Sunday Mailbag: Does that Look Like Me?

June 21st, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!
Q: Is there someone who evaluates your caricatures? Currently with your experience, did you have bad reviews and did you have to redo caricatures?

A: I’m assuming you are referring to live caricature work.

Caricature is, to some extent, subjective. A likeness is a likeness but, unlike portraiture, caricature includes the exaggeration of what the artist perceives as the things that make the subject unique. That can be different for different artists. One artist may perceive a subject’s face as having a strong jaw, where another may see it differently. It’s the same for your audience. What you as a caricaturist see and exaggerate might not gel with what some of your audience perceives of the same face. Even if you draw the features well, if what you exaggerate is not what others see as essential uniqueness of your subject, it will result in a less successful caricature in the eyes of some of your viewers. The best example of what I am talking about might be those times when you point to someone on the street and say “doesn’t that guy look like (insert celebrity name here)?”, and your companion looks at you like you are crazy saying “that guy looks nothing like (insert celebrity name here).” You saw something in that face, possibly just an expression or the way the mouth and nose work together or some other minor nuance that really said (insert celebrity name here) to you. Your companion does not see that, and as the rest of the face looks nothing like (insert celebrity name here) they are mystified. Now if you as a caricaturist center your exaggerations around that kind of subtlety, the resulting drawing’s recognizablility might be lost on a lot of others who just don’t see it.

In some (actually, MANY) cases your perception just might be wrong. It might be coming from a preconceived notion or just some weird blind spot you have. Every subject has a number of different roads you can take as far as exaggeration goes. There is no “only one way” to do a person’s caricature, but there are wrong ways. If a subject has little, tiny eyes and you insist on drawing gigantic eyes, that’s just a wrong choice. That happens and you just have to rethink your exaggerations to fix it.

As far as live caricature goes that’s a lot harder to gauge true success. A really terrible drawing/likeness can be met with squeals of delight, a big tip, comments of how awesome an artist you are and this is the best caricature they ever had drawn, and said drawing hanging framed in a rec room for a decade. Conversely, the best drawing you did all week can get rejected by the subject, you get lectured on how it looks nothing like them and they walk away without paying. Whether or not the paying customer thinks the drawing is great or terrible is almost immaterial to the true success of the caricature. That’s what makes it hard to measure whether a live caricature is a success or not.

Let’s face it, selling a caricature to the subject of that caricature can be tough. You are trying to make fun of them, and get them to pay you for it. Some people have unrealistic self-images, some just can’t handle the truth, most are visually illiterate, a portion will never be happy with anything and should never have sat down in the first place. Some love a good caricature of themselves, and have the visual acuity to appreciate a good caricaturist’s skills. You get all kinds. I tell the caricaturists that work with me to only care about the customer’s opinions insofar as they buy the work and leave happy, and place their real faith in their progress in the opinions of their coworkers and peers of their artwork.

Everyone get’s rejections doing live caricature. I’ve been doing live caricatures for thirty years and I still get rejections. Sometimes you just did a bad drawing. It happens. I’ve done many thousands of them. Sometimes the rejection is the subject’s issue, as I went over above. In a commercial environment, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is. The customer is always right. If I really did a bad drawing, I’ll offer to redraw it for them. If I felt it is their issue, I’ll just refund their money and won’t redraw them. I don’t want to waste my time trying to figure out what they THINK they look like. I just refund their money with a smile and a “have a great day!”

Thanks to Gustavo Rivas 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. cristobal muñoz says:

    eso es muy cierto mucha gente tiene una idea errónea de si mismos es muy difícil darles en el gusto, what a good lesson.


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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