applying that philosophy to create scenes as well. When he first started painting, he would capture beautiful landscapes that garnered little public interest. Then he created a painting of Washington Square and made several prints of the image.
"They sold like hotcakes," he says. "I had a woman come up to me and say, 'That square is where my husband proposed to me.' Ever since then… I paint local scenes because people can relate to it. It's something they know." His favorite place to sketch is Grandview Drive, overlooking the beautiful Illinois River Valley.
Anyone can connect to art if it is personal, McGuire says, and caricatures and personal portraits are the epitome of that concept. "Art is for everyone,” he declares. “Everyone can appreciate it on some level, and exact some emotion. They can appreciate it in their own way."
In McGuire's art classes through the Fondulac, Washington and Metamora park districts, students of all ages learn to create their own works of art. "I developed a friendly, encouraging art style for teaching," he says. "I love how one day I will be teaching drawing to kindergartners, and the next day I'm teaching watercolor to senior citizens."
When he's not creating or teaching art, Joe McGuire is a substitute teacher, covering for teachers from kindergarten to high school. "I did it as a challenge for myself," he says. "[It] has given me a huge appreciation for what teachers do.”
During his time in the classroom, McGuire began using whiteboards to create works of art throughout the day. These whiteboard landscapes might begin with a lake, then a bear in a boat per a student's request. Another student may request that he add an owl to the picture… and so on. By the end of the day, the whiteboard is covered in a scene that he started and the students helped embellish.
Some people warned that pursuing his passion would be a nightmare, McGuire says. But he believes it’s worked out for the best—he gets to spend his days doing what he thinks he was born to do. "Retirement can be a scary thing, but it doesn't have to be if you have a plan. Our children are grown, and at 58, I am finding time to do what I want." a&s
To learn more about Joe McGuire’s artwork and classes, visit joetheartguy.com.