Sunday Mailbag

September 22nd, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I have really enjoyed following your blog for sometime now and waited with bated breath for your book to come out. It is nothing short of a masterpiece!¬¨‚Ć Your book is chock full of great drawings and instruction. I know that there is no substitute for Practice. My question is… What methods would you recommend for practicing? Would you find a caricature you admire and practice it over and over? Would you practice individual features over and over? What tips could you give on the best way to get the most out of one’s practice time?

A: Great question. Thanks for the kind words about my book!

I would NOT recommend finding one caricature you admire, or even a series of them by the same artist, and practice drawing it over and over. That teaches you very little except how to copy that drawing. It’s fine to do studies of another artist’s work, but best to do it while you are also looking at actual pictures of the subjects they are caricaturing. That way you learn about their thought process and decision making, as opposed to the conventions and style of drawing they use.

Much better to try and draw from real life as much as possible. Working from photos is okay but there is nothing like translating life directly from life. That’s why doing live caricature is such a great way to develop your skills at the art form. Go to a coffee shop or a mall and draw people as they sit around… try and do it stealthily so they don’t notice and get uncomfortable.

There are lots of interesting variations on ‘public drawing’, many of which involve using your memory to develop you observational skills. One might be to give yourself a set amount of time to make observations of the face/figure of your subject. Don;t draw, just look. Then turn your back on them and try and draw from your memory. That’s a great exercise to help sharpen your “eye”.

The bottom line is there are very few caveats concerning practicing drawing. The only really wrong way to go about it is not to do it.

Thanks to J.C. Johnson 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. Enrico says:

    I’m studying the Tom’s book. I printed100 photos of portraits (including women, men, adults, kids, famous and anonymous people) and I’m traying to make the caricatures from the photos. I observed slow but noticeable improvement in my drawing skills, it can help. I think also that can be useful to replicate the examples that Tom used to describe the face features (e.g. the different noses types) and the head shape exaggeration. Cheers!

  2. If possible, I’d suggest getting a summer job drawing caricatures at your local theme park. In my 1st summer alone, I did more drawing and certainly learned more about it, than in all my years of schooling before…and I got paid for it!

    Because you’re essentially “on stage” in that environment, you’re practically forced to improvise mistakes, instead of revising them. That makes you very decisive as an artist. That is something I really struggled with before.


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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