Sunday Mailbag- Just Ignore The Bad Ones?

August 20th, 2017 | Posted in General

Q: I did a caricature gig for the opening of a local restaurant. My first customer was a heavy woman in her ’50s, my first drawing of the night. She had such a roundish, potatoish face and I did my best but threw away the first one and didn’t do much better on the second. Question; when somebody has a face like that do you define the features with cheekbones you don’t see and muscle tone that isn’t there? Second question; early in your career did you ever run into a similar circumstance where you couldn’t nail the face and were stumped or did you plow on through and call it good?

A: First question: While I might back away from exaggerating someone’s very fat face if I get the feeling my customer is sensitive, I don’t draw things I don’t see to try and appease them. If they have no visible cheekbones I won’t draw cheekbones. If they have a big round face, I draw a round face. I just might not choose to exaggerate that aspect, but instead focus on some other part of their presence to emphasize. The eyes, the smile, or maybe the hair… whatever else they have, especially if it’s a positive feature, that I can draw attention to and make the focus of the caricature. The fact that you were trying to draw the subject with features she does not have is likely the reason it was not turning out.

Second question: Sure, I did a lot of “mistems” (translation: “missed them”) over the years. In fact I did a few yesterday when I had a rare day of working live out at my theme park operation in Minnesota. These are spontaneous, quick draw caricatures. Not all of them are going to be Blue Ribbon winners, and some are going to go off the rails due to a bad decision, fatigue, whatever. If things are really awry at the early stages, I will start over, but the customer is not paying enough for these for me to try and try if I can’t quite get it right, and I certainly would never throw up my hands and say “sorry, can’t get you right. I can’t sell you a drawing”. They can always refuse to pay for it if they don’t like the results. That might seem like a bad away to do business but customers also don’t want to have to wait forever to get a drawing done because the artist is a perfectionist who won’t just move on with an “okay” job with the drawings before them. It’s the nature of the art form: fast and spontaneous caricatures. Also even one that you or another caricaturist might look at and say “kind of mistem there” is probably still a mini-miracle of art to a layman customer. If they are looking for a Rembrant job for $20 they are going to be disappointed in most cases.

Thanks to Dan the Cartoon Man 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. Andy says:

    This is probably my biggest hang up sometimes. Thank you so much for this honest answer. A lot of the times I’m not entirely happy with my live caricatures, but customers are usually satisfied.

  2. cartoonydan says:

    Thanks Tom! Good answers!


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