Q: I am contemplating a resurrection of my own cartooning talents that I abandoned years ago, and am considering the art of caricature as part of that. Do you think it would be beneficial to study real life portraiture first, then go into caricature? I think if you could master a good portrait, caricature would be easier to accomplish. Would you show a sample of one of your portraits that you have done? I, along with most of the visitors to your site, would be quite interested in seeing one.
A: No question that having a strong grasp of realistic drawing will only help an artist’s skills with caricature. The knowledge of how a face really works, both anatomically and in capturing an accurate and realistic likeness, and the ability to draw it well means that when you then turn your focus to the exaggerations that make caricature, you have a strong foundation upon which to work.
Sadly, caricature is something that an artist can fake a little too easily, and I have see a great many live caricaturists do this to the detriment of their own skills and the public perception of live caricature in general. By “fake”, I mean getting away with doing poor drawings because caricature is “supposed to be exaggerated” and the general public is all too willing to forgive a bad likeness or poor underlying substance because they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I especially see many live caricaturists trying to do these outrageous exaggerations from the very beginning of their careers rather than take the time to build a solid foundation of strong drawing skills first. Their caricatures look wild but fall flat in terms of likeness and structure because they do not have the necessary foundations of good drawing and the command of the facial features necessary to pull that kind of extreme exaggeration off. The all want to be Sebastian Kr?¬?ger, but miss the fact that Sebastian studied realistic portraiture and fine art painting for years before becoming one the world’s greatest exaggerated caricaturists.
Portraiture does take a different set of drawing muscles, though. Back when I was a college art student, the school I attended turned their nose up at cartooning and caricature. I was not allowed to do much cartooning in any assignments. Fortunately I was pretty competent at the realistic stuff as well. When I got the job doing caricatures during the summer, at first I struggled to get back into the swing of realistic drawing after a summer of nothing but caricatures. It took a few weeks to get that out of my head and get back to realistic proportion. Believe me, I THOUGHT I was drawing realistically but everything was just a little bent and exaggerated. Eventually after a few years of this I was able to switch back and forth at will.
Today I might be hard pressed to do a really good portrait. It would certainly take me a long time to do. I have done nothing but cartooning for years now. However several years ago I went to a live drawing co-op once a week where we did a series of ten minute poses and then one long 2 plus hour pose. I found it did not take long to get some of my realistic drawing skills back. Here are a few of my life drawings/portraits from those co-op sessions (although a few of the quicker figures might have been studies from a book… no way to tell after so long). I know I posted these a few years back but they are the most recent “realistic” work I have!
WARNING: some of these were nude models. CLICK on the images for a closer look.
Thanks to Tony August, Surrey, BC, Canada 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!
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