Sunday Mailbag

May 15th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I have a question about Caricatures, especially doing live caricature work.¬¨‚Ć I have watched videos on YouTube and have seen different artists using different tools.¬¨‚Ć I don’t know if this subject has came up before or not, but I was wondering if you could tell me anything about what kind of markers, brushes, etc. are used in live caricature work?

A: Yes, this question does come up often…so I post the answer every year or so for the benefit of new readers.

There is no “standard” drawing and coloring tools used by live caricaturists. Many use markers for the linework, for which the Dixon Markette is currently the standard. The Design Marker 229-LF used to be the overwhelmingly dominate marker here in the U.S., but the manufacturer discontinued them years ago and the Markette seems to be is the closet thing still available. I’ve also seen artists draw with Sharpies, Crayola markers and Copic brush pens. Then there are non-marker solutions like china markers, charcoal, colored pencil and many more.

For color I’ve seen everything from the “chalk and glove” technique to prismacolor stix to watercolor and paintbrush and many more.

I have always used a combination of a soft graphite and the airbrush. Specifically:


I use two different kinds of pencils. Both are “clutch” type leadholders, meaning that they have a claw-like end that grasps the lead. The main one is the Caran D’Ache Fixpencil 3, which is a 3mm leadholder. Most leadholders are 2mm, and the thicker lead is a must for bold lines. These were discontinued for a while but now they seem to be back in production. I use a 6B 3mm lead in it which is also made by Caran D’ache. The other pencil is a Creatacolor 5mm leadholder, which I use with either 4B or 6B leads for big, thick lines in the hair, outside of the face, body, etc. There are a few different body types for that pencil, but all work well.

We also wrap our pencils in something called pre-wrap, or sports wrap. It’s the foam wrap you use for wrapping an ankle or similar prior to taping it up in athletics. You can get it at most drugstores. It’s great for cushioning your hand and wicking moisture away from it when drawing. Prevents callouses and blisters as well.

We use a No. 8 blending stomp for shading, and sand one end down to make it a bigger surface area. It helps to soak the stomp in water for 20 minutes or so and allow it to dry for a few days in the sun to loosen up the binding glue and make it softer.


The airbrush we use is either an Iwata HP-SBS (eclipse) or an Iwata HP-SB Plus. Both are good all purpose brushes with a side feed for easy bottle exchange. The latter is a little finer but also more temperamental. I recommend the HP-SBS for beginners.

We use a set of 13 side-feed airbrush bottles, each with a different color. Iwata makes their own side feed bottles which are usable but not ideal. I have custom hardware specially made by a precision machinist and make my own 1 oz. bottles for my operations. No, I won’t sell any to anyone who does not work with us, sorry. They are expensive to make and I have to spend a lot getting them machined, so I don’t want to run out of them too quickly.

Obviously you need an airsource, so a compressor or tank is necessary. There are a lot of choices depending on if you need it to be silent, have a power source, etc. At the parks it’s noisy already and we have sound boxes or separate rooms from which we run air hoses, so a sturdy tool compressor from Home Depot works great for just a couple of hundred dollars. In the malls we need quiet, and we have a permanent power source so I use silent compressors. Jun-Air is by far the best but they are immensely expensive. If you have no power and need silence, a compressed air tank is the way to go. I’ve never used one but a good airbrush retailer can set you up. Coast Airbrush or Bear Air are a good places on-line to find supplies.

For paint we use Media Com-Art paints, both opaque and transparent colors. They are water based and non-toxic. There is a wide selection of colors, but our palette includes Iron Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Toludene Red, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Black, Lime Green, Hansa Yellow, Transparent Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Violet and Transparent Royal Blue.


Finally for paper we use a 67lb vellum bristol in bright white, 12 x 16 inches. We specially order the paper and have it cut to that size. Paper Plus carries similar stock and there are a lot of those about.

Thanks to G. Cook 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. George Cook says:

    Thank you, Tom! Your answer to my questions is very helpful!


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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