Sunday Mailbag

June 21st, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: How much of the ability to see caricatures is natural talent, and how much can be learned from a course or a book? If someone has drawing ability, does that mean they can be taught caricaturing?

A: I’m a believer in the old adage that art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That simply means that “talent” is only a small part of a person’s art… it’s the hard work that makes the largest difference. An artist with a ton of natural talent but little drive or desire to excel will not go as far as the less talented artist with an insatiable hunger to improve and grow.

That said, I do think the ability to draw caricatures is partly hard wired into an artist, especially spontaneous, live caricatures. I know a lot of incredibly talented artists who can draw and paint like crazy but caricature eludes them. I don’t think it has much to do with “talent”, but more about how a person’s personality and sense of humor manifests itself. Just like some writers are better at doing humorous stories than they are at tragic dramas, some artists are better at “funny” than they are at “serious”. Those artists with a natural, satirical view of the world seem to take more naturally to caricature than say an artist who has more of a serious outlook on life. It’s more of a function of their viewpoint than their skill set.

Finally, no, I do not think just anyone with the ability to draw can be taught how to draw caricatures. Not really. Someone with strong drawing skills also has correspondingly strong observational skills, and they can certainly be taught the mechanics of drawing the face and achieve a certain level of competency with respect to getting likenesses and doing a good looking drawing. Caricature, however, is something that follows no real rules or formulas. It is a very personal interpretation of life and it requires the ability to recognize what makes a subject unique. That cannot be taught.

I believe the ability to draw caricatures can be developed over time, as an artist’s “eye” for exaggeration and observation improves and they find their voice. That development can be helped along through learning from various resources and by observing how other artists interpret people in caricature, but there is no system for teaching it completely.

Thanks to Robert and Margaret Carspecken 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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