Sunday Mailbag- Caricaturing Lamps?

December 7th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I have a question which might be a little more atypical than what you usually get. I admire how a cartoonist can draw things like floor lamps, armchairs, automobiles, etc -and give them each their own personality or quirky fun shapes. Since this is something I struggle with, I wanted to ask how much of your rules for caricature can be applied to props, vehicles, plants, or other inanimate objects? How do you decide on which parts of a floor lamp (for example) to exaggerate, and which parts to de-emphasis?¬¨‚Ć Do you have a few rules I could follow, or advice on what to look for, when taking everyday objects and making them funny/quirky looking? I’d love to see some examples of things you’ve drawn and read your thinking process behind the choices you made in arriving at their shapes!

A: Regular readers of my blog will recognize this important piece of advice I was given by MAD editor Nick Meglin and art director Sam Viviano that I often bring up:

When I first started working for MAD, both Nick Meglin and Sam Viviano gave me advice about the nature of great cartooning, and it was no surprise that Jack Davis was the example they both cited. The essence of what they told me was that a great cartoonist creates a world populated by people, objects, places and things all seen through their eyes… and all drawn in a way that creates a believable and cohesive world to the viewer. You cannot draw a goofy, cartoony dog peeing on a realistically drawn fire hydrant and convince the viewer they are looking through a window into a cartoonist’s singular world… the juxtaposition of the different looks is confusing. The fire hydrant and the dog need to be drawn in a similar fashion, so they look like they belong together and are seen thorough one set of eyes that see the entire world in their own unique way. “Jack Davis’s drawings of a chair, a car, a person and a cat all look like they were drawn by Jack Davis, and they look like they belong in a Jack Davis world,” Sam told me once. “That is what makes Jack’s world so convincing.”

That is somewhat related to your question. In creating that cohesive world, a cartoonist does apply the same sort of sensibilities or “view of the world” to anything they draw. That means the inanimate objects in a scene get the same stamp of cartoonishness or exaggeration that the caricatures get, or should.

So, how do you apply the same sort of exaggeration you would apply to a person’s face to some inanimate object like a TV or a floor lamp? I really is not that much different than the caricature you draw. Similar to making observations of a face, you look at an object in terms of its shape and, especially, its weight. By weight I mean observing where the balance and mass of an object is centered, and using that as the central focus of the drawing. Other things that can be exaggerated are things like sharp angles, arcs, thickness, etc. Like a face or a figure, you look for where an object is fat and where it’s thin, where it is solid and where it is insubstantial, where it’s square and where it’s round, etc.

Finally, you can apply a personality to an inanimate object as well. Some objects have a menacing feel to them, while others may feel lighthearted or some other way. Some of that has to do with the design of the object, and some with its intended use or meaning. Cars are a great example of this. Some cars are designed to look powerful, fast and aggressive. Other cars look more fun and friendly. Others will scream “family” while another might imply wealth and high society. You can exaggerate these attributes visually.

As an example here’s a drawing a did several years ago for On Patrol Magazine of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier:

CVN 65


One of the things that struck me with this ship, and most aircraft carriers, is how thin narrow the hull is beneath the enormous width of the deck. It lends a very top-heavy feel to the ship, like it is precariously balanced on the edge of a knife. I would have exaggerated that aspect even more with a wider deck but for the requirements of the space in the magazine, which demanded a more vertical aspect to the image. Another attribute the ship has is the tremendously complicated nature of the surface… it is full of railings, objects, and stuff, all over.

To be honest I seldom put much thought into how to “exaggerate” objects when I am drawing. It just sort of happens. It’s harder to separate your style from something than it is to apply it.

Thanks to Nasan Hardcastle 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. Nasan says:

    Thanks for the answer to my question! Your words confirmed some of my own thoughts concerning how to ‘poke fun’ of everyday objects. It seems there are plenty of resources out there on how to draw funny people, but not as much when it comes to applying that knowledge to other things. I enjoyed reading this and found it very helpful.


I am close to adding a second caricature workshop in January in Orlando. Details here:

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