From The Freelance Files

April 18th, 2013 | Posted in Freelancing

AH_FinalClicky to Embiggen…

Last week in the Sunday mailbag I promised to post about a recent job I completed that reminded me (again) of why I turn down most jobs that involve doing caricatures of the actual client, or their employees. See that post for the reasons why, but here are the gory details of the job that resulted in the final art above (I have changed the names to protect the guilty):

I get a call from a company that works in the film industry that wanted me to do a parody/homage of the classic Animal House movie poster, only with caricatures of their sixty-plus employees and bosses. It was to be used as an ad in an industry publication and as a mocked-up movie poster for their offices. Initially I turned them down for two reasons. First, I wasn’t too wild about having to ape Rick Meyerowitz‘s art style for the job… this isn’t strictly speaking a parody like I might do for MAD, which would require closely mimicking the original’s look for purposes of making fun of either it or something else in context. second, and more importantly, I don’t like doing jobs for company’s where the employees and bosses are the subjects. It almost always leads to my imitating a Glamour Shots camera.

After some talking the first point was mitigated as this was a company working in the movie business, so doing caricatures of them in a classic movie poster setting seemed more like an homage than a rip-off. Plus, I made it clear while I would try and capture the look and feel of the original I was still going to draw it more my way, especially the caricatures. The second point was of more concern, and I was promised that only the two heads of the company would be approving the caricatures, and they loved my MAD work and wanted me to do what I do.

I am such a sucker.

Naturally I had to redo many of the caricatures out of concern for the “feelings” of their employees. They seemed to mostly have a problem with noses, and many of the profiles I did had to get toned down. more than just toned down, really, they became very dry pseudo-portraits. Here are a few examples. On the left is the picture I worked from, center my caricature, right the final approved revision:







Considering these printed very small in the final (even at the actual poster size of 60 inches high… they wanted something BIG for the office) the plain and boring nature of the revised carica… uh… portriacatures, really served to kill much of the fun feel of the piece. I did start to get frustrated when I found out the bosses wife was art directing his caricature. BUT, the client is the boss so I did what they asked.

Basically every freelance project starts out being about the art and doing the best job I can do to accomplish the client’s goals. Some jobs are about that all the way through. Others degenerate into being just about finishing the project and cashing the paycheck. That’s sad but that’s also reality, and the track of any job is ultimately up to the client. It never does cease to amaze me how someone would hire a particular artist for their “expertise”, for lack of a better word, in a certain style and then proceed to direct them away from the very style they hired them for in the first place. Caricature may be uniquely vulnerable to that sort of issue. You have to divorce your personal feelings from the work when things get to the point where the client is asking you to do something you don’t think is very good anymore. That’s when it does get frustrating… not because you are asked to make changes, that happens all the time and there are many different ways to accomplish a goal in an illustration job… but because you are being asked to do something that isn’t what you do.

I did remove my signature, though… I have that right to not have my name under a piece of work I am not happy with. I’ll have to remember this job the next time I get promised there won’t be vanity revisions in a piece like this one.


  1. Trevour says:

    I just kept thinking, “you gotta be kidding me!” as I scrolled through your before/after revisions. The initial caricatures are spontaneous and fun – the revisions remind me of a street portrait artist. Still a very cool piece, but sorry they had to suck all the joy out of one massive job!

  2. I much prefer the first drafts. How long did it take you in hours to do a piece like that? It’s huge!


  3. Jack Myhervold says:

    It turned out very nice, but it’s a shame when creative work flow is stifled. Maybe this “Bowfinger” gang will understand that at some point when they – “Get Edited”!.

  4. Brian Carr says:

    The majority of the time, business doesn’t understand art; it is a completely alien concept to them. Sadly, they are the ones with the money.

  5. dave nelson says:

    It’s a great piece! Even if the fun was drained from some of the caricatures, your talent and humor still shines. Given the trouble you had, I’m surprised you got away with some of the poses despite the A.H. theme. I can’t imagine what this process would have looked like before digital editing!

  6. Paul McCall says:

    I go through this with a regular client for whom I do their annual awards. Every year I try to up the exaggeration and so far I’ve been 80% to 90% successful, but there’s always one or two that can’t take anything but a line with color portrait. This year I even had one guy ask it to be dialed back. Fortunately my “handlers” aren’t the wives of any of the subjects!

  7. Matt Lenio says:

    Just yesterday, I was watching a video on YouTube that reminded me of this scenario. A sketch artist from a police station sat on one side of a curtain and asked several people about what they looked like as he drew sketches of them.

    Then, he asked a set of strangers to describe the same individuals as the sketch artist drew a 2nd set of portraits. Ultimately, the 2nd drawings of all individuals from the stranger’s descriptions of the subjects actually looked more like them than their own descriptions of themselves.

    Especially when it comes to caricatures, people need to know that specific features are going to be accentuated in order to make it a caricature… Rather than just a portrait.

  8. I hear ya, friend. I’ve been down that road before. The clients don’t appreciate what you’re doing for them ( friends of theirs that will see the work would say “Wow!”.) Instead, one has to settle for bland.

  9. Wow, that seemed like a nightmare. Sorry you had to go through with that. But seeing those drawings helped to study the art of caricaturing. The final drawings looked like the original picture. They should have just left it the way it was. Thank you for sharing.


  10. jailerjoe says:

    Isn’t there an app for this? Take the $ and run, buddy!

  11. Ray Russotto says:

    Doing caricature events in Boca Raton has reduced me to doing “glamour shots” or “reverse caricatures.” And I cringe when clients offer me caricatures from photos assignments. Having to do flattering likenesses is an absolutely joyless task.


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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