Sunday Mailbag

November 17th, 2013 | Posted in General

Q: What was the longest amount of time you’ve spent on caricaturing a subject? I sometimes find myself struggling with a subject and can spend days trying to get it right, when others seem to work out right away. I was just wondering if you’ve ever had this problem and how you get past it.

A: That happens sometimes, and to everybody. When I’m doing a parody for MAD I will sometimes find one of the subjects seems to elude me, or if I am doing some other project I might find myself struggling with the likeness of a caricature. The odd thing is that there seems to be no earthly reason for why a face gives you trouble. It’s not like a certain age, or sex, or face type is one that consistently is a problem. It seems random… I’m drawing along and suddenly hit a wall with a particular face. Often times they even seem to be the kind of face you would think would be easy to caricature.

I have a theory about that…it happens when an artist loses their objectivity with a subject. I think a caricaturist experiences those struggles when they make a bad or incorrect decision on how they want to exaggerate a face or how they wan to treat certain features, and they won’t let it go. Maybe the decision is they think this subject has a big jaw, but if they just stepped back and took another objective look they would see that the brow and forehead needs to be exaggerated more than the jaw, yet they insist on drawing that big jaw and it just won’t seem to work. They try and shoehorn the face into their exaggeration decisions, rather than letting the face dictate what needs exaggerating. This can be true with expression as well… if you have this notion that your subject needs to be smirking but that expression is just not identifiable with the subject, it can lead to many misfires. Some faces are just elusive… I remember when I was assigned the parody art for “Brokeback Mountain” I watched the film and thought Jake Gyllenhaal was going to be easy to draw and Heath Ledger would give me trouble, but it was the opposite way around.

The only way to fight this is not to fight it. You seldom solve the problem by hammering away on drawing after drawing… that just leads to frustration. If, after several attempts keep going awry, put the drawing aside and get away from the drawing table. Go find something to do that completely takes your mind off the caricature and the subject. If you are not in a hurry, even leave it for the next day. Then, go back and look at it with fresh eyes. Try and imagine you are seeing the face for the first time, and be as objective as you can with your observations. Then pull out the old drawings and take a look. You will hopefully spot the problem right away… I’ll often have a head-slapping moment where I think “How did I not see that?!?”.

Thanks to Max Ardon 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. Omara says:

    I’m not a caricature artist but I’ve experienced this in other forms‚Äö√Ñ√Æpresuming something looks a certain way, when it really doesn’t, and not being able to shake the misconception. You have to get new eyes about the subject matter.

    I love your book by the way. I own a ton of art books, but yours is one of the few that contains the kind of detailed practical advice I look for.

  2. anon says:

    have u tried caricaturing the singer lorde?

    have u tried doing a zbrush caricature ever?

  3. Chris Brandon says:

    Great question and spot on answer. I am a caricature artist and I have ran into this same problem more times than I can count. Sometimes starting over from scratch (for me) works, but not always. Like Tom said, take a step back and come back later, more times than not you will see something you missed and your forced mistakes will become apparent. Also trying to draw a caricature when your tired is never a good idea – it hardly ever comes out the way you intended it to.


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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