Sunday Mailbag- Will Never “Get” Caricature?

March 12th, 2017 | Posted in General

Q: In your training seminars have you found everyone is teachable/learnable? Do you ever have a student who will NEVER get it?

A: Not in any of my workshops (so far), but yes, I have run across many people, some artists of good ability, who just don’t “get” caricature, and maybe might never be able to draw them competently. Drawing and drawing caricatures are two separate things.

Everyone is teachable to some degree. If you study and practice drawing hard enough, you will improve your skills. That doesn’t mean anyone can become a great artist, it just means anyone can improve their ability to draw through patience, practice, and study. This is especially true for caricature, because it is not merely a mechanical process. It involves the ability to draw well AND the ability to interpret what you see and exaggerate it so others see what you see, which is that intangible part that you cannot be taught. It’s similar to learning to play an instrument like the guitar. Anyone can study and practice enough with the guitar to be able to play a few songs and strum a few chords. With enough hard work anyone can even get to the point where they can play entire songs and even impress people who have never picked up a guitar. That does not make one a guitarist. In order to really play music, you need to have an ear for it. That’s an intangible that might be called “talent”. Even with an ear for it, that doesn’t mean that person can be the next Jimi Hendrix. To ascend to a truly excellent level takes more than just practice and study, it takes a high degree of talent. And to WRITE music? That’s takes both study, talent, creativity and invention.

The ability to draw well does not mean any artist can excel at caricature. There is an “eye” for that which cannot be taught. It can be developed through a lot of practice and study, but how far you go with it depends largely on that spark you had to begin with. I’ve had very good artists work with me who just can’t get that caricature “eye” to switch on all the way. There is a limit to how far a person will “get” it, and that limit is their innate talent.

That said, most people never reach the point where their level of talent is the factor holding them back. Hard work and endless practice are as important, if not more so, than talent in developing your drawing skills. Good drawing skills will allow you to be able to do caricature to some degree. Just like a lot of practice on the guitar will get you to the point where you can play some songs, a lot of practice on paper will get you to be able to do decent drawings… you just might not be shredding “Foxy Lady” on your Strat anytime soon (if ever). That doesn’t mean it’s pointless to work hard at trying to draw if you have a desire to be good at it, even if you don’t have a great deal of natural talent. If everyone who had no chance of being the next Jimi Hendrix didn’t bother to learn to play the guitar, there would be no guitar players in the world. Don’t let anything hold you back. If you want to be a caricaturist (or anything else for that matter), work hard to be the best you can be.

Thanks to Michael Curry 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. Great exposition comparing and contrasting the concept of “ability.” Everything you say here I have pretty much understood to be rock solid reality – that is what I have learned from all my art teachers and from all my friends in high school and college. Weirdly enough, and unsettling to me, from my conversations with talented and hard-working artists many decades younger than me, these fundamentals are no longer taught and even the concept of talent is denigrated and dismissed when it comes to art and artists though of course no one denies talent when the subject is athletes… Some years ago I had the most insane conversation with an art teacher who had convinced himself that talent was wholly a myth, and anyone who practiced long and hard could achieve a professional level and anyone who had practiced long and hard who had yet to achieve a professional level was simply “doing it wrong.” This deluded professor had a great many definitions as to what constituted doing it wrong… What was especially inexplicable to me was that he had achieved professional employment as a comic book penciler sometime in the 90s and yet was committed to teaching “talent is a lie” malarkey to his students…


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