Sunday Mailbag

September 3rd, 2006 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Do you go about drawing the kind of caricatures like the ones in MAD the same way you would in a theme park where you start with the eyes, nose, etc and work your way from the inside out?

A: No, I do it totally different in the studio for one main reason: I can.

Working in a theme park or any live caricature setting is very different from doing it in a studio. When you work live you are under a time constraint, and you need to draw it quickly and efficiently. Live caricature is a reactive form of drawing, meaning you don’t have time to work it out via sketching or blocking in large shapes and values. You have to react to the subject’s features spontaneously and go with your first impressions for good or ill. This is a great exercise, like I have pointed out before, because it strengthens your instincts with the face, features and expression in a the same way that quick, gestural life drawing strengthens your instincts with the figure. That said, you are still drawing these kinds of caricatures without the advantage of sketching it out first, so they don’t always turn out spot on. I work from the inside out because it is more flexible than working from the outside in. I can make adjustments on the fly if I have to working in to out, whereas if I start with the head shape I am now virtually locked in to the relationship of the features I am drawing.

In the studio I start with the head shape, which I consider the most important aspect of any caricature. Head shape is where the most impactful part of an exaggeration lies. Drawing someone’s eyes bigger or nose smaller is exaggeration, but radically exaggerate someone’s head shape and you really have something going. I can do this in the studio because here I am doing introspective drawing, meaning I am studying the subject and working the drawing up slowly through repeated observation and experimentation in the sketch. I have time to do this and it’s the better approach for a consistently successful effort. I start with the head shape, and rough in the features within that head shape. Then I erase what I don’t think is working and try something else. I adjust, revise, then finally refine and complete. I am doing my thinking both in my head and on the page, instead of just in my head as with live work.

Some live caricaturists cheat by doing a quick sketch first and then going in with the marker or whatever they use. I say “cheat”, but it’s not really cheating at all… if they can do that and still be quick more power to them. It does make for a more accurate drawing and less “misses”. Personally I think a little of the magic is lost when an artist does that pre-sketch. There is nothing more amazing for the onlookers than seeing a caricaturist start with a blank page and draw a great caricature in bold line without any safety net. It sort of appears on the page and that is a show-stopper. It’s not nearly as interesting to watch someone sketch like I do in the studio, but there is far more control with the end result taking that approach. Also not having to smell people’s corn dog breath makes concentrating in the studio a lot easier.


  1. Matt. says:

    I find the mailbags to be the best part of your blog. It gives me good insight.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks, glad you are getting soemthing out of them.


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