Sunday Mailbag- Some Faces Easier to Caricature?

November 1st, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag


Q: Based on your past experiences, do you find that it is easier to do caricatures of some people over others?

A: Yes, of course. Caricature is based on an artist’s perception of a subject and their features. Some subjects have obvious physical or personality-based traits that jump right out at you, and those types of faces are easier to caricature not because they are easier to draw (they have the same features everyone else has) but because you identify what features you are going to exaggerate and how to stretch them without much effort. As you develop your “eye” for caricature, more and more faces appear to have these obvious traits.

I explain it to rookie caricaturists like this:

Say you are walking around the grocery store, or down the street, or at a restaurant, and you see some guy standing their with an enormous nose (or a massive overbite, or a tiny forehead, or bushy eyebrows…etc) and you instantly see the caricature you would draw of them pop up in your head. It’s the kind of face you really want to draw. You look at the people surrounding this person, and none of them ring the bells in the same way. That person has one or more obvious features ripe for exaggeration. When you first get started doing caricatures, only a small percentage of people jump out at you like that, the rest of humanity requires you to really examine the face and work harder and identifying something to exaggerate.

As you develop your “eye”, the percentage of humanity with obvious “caricaturable” features increases. A face that a few months ago looked boring and generic to you suddenly now has some trait that jumps out. Fewer and fewer faces require a lot of examination or thinking to find something unique to exaggerate, and the ones that do require more effort are easier to unlock or “solve” as a caricature. This is developing your “eye”, and is the lynch pin of learning caricature.

People who want to learn to do caricatures hate hearing this, but I say it over and over again in my book and when the subject comes up: you cannot be taught how to draw caricatures. You can be shown the tools, taught how to effectively draw features, have certain theories and techniques for observation and examination explained to you… but you cannot be taught how to “see”. That is something you have to develop, and that takes thousands of hours of drawing (and drawings). Some people have a better natural eye than others, but to become exceptional it takes hard work and time.

Almost anybody can caricature the easy faces. The really good caricaturists do just as well with the hard ones.

Thanks to John 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. Michael Clark says:

    Hi Tom,
    Great post. When making your initial assessment of a face, will you have decided on the shape of the head before you even start the drawing, or do you place the facial features first & let that dictate the structure of the head? I realize as a professional, you probably do theses steps all together; but if you were to insruct a beginner to Caricature? All my caricature’s turn into portraits. I want to really push the shape of the head, just unsure how to go about it. Keep up the great art!

    • Tom Richmond says:

      I look at head shape first, T-shape within that head shape second.

      • Michael Clark says:

        Thanks Joe. Appreciate the reply.

      • Michael Clark says:

        Thanks Tom. I’ll keep working at it. Just 10,000 more bad drawings to learn from tell I actually create something decent. Just got to keep in mind everyone started out in the same spot.

  2. During the summer of 2013 I auditioned for a job as a caricature artist job in a resort city in Virginia. My audition caricature drawing was okay enough to get me the job. The company owner said I would get better, man was he right. I drew hundreds of caricatures of tourist, my caricature “EYE” developed. Yes I read caricature books, but nothing could compare to hundreds of hours drawing caricature live.

    Garland Washington


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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