Sunday Mailbag

November 24th, 2013 | Posted in General

Q: In your book you address the problem of nondescript, ‘standard’ faces, and mention finding ‘one outstanding feature. Just one’. My question concerns the opposite scenario – where a subject may have numerous ‘deviations from the norm’ … I suppose we should be driven by a quest for likeness, no matter what. But is this a situation where subjectivity comes into play?

A: Caricaturists have a term for a face like you describe… it’s called a “Field Day”.

I understand what you are saying, and it is true that if a face has a lot of features begging for exaggeration you can be confronted with a “where do I start?” dilemma. That’s a good problem to have as a caricaturist, however. Too many things to play with is always preferable to having trouble finding anything.

My advice about finding just “one thing” really only applies to those boring faces that just don’t have anything that stands out to you for exaggeration. It’s perfectly possible to exaggerated multiple things on a given face in a caricature. In fact, I try and find at least three things I want to exaggerate on every face. It’s a lot more interesting to see a caricature that describes multiple unique qualities as opposed to just a single thing. If I can find more, all the better!

Likely where you might run into trouble on one of those crazy faces is exaggeration choices that contradict one another. For example, perhaps your subject has both a lantern jaw and a bulbous, bald forehead. You can’t enlarge both the jaw AND the cranium… in fact the “Law of Constant Mass” dictates that if you exaggerate the large size of a subject’s jaw/lower face you have to shrink the size of the cranium, and vice versa. So, what do you do? In those cases you just have to decide which is more important…in our example that would be the forehead or the jaw.

This caricature of former pro-wrestler, actor and…ahem… Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is a good example of having to choose between exaggerating his cranium and jaw:


I went with the jaw. One could easily have gone with the forehead as well, but given Jesse’s tough guy image the lantern jaw makes more sense for his persona. Now, you COULD exaggerate both, but you’d end up with a nondescript caricature that doesn’t really say much of anything. Just a big head.

Wow, that park sample is 15 years old. Excuse me while I go grab an Ensure.

Thanks to James Gardiner 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!



  1. Thanks for answering my question Tom, even though i know similar issues are addressed in the book. I suppose we can surmise that post capturing – and then emphasising – the head shape, then we can look for the 1, 2, 3 or more (!) other defining features. What’s particularly interesting for me, though, is the fact that you mention Jesse’s CRANIUM being a feature worth exaggerating. Yet, if one were to follow ‘textbook’ advice, the fact that his eyeline is (relatively) HIGH up his head means his cranium is smaller than average and therefore not an overriding feature. But, of course, when we look at him, it is! I guess this demonstrates, again, that although beginners like me will look for the ‘scientific’ deviations, it’s the ‘feeling’ of importance to the face that counts, no? (Whoops, I’ve asked ANOTHER question there, haven’t I? Oh, and that’s another one, isn’t it? Oh, and‚Äö√Ѭ∂ I’ll stop there‚Äö√Ѭ∂ )

  2. Richard Buff says:

    Great post. Good, practical advice. And James makes a good followup observation in the comments. I struggle with the “science” vs the “feel” myself all the time.

  3. Yeah, cheers Richard! There’s a wealth of caricature ‘advice’ out there, the majority of which deals with these deviations from the ‘standard’ portrait facial dimensions, and the fact that all one needs to do is identify these and then exaggerate accordingly. and that technique, I’m sure, would be appreciated by the vast majority of the paying – or watching? – public‚Äö√Ѭ∂ Personally, I’m also – maybe unfortunately! – beholden to getting a bit more of the feeling, and this flies in the face of a lot of the science. But, I suppose the fact we can recognise this fact is a good thing. And, as of today, I think I’ve stumbled across another really important element that will help the ‘feel’‚Äö√Ѭ∂ The angle and ‘weight’ of the NECK. I’ve not given it much importance up ’til now, but I think it’ll help hugely with attitude/feeling/disposition‚Äö√Ѭ∂.
    Sorry, carry on chaps! As you were!


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