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Sunday Mailbag

Q: My question is around developing caricature skills. How would you guide someone who would like to be a caricaturist? Would you suggest to start practicing with portraits to then jump into caricature? What skills the aspiring caricaturist should go in deep to obtain expertise necessary?

A: I think the answer to that question would be a little different for each individual, but in general I would say most aspiring caricaturists would benefit greatly from a solid foundation in portraiture. I say that mainly for two reasons:

First, strong drawing skills are important in caricature and becoming good in traditional realistic drawing will always be a benefit. The art college I attended in St. Paul, MN, had no cartooning classes at all… at least the illustration classes were all realism and traditional drawing. I think it helped me greatly as a cartoonist to be forced to NOT do cartooning and to work on my realistic drawing skills, especially portraiture.When I eventually went back to cartooning I brought those more developed drawing skills with me and it helped my cartoon drawing immensely.

Second, if you are going to effectively exaggerate something you’d be much better off knowing how to draw it in correct and realistic proportion first. If you understand things like structure and how a feature is supposed to work before you exaggerate it in a caricature, your exaggerations will be more convincing and effective. This is not true for every style of caricature… some of the more graphic and abstract styles need not apply. However for most caricature styles a solid portrait skill set will be a big help.

This last is especially true. I have seen many live caricaturists who see the wild exaggerations of artists like Sebastian Krüger and think that’s what caricature is all about… just push it as far as you can and call it caricature. Krüger is an incredibly accomplished realistic portraitist, that’s what he trained for and what he really loves to do. Caricature was just an offshoot of those skills, and he’s as good as he is at exaggeration because he applies those portrait skills and his understanding of realism to his caricatures. Too many caricaturists want to go from “0 to Krüger” without developing the realistic skills needed to pull that off. It’s pretty easy to just stretch the hell out of a face if you don’t care if it looks human anymore. That’s the real trick… stretching a face and still maintaining the likeness and logic of the structure. Anarchy takes no skill, it’s just chaos.

Thanks to Cecilia Figueroa 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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