Sunday Mailbag

September 14th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I am doing a drawing of some friends who have a 11 month old, and I have a problem.¬¨‚Ć They’re child is how should I say… not the prettiest kid I’ve ever seen. Imagine a cross between Gollum and Baby faced Finster, with a touch of Deliverance.¬¨‚Ć I Have tried to pretty the kid up, but not sure If it looks anything like their daughter.¬¨‚Ć I think babies are hard to draw anyways, do you have any suggestions?¬¨‚Ć Also do you have a rule of thumb when drawing babies in general?

A: Drawing babies has always been one of the banes of the live caricaturist. I know some artists that flat out refuse to do it. Whether in the studio or live, babies and young kids need special treatment if you want to make them look like babies or young kids rather than deformed, tiny adults. This is especially true if your style of drawing is based on line like cartooning rather than values like painting.

There are a lot of rules I follow when drawing kids, which apply less and less as the kids get older and start to display more adult features. With respect to caricature, babies are actually easier to make look age appropriate than, say, a 5 year old kid. Where people tend to get in trouble with babies or kids is when they attempt to impose adult features and dynamics onto a kid’s face. In many cases I am forced to ignore certain actual features or characteristics of features on a kid in order to keep them from looking too old. Most involve lines, visible bone structures or musculature that if I draw it as I see it, particularly in line, it will age them. The trick to babies is to understand their proportions and the typical behavior of their features and then use that knowledge as the basis for your drawing, imposing the actual features of the subject within that framework.

Head Shape:

Babies and young kids have different head shapes from adults. Essentially the differences are a result of the fact that these young humans have not fully developed their skeletal structures, nor their musculature. They are works in progress. In a baby’s case, while their brain is only about 1/4 the size of an adult’s the rest of their face is also undersized and underdeveloped, so their cranial mass is still much bigger proportion wise to an adult’s. The brain grows fast, and the soft plates of the skull expand to accommodate. By age 5 the brain is 90% the size of an adult’s already, while the rest of the skull is still far behind in size. Kid’s headshapes, therefore, are very top heavy.

While an adult headshape is in general equal in mass above and below the eyes, kids have more of a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio. Age 5 is when the cranium is at it’s most pronounced in size difference, and then as the rest of the skull catches up as the kid ages the ratio shrinks until you are back to 1/2 and 1/2. In caricature terms that means you almost always exaggerate the top of the head in size in kids. Also, with adults the widest part of the head could be anywhere from just above the brow to the cheekbones. With kids is is virtually always in the forehead area.

Bone Structure:

Kid’s don’t have any visible bones, or at least the younger they are the less they have. Babies especially lack any visible bones other than perhaps in their bald heads where the skin is thin. Babies are all skin, fat and more fat. They have no brow structure, no nose bridge, no visible jawline and barely any chin. Babies have virtually no sharp lines or edges in their features… they are all roundness and softness. Drawing or indicating any bone structure will age your subject substantially, and produce bad results.

The Features:

The eyes of kids are always larger and more pronounced. A newborn’s eyes are 75% of the size of an adult’s, and by age two that little head is sporting fully adult sized eyes. That’s why kid’s eyes always look so big and wide. In caricature, exaggerating the size of a kid’s eyes is always a safe bet.

With no brows or nose bridge there is very little to draw between the eyes and nose on babies. Noses are all cartilage and continue to grow throughout a persons life, even into old age (ears too) but are basically just gentle curving slopes on infants. Drawing lines or indicating structure there will not work. Baby’s noses are very close into the eyes, drawing them too far away again will age the subject.

Their jaws and chins are very underdeveloped, so there is usually very little space between the mouth and the bottom of the face, especially to each side of the chin.

Baby’s mouth also have a certain typical look to them. First, they are very narrow. Even when they smile, drawing the corners of a baby or young kid’s mouth father apart than the center of their pupils makes them look older and odd. The mouth is invariably very close to their nose and the cheeks in general push up to the mouth corners. The mouth shape itself is often in a pucker, and the bottom lip is a flat line with the upper lip popping up from behind it, protruding out and curving over a small opening. Babies almost never have their mouth fully closed.

These are just a few general rules about drawing babies. The basics are: big cranial mass; round, soft features; bigger eyes; small nose and mouth set close together with the eyes; as few lines in the face as possible. One of the best sources for learning how to draw children is the work of the incomparable Norman Rockwell, who expertly caricatured kids with big, protruding foreheads, sunken chins and low set ears.

Thanks to Mark Grant of Jersey City, NJ 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!


  1. Thanks for the great tutorial! I just realized why my latest child drawing didn’t look young enough! The mouth was too wide(was an evil grin). I’ll have to study child smiles with these tips in mind. Also, my 7-year-old character has had a receding forehead recently, I just now noticed. I’ll have to stop trying to make him look too much like his older brother.


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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