Caricature Art: Your Complete Guide

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You may have seen caricatures of famous people in newspapers, magazines, or online. The caricature is an art with a rich history that you can learn about on this site. A caricature artist takes the features of the face and exaggerates characteristics for humorous effect.

What caricature art is

Cartoons are about capturing the essence of something. Go beyond caricature, and you’ll find cartoons. Cartooning is drawing funny pictures.

Caricature art is about capturing the essence of something. Go beyond caricature, and you’ll find cartoons. Caricature art has to look like the real thing.

Caricature artists often specialize in one type of subject matter. A serious political cartoonist might specialize in commenting on a particular politician’s policy proposals. A comic strip artist might specialize in drawing newspaper strips about a certain cartoon character or fairy tale.

Caricature artists also specialize in drawing people. They spend years doing anatomy and perspective, learning what makes people look the way they do, and drawing thousands of faces.

Caricature artists draw cartoons and comic strips, not portraits. Their subjects are usually imaginary or invented.

Caricature artists don’t work from photographs. Instead, they draw directly. They rely on their imagination and on memory.

Most caricatures are not political. Political cartoons are drawings that comment on current events. A comic strip is a daily or weekly cartoon. Caricatures, on the other hand, are drawings that are done from life.

Caricatures are a form of entertainment. In some countries, they are legal. 

In the United States, political cartoonists have become celebrities. Political cartoonists, such as Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury, are regularly reprinted in newspapers and magazines. 

The basics of caricature art

Cartoonists are as good at drawing caricatures as they are at drawing anything else. But caricature is like a shortcut. Instead of drawing in detail, you concentrate on a few general shapes, and by exaggerating them, you create a caricature of your subject. Caricatures exaggerate features, or emphasize certain physical traits, or highlight physical features that people find unflattering.

Caricatures often make fun of people, but you don’t have to be a comedian to be a caricature artist. We do sometimes have caricature art that does not make fun of people, but that’s rather rare. It’s probably easier to draw caricatures of other people than of yourself.

Caricatures are a form of exaggeration. In fact, the only kind of exaggeration used is an exaggeration. If you try to draw someone exactly as you see them, you get a dull photograph. If you try to draw someone by exaggerating their flaws, you get caricatures.

Caricatures are, in effect, psychological. Caricatures do not try to capture the subject’s features or details. Caricatures exaggerate the things that people find important. So if you want to make fun of someone, caricature their flaws. If you want to be flattering, caricature their virtues.

Caricatures are especially popular in cartoons. Caricatures are jokes, and cartoons are jokes. (And, of course, cartoons tend to be funny, but do not have to be, and sometimes are, very mean.)

Caricatures are not hard to do. You can take a photograph of someone and caricature it. But caricature art is a profession, not a hobby. There are a lot of people who spend their lives drawing.

How to become a caricaturist

Caricatures are funny, but they also have a skill of their own. The skill lies not in the drawing, but in the ability to draw a caricature that captures the personality of the subject.

You can do caricatures with a pencil, pen, or brush. The tools you use don’t matter. The important thing is that you take the personality of your subject and exaggerate it, exaggerating it enough to poke fun at the people you know.

Caricatures are supposed to be funny. So the most important thing is, if you are drawing a caricature, you must have fun.

Drawing caricatures is not difficult. You need only a piece of paper and some chalk or charcoal. (The digital era has produced many caricature artists, but they aren’t the sort we’re looking for.)

The most difficult part of caricature is deciding what to caricature. Try to find something that other people find funny. People laugh at the things that seem ridiculous, but ridiculous things aren’t always easy to caricature. To get a caricature, you have to exaggerate something. But exaggeration is a tricky business. When is it funny? When is it over the top? When is it funny but not funny?

If you’re just getting started, just pick something. If you make a mistake, you can always change it later.

Just start drawing. You’ll be fine. As soon as you’re having fun, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

If you’re really stuck, look at caricatures of yourself. If you can do that, you can handle just about anything.

Steps to drawing a great caricature

  1. Stop laughing. Caricatures are supposed to look like caricatures. This may sound obvious to you, but a lot of aspiring caricaturists make the mistake of drawing caricatures that look like cartoons.
  2. Learn to draw. Caricatures, like all drawings, are basically about drawing people.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Caricatures don’t mean to be serious. They are meant to poke fun at people, not make judgments about them.
  4. Remember that people change. A caricature of someone at age 20 is unlikely to look the same as the same one at age 50. So don’t count on it.
  5. Draw from life. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t have a picture of him.” Instead of making up a figure, draw something you have seen. People almost always look better when they aren’t looking at the camera.
  6. Vary your line weight. Different weights of lines create different effects. Sometimes you need a thick line, sometimes a thin one.
  7. Vary your line direction. People usually look best when you draw them in three-quarter view, but occasionally it’s useful to tilt your head and draw them from the front.
  8. Draw quickly. Sometimes it’s easier to draw quickly than to draw slowly.
  9. Draw from life. When drawing people, don’t rely on photographs. The face is too complex for a photographic image to capture.
  10. Draw from imagination. If it doesn’t look like the person who is sitting in front of you, don’t draw it. Draw from your imagination.
  11. Don’t draw from photographs.

Why people get caricatures done

I’ve decided I should write this down because ever since I started drawing cartoons and caricatures professionally, I’ve run into people who ask me, “Why?” It doesn’t make sense, but saying, “Because it’s fun,” doesn’t cut it.

I make cartoons and caricatures for a living, and people pay for them, too. So they consider my profession to be a serious business. Still, I still don’t understand why people get their pictures taken.

Why do people buy things? Because they want things. And why do people want things? Because they don’t want other things.

So next time you see a caricature artist, ask yourself, “Do I want a caricature? Do I want a caricature of me?”

And the answer, of course, is “Yes.”

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