Sunday Mailbag

December 30th, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Do you have some set of rules that determine a particular way a caricature should be done depending on face shape or features or is it simply an acquired gut feeling?

A: If by “rules” you mean following a template that is applied to any face that is drawn, then absolutely not. Following the same rules or pattern of exaggeration for all faces isn’t caricature, it’s stylization and distortion. If you apply the same relationship of features, for example, on each face you draw, you may get a likeness depending on your skill with the individual features but you would be missing the target because you would fail to identify what is unique about your subject’s particular facial relationships. I know a fairly successful caricature artist who is very accomplished in the drawing and painting department, but who makes almost all his caricatures with closely grouped features within a large face and head shape ala “Littleface Finney” from Dick Tracy. His caricatures are a lot less effective as a result.

Even being strictly guided by a set of rules for particular face types is a dangerous path, which can lead to “generic caricature”. Each face has it’s own unique relationships of features, and while certain headshapes will generally follow suit with certain feature relationships, there are still plenty of surprises and things that break such conventions. For example, long thin faces tend to have close set eyes and longer features, but I’ve seen some faces where the opposite is true. The typical relationships seen in certain face types can be a good place to start making observations… if you know what you expect to see you can more easily see where it breaks the mold… but it’s still all about what makes the face in front of you unique and not about any kind of formula.

I wouldn’t call what a caricaturist does when determining and interpreting these relationships a “gut feeling”, but it is certainly all about observation and perception in the moment. You have to approach each face with a clean slate, and allow the face to tell you it’s story so you can interpret it on the paper or canvas. You can develop your ‘eye’ for making these observations via constant practice, study of the face and portraiture as well as the study of other caricaturists and how they interpret relationships of features. Ultimately, you must learn to trust your own eye because no one can make those observations for you.

Thanks again to Daniel Moir for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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