Sunday Mailbag

June 17th, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

I get a number of frequently asked questions in the Mailbag (you know, like “what kind of pen do you use?”. :Where do you get your ideas?”¬¨‚Ć and “Can you draw my caricature?”), and every once and a while I post an updated answer based on a previous post.¬¨‚Ć This is one of those “once in a while”s. From the Mailbag Archives.

Q: I want to learn to draw caricatures. What should I do?

A: Seek professional psychiatric help. If you are still intent on drawing caricatures, the best way to become a good caricaturist is to have been dropped on your head a lot as a child. Having an incurable rash somewhere also helps you with the attitude. Barring that, I have several recommendations for artists interesting in leaning to draw caricature, whether the live kind or in a studio setting:

Get some books/videos- Unfortunately there is no definitive book on drawing caricatures Lucky for you, there now IS a definitive book on how to draw caricatures:

The Mad Art of Caricature! . . . so go here and buy it immediately!¬¨‚Ć Shameless self-promoting aside, there are a few other books and resources that will help you. Lenn Redman‘s¬¨‚ĆHow to Draw Caricatures is one that is a little dated but has some good insights on observations, comparing faces to the “everyman” ideal and other useful information. Another good book was written by a friend of mine, Keelan Parham, called Let’s Toon Caricatures and concentrates on the quick, live approach. There are others, of course, but I haven’t had personal experience with them. Searching for “caricature” on Amazon will net you a plethora of books and choices. Many are older and available in your local library. I am only aware of one video on drawing caricatures. It’s actually a series by animator Jim Van Der Keyl. I have these and have watched most of them. Again, some very good information and having the visuals really helps. These cover the gambit from quick live stuff to more thought out caricatures. Jim also came out with a book a few years ago called A Caricaturist’s Handbook, which is a good compliment to his video series.

Go watch the artists at your local theme park- Theme park artists (and party/gig artists) can be very talented and you can learn a lot watching them. There is nothing like watching a caricaturist draw the very faces that are right in front of you to get a feel for observation, exaggeration and execution of a drawing. No two caricaturists draw the same, and one will choose to exaggerate differently than another. It’s a great learning experience to see what they pick out and how they stretch the face. Ask some questions, they are often very open to sharing their ideas and approaches. If it is possible and you are interested, look into getting a job at a theme park caricature concession for a summer. They are like a caricature boot camp… an invaluable experience. The food is very fattening, however.

Study the work of other caricaturists- Hirschfeld, Kr?¬?ger, Drucker, Levine… the list of brilliant caricaturists is long. Study their work and compare their versions of different subjects. It’s fascinating to see what each chooses to embellish and what they choose to ignore, and what makes their caricatures work.

Practice, practice, practice- Draw FROM LIFE as much as possible, and from photos if you can’t get models. There is no substitute for drawing from life, whether you are working on caricatures or any kind of art. Fill up sketchbooks with caricatures. Draw different face types, ages and races. Do some you draw quickly and some you spend lots of time on.

You don’t really learn how to draw caricatures, you slowly develop your eye for it, and your instincts with the face. It requires time and patience, and if you draw people from life in a coffee shop and then show them the results, it might require a good pair of running shoes for a fast getaway. Fortunately it’s also fun, and that makes it a lot easier to put in the work. Above all have fun drawing them. Your sense of humor will come though in your drawings.


  1. Bill Karis says:

    Tom, just got your new book through Amazon two days ago. It is simply amazing! I have many, many art instruction books, but your’s, by far, packs more useful information than ten of the best books I have. Thanks…and, Great job!
    By the way, you may want to check out this website, for pictures, to practice doing caricatures. Very interesting subjects…..

  2. cari says:

    Congratulations on your book, you were one of the people who really inspired me to start drawing caricatures and stepping out of the box when it comes to drawing. i am 14 years old and live in Jamaica and now one of my art pieces is on display at the national gallery.I will continue to draw to the best of my abilities!


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