Holy Faber Castell… Not another caricature of the Caper Crusader by this Scandalous Scrawler of Sketches! What could this Peccant Pusher of Pencils be up to? Will our hero get DRAWN into a grisly, GRAPHIC fate? Is he in LINE to be further ridiculed by this Despicable Doodler? TOON in soon for the SKETCHY details, citizens! Same MAD time, same MAD channel!
Q: Hey Tom! Looking back in your blog, I’ve noticed that occasionally you either re-do a sketch of a celebrity, or even state difficulty with a subject (Nathan Fillion I believe to be one of the more “challenging” subjects) But have you ever had a severe level of uncertainty with a subject? Any subjects that you couldn’t just get right no matter what? Any more challenging subjects you would care to share about and how you overcame that? I can’t imagine you’d let an uncertain caricature be published to MAD… well maybe who knows?
A: Every caricaturist occasionally struggles with some faces. It could be because the subject has an elusive face in general—a young William Shatner was notoriously hard to caricature. Some people seem to look different in every different picture of them. I find Jennifer Lawrence to have that kind of face. However I think very few people have faces that are difficult to caricature in general.
More often an artist might encounter a sort of “blind spot” for a specific subject, where they just cannot seem to capture them in a way that satisfies the artist. I’ve found the cause of these “blind spots” are an inability to be objective about your subject based on a preconceived idea of how you want them to look in the caricature. That sounds like a contradiction because bringing your preconceived ideas of what a subject looks like to a caricature through your exaggeration choices is exactly what a caricaturist is supposed to do. But sometimes your idea of a certain expression or “presence” of a subject just doesn’t work well with the way the rest of the worls sees them, and you end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It won;t fit, and you won’t give up and go with a round peg instead. Then you get failed drawing after failed drawing.
I have struggled with certain caricatures say for MAD jobs here and there, usually as a result of the above “blind spot” phenomenon. Two I can think of recently were the a fore mentioned Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” parodies, and Woody Harrelson (of all people)a in the “True Detective” parody in the latest issue. Part of the problem with Harrelson was that he went back and forth between and older and younger version of his character. You can always tell if I am having a problem with cpturing a subject when you see inconsistencies between the different caricatures throughout the parody. That means I am relying on individual references to get likenesses as opposed to “figuring out” a face and its essentials, and carrying them through the entire piece.
Here are some “inconsistent” caricatures of Harrelson from the parody that don’t quite carry though as I would have liked:
Several of these are successful individually, but as a whole there is an inconstancy in terms of head shape, exaggeration and follow-thru. The chin I especially was not consistent with… in some drawings it’s enormous and others it’s not as prominent. It’s important to note, however, that the artist’s idea of capturing the subject might not be the same as the rest of the world’s idea. I’ve been told by some people they really loved a caricature I did of someone I thought was a big, fat miss, and I’ve been happy with the likeness on drawings where other say they think I didn’t get them very well.
How do you overcome this “blind spot”? You have to step back and try and look at the face with fresh eyes, leaving behind your square pegs and preconceived notions. Let the face tell you what do do. Take a break from drawing that face and come back to it after working on something else if you can. Objectivity is the key. I often will look back at something I did a year or so ago and see where I went wrong or how I could have done much better on it, mostly because enough time has elapsed that I can be more objective in my observations.
Thanks to Cameron Briones 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!
This week’s “Game of Thrones” SotW subject is Sophie Turner, who plays the morose Sansa Stark. Next week will be the last of my “Game of Thrones” series, as the season finale is Sunday and I am getting a little bored with the subject. I’m letting you, the readers, choose who my last subject from the show will be. Here are the ones I’ve already done (by character name as opposed to actor name), so DON’T vote for one of these:
- Tyrion Lannister
- Arya Stark
- Cersei (Lannister) Baratheon
- Joffrey Baratheon
- Daenerys Targaryen
- Ned Stark
- Sandor Clegane
- Margaery Tyrell
- Jaime Lannister
- Jon Snow
Anyone else is fair game. Leave a comment here with the name of the character you’d like me to draw for next week. If I don’t get many takers’ I’ll just pick one myself.
Better late than never today… and we continue our series of caricatures from “Game of Thrones”. This week our subject is Kit Harington aka Jon Snow.
I met Mr. Harington in person last year at the Warner Bros./DC Comics party at Comic-Con. You would not believe how tiny he is. The internet claims he is 5’8″ but I think that would be accurate only if he was standing on a box. Maybe weighed 140 soaking wet. If it wasn’t for Peter Dinklage Harington would be the shortest guy on the set. That’s neither here or there, but it is funny how easy it is in films and TV to not get sense of the actual physical type of an actor. I would have thought he was close to 6 foot, based on his cahracter in GoT.
Q: Hi Tom – I’ve been struggling with the following for over a year now, possibly without realizing it! But I now see we have 2 (or maybe 3 options!) when it comes to creating a caricature.
1. We can keep the head shape as an accurate representation with little or no exaggeration – after all, we are engaged in the quest for likeness (so this is the most important thing – when we see someone from a distance, we recognize them, without seeing their features in detail). We can THEN exaggerate the features – make the eyes smaller, the nose more bulbous, the ears more jug-like, etc, etc…
2. We can exaggerate the actual head shape (still applying the ‘law of constant mass!) and then just place standard features ‘on top’ of that exaggerated shape.
3. And I imagine this will be the best option, although the most difficult for us mere mortals – We do BOTH the above. But finding the balance in between the two is the crux, no? Presumably one results in the other, to some extent…
A: Options one and two are no options at all. Both would create bizarre and unsuccessful, or at best incomplete, caricatures. Only option three above is a viable approach to a caricature.
In my book I cite the universal foundation of any caricature is exaggerating the relationships of the features to one another. This means that all features, and this includes the head shape, are interconnected and to exaggerate any aspect of them is to affect the rest. No feature is an island that you can just exaggerate and leave the surrounding face unaffected.
One of the concepts in my book is “the law of constant mass”, which basically states that you only have X amount of mass in any face, and if you decide you want to make a feature on the face bigger or smaller to create a caricature, you cannot just add or take away mass to do this. You must move the mass from one to another area of the head. So, if you decide to exaggerate the jaw you must reduce the mass in another area, likely the top of the head. If you want to make the nose big, that mass or energy has to come from somewhere. In this way you maintain the balance of the head itself.
It would be virtually impossible to even accomplish your first two options above. If you have a simple, realistic head shape, you are already locked in to the relationship of the interior features themselves (Unless you are prepared to draw the eyes up on the crown of the skull, or the mouth on the chin). Likewise once you exaggerate the head shape, how can you draw “standard” features within it? The distances and widths of the head have presumably changed, which would then change the relationships of the interior features so that they stayed in the same relative locations on the head. This is why I say that exaggerating the head shape is the single most powerful exaggeration choice you make with any caricature… exaggerating it forces you to change the relationships of all the features to match.
A good caricature takes the whole head into account, not just a single feature or exaggeration. You can build an entire caricature around only one observation that you want to be your key exaggeration… big eyes, perhaps. But the resulting drawing will have other elements of the face adjusted to make those big eyes fit and make sense with the rest of the head.
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!