Live Caricaturing at Valleyfair

August 5th, 2006 | Posted in General

For the last two days since my return from NYC I’ve been working doing live caricatures at Valleyfair. It’s been a little slower than is usual this time of year… I blame the gas prices. At any rate, I didn’t really get a chance to get back in the groove of doing live work. That is something you have to warm up to and get back the “eye’ for doing quick draw, spontaneous caricatures. I have been spoiled by the luxury of working from clear photo images that don’t move, pick their noses or refuse to give you the same expression twice and the ability to sketch my way to a successful end result. When you work live, you have to be confident and aggressive with your lines, and live with your mistakes. It’s very much like gestural life drawing, where you draw your impressions of form and figure very fast and loose with no regard for detail. With live caricature however, your initial feelings and impressions about the face are likewise the basis for your drawings, but you have to execute it not with sketchy vague lines like in a gestural drawing, but with solid and bold lines and details.

Here are six samples of live drawings I did yesterday. They are all mediocre at best, because I was not ‘on top’ of the drawings as I should have been. By that I mean I did not have total mental control of the drawings from line one, but tried to ‘chase’ the drawing by looking too much at each feature as an individual part and not the entire face as a whole. As a result, while there is a decent likeness in each, with hindsight I can see glaring errors in my approach of each face, usually related to head shape. I’ll critique each and point out what I got right and what I missed. These drawing took about 8-10 minutes per face to draw and paint.




This was one of the first ones of the day. Not a good likeness of the girl. Her eyes are flatter across the bottom when she smiles, and I should have played up the dark eyeliner more. Her forehead is wider and should be less high, so the crucial face shape is off. The guy isn’t bad, except he only smiled when I took the picture… he refused while I did the drawing. I got his head shape much better with the small forehead, big cheekbones and long face. The 3/4 view is always more interesting.




These three girls sat well, and that helps. The head shapes are okay, but I should have made the top two smaller to give me more room at the bottom for the third one. There is a slight symmetry problem with most of the faces I drew at a straight on angle today… I was skewing the bottom of the faces to the left, making the eyes appear crooked. I catch myself doing that when I am rusty or getting tired.




This couple drawing is a bad composition. In trying to exaggerated the guy’s face I made it too big, and so there is no depth in the drawing. He’s supposed to be behind her, but with the size difference I had to make him coming from the left side of the drawing and that destroyed the composition. The first couple’s drawing above is much more successful in that way. Funny how they always smile when the camera is out… Anyway I wanted to get his long face and jutting, pointed chin, but blew it when I made his jaw the widest part of his face, when it is clearly at his temples/eye line. At least I got the close set eyes right. Looks like I should have given her more chin but actually it only sticks out when she smiles. Again with the symmetry problems. I would have done a better job on her caricature but I was distracted by her… uh… eyes. Yep. They were blue… no wait… green.




This was the best one of the day, and that’s not saying much. At least I exaggerated a little bit, got the head shape right with the wide and squat forehead, big wide set eyes, massive nose and heavy brows. I should have done a 3/4 view, though.




These two kids sat well, also. This is an example of a decent composition, although a little heavy to the left. The older kid forced me to break a few “kid rules” like giving him a larger chin/jaw to make his mouth appear closer to his nose and still exaggerate the teeth. The smaller kid got a lopsided face but the head shape pulled off the likeness reasonably well.




This last guy had a fun face, especially the hair. I should have made his eyes closer together, but I did get their very different eye shapes, which added to capturing his expression. The head is again a little off symmetrically. Must have been one of those days.

Maybe I should turn in some of those caricature awards I have. Not a successful day of live work. I draw again on Sunday and hopefully I can get my rhythm down and do some good ones. If I do I’ll post some on Monday. If I don’t post anything, you’ll know I sucked.


  1. Philbert says:

    Pretty harsh with the self-flagelation there Tom! I once saw Springsteen on three successive nights in L.A. and I heard later he thought he sucked the second show. So, if that show “sucked” it was still a billion and four times better than the best Barry Manilow concert. My point being, even on a bad day your stuff is a blast to see!
    By the way, what you glean from the rubes for one of these portraits?

  2. Matt. says:

    Those are incredible!

  3. Tom says:

    Well, thanks guys. I appreciate that, but I always call ’em as I sees ’em.

    Our prices at Valleyfair are so cheap they are embarrassing, but the “guests” (customers in theme park speak) at Valleyfair have a price threshold that to cross by even a dollar means a severe decline in sales. I get $13.95 for one person in color. “Guests” will still bitch about how expensive it is.

  4. As much as you seem to be your worst critic, your live work is some of the most amazing I’ve seen.
    I did a live gig today at a corporate sports box and decided to do the couples as doubles this week instead of individuals – it seemed to work really well, mainly because having to map out where each head is going to go before putting marker to paper gives me more of an idea as to the shape and size of the heads. Usually with individuals I start with the eyes in the middle of the page and work outwards without giving much thought to the composition.. a bad practice I’m sure.
    Your “best of the day” one is outstanding. I always find that males of Greek, Italian or any middle-eastern appearance are a godsend with live work – the thick, dark eyebrows, the big lips, the 5 o’clock shadow – a joy to exaggerate.
    Please keep posting more of your live stuff, it’s so encouraging for a young’un like me to aspire to. The main appeal for me when I approach a live caricature gig is looking forward to developing my style and learn from my previous mistakes – looking at your comments, it’s good to know that self-criticism never wears off – you always seem to think your work could be better with more practice. Incidentally, I can’t wait to see your stuff once you’re “back in the groove”.
    Thanks again, Tom. Love your work.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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