Sunday Mailbag: Caricature Banter?

December 28th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Drawing is just one aspect of the art of live caricature. Another aspect is smalltalk with your subject. You have already written about an extraordinary conversation “drawing somebody naked”. Can you give an example of a typical conversation during a live caricature? Are you talking about the weather or something like that? And what are you doing if your subject is a child or a person who does not understand English?¬¨‚Ć

A: You’re right about drawing being only one aspect of the art of live caricature. Live caricature at its best is a performance art. Those who can combine great drawing with great “banter”, and especially those who can play to the audience watching the drawing, are the full package. I’ve seen some caricaturists lean too heavily on only one of those aspects, and the results are not as entertaining or satisfying.

There really should be no “typical” conversation with your live subjects, but sadly there is. There are a number of stock questions or comments many people use to “break the ice” with their models. They usually involve asking “where are you from?” or “are you have a fun day?”… boring stuff but they work to get the subjects talking. That is the key… keeping a conversation going while you are doing the caricature. Where it goes is up to the artist. You can stick to the cliche stuff, or get them talking about something that really interests them. Use your observational skills… if they are wearing a “Walking Dead” t-shirt you can ask them about the show. If the environment you are drawing in gives you some possible subjects to bring up, use that. Say you are drawing at a theme park where they just put in a new roller coaster, you can ask them is they are daring enough to ride it, and talk about your first time on the ride. Just get some talking going and keep it going.

I always hated the banter. I would much rather have just shut up and drawn, but that is boring and awkward with nothing but silence between you and the subjects. I had to force myself to joke around with the models and the crowd because I recognized that was a big part of the experience. If my subjects were not talkative, I’d turn around and bring the crowd into the conversation. Maybe make some jokes about not being sure which one of the couple I was drawing should get the five o’clock shadow. Dumb jokes, but they get laughs.

Kids are easy to talk with. When you are dealing with someone who does not understand your language, you are stuck. Then I make goofy faces at them to get them to smile. Not a lot else you can do in that situation.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger 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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