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Monday, July 9, 2018


The traditional image most folks have of a working caricaturist.
Over the years during which I've become more writer than artist, I've noticed that one of the artforms readers seem to find most consistently fascinating is that of the caricature. In my book, Art THINK (available at right), I devoted an entire chapter to making friends (and enemies) by making people look funny. As a high school art instructor, I taught a ten-week unit on cartooning aimed primarily at my ninth-grade students. Before starting, I used yearbook photos from the year before as the basis for a caricature of each student. Then, on the first day of the cartooning class I surprised them with a bulletin board filled with their caricatures. The kids loved it, and at the end of the unit they got to take home their caricature as a "souvenir."
Leonardo's "grotesque" caricatures.
If you're a half-decent artist with a basic understanding of facial anatomy and a little practice, you can probably turn out a recognizable caricature. In fact, most caricaturists are, self-taught (which is good, in that insofar as I know, there's no school for such training). Some of the greatest artists in history practiced caricature as a means to develop their skills. Leonardo da Vinci (above) was one of the first artists to use caricature, in the “grotesque” sketches of unusual faces and heads that populated his notebooks. A surprising number of artists from the past have followed Leonardo's lead--a list that includes Claude Monet, Honore Daumier, Norman Rockwell, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dali, Albrecht Durer, Picasso, and Andre Pijet. Today, it's not unusual for striving art students to be found at local street fairs trying to make a few extra bucks on the side (top).
Capturing a personality through caricature.
Caricatures have been defined as "portraits with the volume turned up." Yet they are seldom mean-spirited. Caricature is a depiction of someone in a humorous way, but at its best it also involves pointing out something about the subject's presence, rather than just ridiculing features.” Caricaturist like to make their subjects smile or laugh. However, just because caricaturists strive to capture a personal "essence" doesn't mean the client is going to like it. People can be in denial about their appearance, with a radically different idea of their weight, for instance, or even whether they have freckles. In such cases, the caricaturist can do little more than say, “I’m sorry," then move on to the next person. When a caricaturist is drawing a quick sketch for $15, the occasional bad portrait is bound to sneak in. Sometimes the client may refuse to pay, or even come back later and want their money back. Live caricature can be hair-raising trade.

Exaggeration run amok. Would you want to pay for this?
Caricature as entertainment.
Experienced caricaturist working in am-usement parks aim to churn out black-and-white portraits in three minutes. Working at a wedding reception, and ad-ding color, six minutes is about average. The need for speed means caricaturists have to go with their instincts. Working quickly means caricaturists develop a "sixth sense" in attempting to capture expressions--whether they’re energetic and outgoing, or more quiet. The caric-aturist's worst nightmare is the customer who comes in looking exactly like the girl (or guy) next door. The most difficult sort of person to draw is one that is com-pletely average looking. When faced with a bland-looking individual caricaturists us-ually try to focus more on things like clothes, hair, or jewelry to get a decent likeness. On the other hand, people who are naturally distinctive-looking are often artists' favorites.

Computer software can simplify exaggeration for the digital artist.
Exaggerating head shapes digitally.
Some contemporary carica-turists paint portraits, much like traditional satirical mast-ers once did (below). They may also be adept with other analog media, like bullet-tip markers, color sticks (basically colored pencils with no wood casings), pen and brush on paper. But thanks to the chan-ging needs of publications in an online age, which want all files sub-mitted electronically, caricature artists working in their studios have also gone dig-ital. Many digital caricatur-ist like the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil using Procreate. A tablet is more convenient, because it’s like having unlimited amounts of paper, your pencil never needs to be sharpened, and all your tools fit in a tiny bag. Computer software can even simplify some aspects of the exaggeration process (above and above-right). Yet it’s still about the creativity behind it. Computers can’t do it all on their own...yet.

Sample work by Judy Atkin

And of course, caricature is the stock-
in-trade of the political cartoonist.


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