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How to Draw Caricatures: Head Shapes

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

This series of “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorials are a just a small taste of a larger and much more in-depth book I wrote called The Mad Art of Caricature! The book is 175 full-color pages, lavishly illustrated and contains greatly expanded explanations of the concepts presented in these tutorials, as well and a great deal of additional material on caricaturing other facial features, posture, hands, expression and more, techniques on drawing from live models, doing caricature for freeplace illustration and for MAD Magazine. This is a must have book for anyone interested in caricature, cartooning or humorous illustration. You can order it online here.

Part Three: The Importance of Head Shapes

When I first started drawing live caricatures I felt that the eyes were the most important part of the face, and I put a lot of emphasis and focus on them. I still think the eyes are a crucial element, but over the years I’ve come to believe that the head shape is the most important part of a caricature.

The head shape is the fulcrum upon which a caricature hinges. The heavy lifting of all exaggeration is accomplished via the shape of the head, and it is more easily accomplished that way. Considering that the head shape is a single shape, it is easier to recognize how that shape differs from “normal” and it is easier still to draw a corresponding simple shape that exaggerates those properties as opposed to the more complex multiple relationships of the features. By stretching and exaggerating the head shape, you create the framework within which your other features and their relationships are drawn to achieve your caricature.

I have spoken of the “5 Shapes” and the importance of their relationships already, but digging a little deeper it’s accurate to say that the head shape is “Shape 1″ and the other four shapes are planets to it’s sun, working within it’s all encompassing field of gravity. If a caricaturist can “see” and exaggerate the head shape, all the other features fall into place and follow along. In the last lesson I talked about the “T” shape being a focal point of the basic caricature, but it’s really the “T Shape” and the head shape together as a whole that acts are the basic foundation of a caricature. With those shapes and their relationships established, the rest of the caricature quickly follows suit.

Seeing the Head Shape

I talk endlessly about seeing shapes within the features and the face, and the importance of drawing those shapes accurately to capture likeness and to create a convincing drawing. Again, it’s difficult to teach anyone to “see”… that ability is developed over time via practice and hard work. Still, there are a few techniques and tricks I have learned that can help artists to better see what is in front of them, and better interpret it in their drawing. Many work for any feature or “shape” within the face, but some are specific for individual features. Head shapes have several of these tricks for both initial observations and exaggeration.

Classic Proportion

As with Redman’s ‘”Everyman” concept, it’s important to have an understanding of classic human proportion an anatomy to have a springboard from which observations can be made. This is important both for helping to see what makes a given face unique by comparing it to those “normal” proportions, and for helping to exaggerate those unique aspects by giving the artist a “starting point” from which to depart as much as possible.


The classic adult head is an oval, slightly flattened along the top. The head is exactly divided in half at the eyes, meaning there is equal distance from the horizontal line of the eyes to both the top and bottom of the head. The head is five eye widths wide, and the widest point is typically at the temples, but can be anywhere from the cheekbones to just above the ears. The distance, or more accurately the “mass” of the head above and below the eyes, and how those two areas relate, is a crucial part of the head shape as it relates to caricature. I will refer to it often. (more…)


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