I have been traveling a lot this spring to my different theme park operations, working with new artists far more than I have in the past few years due to a set of unusual circumstances. I both enjoy it and find it exhausting and frustrating, but always rewarding. I never fail to learn something myself, if nothing more than a better way of explaining some concept for new artists to grasp.
Live caricaturing is a unique and challenging art form. Part cartooning, part illustration, part performance and part gestural drawing, it can seem complex and intimating to the rookie artist. In fact there are two separate elements to live caricature that need to be worked on simultaneously. One is the “surface” aspect, and the other the “structural” aspect. One can be taught (to a certain extent) but the other needs to be developed. Both need to be strong and work together to make for successful live caricature.
“Surface” aspects are the things you can teach. They include line quality, techniques for drawing three dimensional faces and objects in line, how to draw and render individual features convincingly, composition, smooth and effective airbrushing (our color technique) and other elements of drawing that lead to a solid and polished finished piece of art. It’s these aspects that the public react most to, which is a little sad. For the most part, it’s more important to a customer to have a fun, well drawn and smiley caricature with a zany body or gag than to see a bona fide strong likeness incorporating some good exaggeration decisions.
“Structural” aspects are the things that lie beneath those surface elements. Imagine a newly constructed house…. the siding, paint, trim and window dressings are the surface aspects while the architect’s vision, created with the framing, foundation and floor joices, are the real strength of the home. It’s the decisions the artist makes about the shapes and relationships of the features, where to exaggerate and placement of elements like visual weight and expression that really make the caricature strong. The surface aspects are just the language used to describe these underlying elements.
When I teach people our live caricature techniques, I start out with general concepts and theories that are part of the structural aspect of live caricature… things like recognizing head shapes that depart from the traditional ‘flattened oval” of portraiture, understanding the importance of the eyes/nose relationship as well as that of the other important facial elements, the cause and effect that is created within the face when exaggerating any features and other caricature theories. Then I spend most of my energy working with them on the surface aspects. That’s because these are things I can teach then that they can grasp and put to use immediately. They need to be able to draw the features well and with confidence before they can start to develop their eye for exaggeration. At first we strive for strong likenesses, good linework and a polished paint job.
The analogy I always use is learning to ride a bike. At first, just staying up and balancing is taking all your concentration. Eventually that all becomes second nature, and you don’t even think about it anymore. That’s when the ride and your destination are all you thinking about. Once you have control of the surface aspects of live caricature, you can concentrate on the caricature itself.
Unless the nacho-breath of the kid leaning over your drawing board distracts you, that is.
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