Sunday Mailbag

September 4th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: When you teach new artists your techniques for drawing caricatures in a theme park, what are some common problems you see?

A: Everybody is different, of course, but there are some issues that in the 20 plus years I have been training theme park artists I have noticed seem to be typical of many beginning live caricaturists.

Fear of line- This is very typical and to be expected. Live caricature is an exercise in fearlessness and audacity, where you make bold, confident lines on the paper like you have been doing it for years. New artists almost always lack this fearlessness and confidence, and their lines are timid, sketchy, and lack the spontaneity and strength that is so important to live caricature. Fortunately this is a cosmetic issue, and easily overcome once the artist decides to trust their lines and commit to them. At first this kind of going-for-broke linework results in a number of bad, disjointed drawings, but very quickly the artist’s lines start clicking and then the difference in the results is remarkable.

Small Cranial Mass Syndrome- Many beginning artists seem to struggle with giving their subjects too small of a top of a head (the cranial mass/hair area). I am not sure why, but I have seen it enough to know it is definitely a common issue. My theory is that the artists are so concerned with the features of the lower face (eyes, nose, mouth) that they unconsciously make this area more prevalent and therefore bigger, while making the top of the head smaller. I correct this by explaining how, in traditional portraiture, the head mass is equal above and below the horizontal center of the head, which is the line of the eyes. Giving someone a small cranial mass and a big lower face/jaw is a great head shape exaggeration . . . if the subject’s face is deserving of it. It might not be, however, and applying an exaggeration arbitrarily to any face is distortion, not exaggeration. I tell them they they should stick to the equal mass rule unless they want to consciously change it for exaggeration purposes. I remind them that they will draw as many people who need to be exaggerated with a big top of a head and a small lower face, than they will the other way around.

Asymmetry- This is a byproduct of the “no sketching” method of quick-draw caricature and the sequencing technique we use, but many artists struggle with their faces being a little lopsided or otherwise asymmetrical. This is just a matter of being conscious of the issue and making sure when you start to draw each feature you are aware of its relative position to the other features and the rest of the face, so you don’t draw one eye too low of make one side of the face father from the center line than the other. No face is truly symmetrical, but most people perceive them as such, and to me badly off is very noticeable.

Those are just a few of the more common problems. Everyone has their own, unique hang-ups and strengths.

Thanks to Ryan Roe 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. Alec Fritz says:

    Thanks Tom, that’s great advice. I’m trying to get into caricature and those will be some things that I will try to avoid.

  2. Tom M. says:

    To the heir of the great MORT, thanks for your excellent work and your desire to teach. I’m an old fart who does other types of art work and am only now going to give caricature art some focused study. Why not learn from one of the best? Just found out about your website and blog. Thanks for taking the time and effort. Really looking forward to your book.

    Tom M.


I’m in LA doing back to back Caricature workshops. Here’s the class illustration of workshop no. 1. Visit for all the details and to see where others are scheduled in 2018!

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