Sunday Mailbag- Exaggerating Color?

October 29th, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: In a lot of caricatures of President Trump, the illustrator will exaggerate the orange-ness of his skin. You’ve spoken and written a lot about exaggerating features, but in what situations is it acceptable to exaggerate color?  I imagine someone who is drawn green around the gills (sick) or exceedingly red (angry or sunburned) could be humorous, but in other instances an exaggeration of color (specifically skin) could be deemed racially insensitive, for example. When is it important to match color as closely as possible, and when do you choose to exaggerate it?

A: That’s an interesting question. I’d never really thought about it before.

I’d exaggerate color in a caricature only if it had some significant importance to the description/persona of the person. For example, if someone is known for being a redhead (and by “known for” I mean not just that they have red hair but that it’s central to their persona… “The Fiery Redhead”, etc) I might really exaggerate the color of their hair and the paleness of their skin. Trump’s fake-tan orange skin and the white circles around his eyes from the tanning goggles are a perfect example, he’s known for that and it would be appropriate to exaggerate it. If I did a caricature of George Hamilton I would exaggerate his perpetual tan. I would usually make Bill Clinton’s nose bright red because he often had that red nose and cheeks, plus it says something about his “good ol’ boy” southern persona. Marilyn Monroe was known as a bleach blonde and had extremely light hair, and I might use an unnatural yellow color for her hair to “exaggerate” that. Those are examples of where color becomes part of a subject’s persona and therefore subject to exaggeration in caricature.

What I would not do is exaggerate skin color just for racial purposes, and especially perpetuating stereotypes. I would not give an Asian person exaggerated yellow skin nor a native American exaggerated red skin… they don’t have that color skin anyway and both are racial stereotypes. I would try and match their actual skin tones or some approximation of them. The color of skin varies as greatly within the different ethnic groups as it does between them. Matching the color and value of the skin tones becomes part of capturing a subject’s likeness and look, but unless their coloring is central to some aspect of their personality or presence, exaggerating it is not necessary nor a very good idea IMO.

Thanks to Jared Rasmussen 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. alex carter says:

    As someone pointed out in the gossipy discussion site Reddit, “Spray-on is not a race”. I think it’s A-OK to make fun of Trump’s Halloween-special choice of hue. Not depicting him in all his orange-ness would be like portraying the Blue Man Group in all their blue-ness. it’s a central part of his/their act.


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