You Can Caricature!

I think fame is highly underrated! by rlz
I think fame is highly underrated! by rlz

This helpful article is presented by artist, cartoonist and architect Rick (Richard L.) Zimmerman, a lifelong Cleveland native. All of the caricature examples provided here are of Mr. Zimmerman's creation, as is rickzworld. He also writes extensively on matters of architectural litigation, sustainability, and local Northeastern Ohio architecture, sights and landmarks.

If you've got the will and the desire, you can caricature! Follow along as these simple guidelines show you how you can develop your drawing talent to draw out celebrities and the famous!

First, you must observe and discern. You must study not only pictures and video of your likely caricature subject, but you must also discern the particular features, clothing, props, mannerisms and expressions that will give your eventual drawing life and identity. It is also very helpful to study the works of other caricaturists and cartoonists, to see what salient elements they glean from the celeb or historical figure.

For example, in the image of Woody Allen shown here, I quite consciously chose not only his signature eyeglasses, but also a fairly typical blazer over turtleneck as his wardrobe. His posture suggests his often befuddled I-can't-explain-life demeanor, as do the raised eyebrows and wrinkled brow. Though Woody did not always sport fly-away hair, it seems in keeping with the overall posture and expression. The eyes centered squarely on the viewer draw to mind Woody's direct monologue style, and pull the viewer into the scene.

Tough guy! by rlz
Tough guy! by rlz

Next, the caricature of Mike Tyson (early in his career) shows another key aspect of caricaturing. Since we most often recognize celebs and historical figures first by their facial features, head shape, and headgear, it is best to enlarge those, letting the body shrink to a lesser role in the eventual drawing. Though Mike Tyson has tremendous heft throughout his entire body, especially the upper torso, here the head dominates, and the facial features control the message of the drawing.

You will also notice that I have changed the style of drawing to suit the subject. I chose to depict Mike's head as if hewn from a block of granite, to signify his strength and immutability. I also chose to keep the arms tucked into the body, and the boxing gloves very simple, to heighten the effect of unmoving Gibraltar, upon which other fighters will be dashed.

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road! by rlz
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road! by rlz

To develop your caricaturing ability, you must also practice and experiment. Here you see an old sketch of Elton John (also rather early in his career). This is clearly a youthful Elton, back when he was prone to wearing truly outrageous stage outfits, and had a clearly receding hairline. One can see his thin-faced exuberance and antic air. To caricature Elton today, I would have to thicken his face, add his wig, tone down the outfit and make him a bit more sober and reflective. But this sketch suited the period, and allowed me to try out different things with my drawing.

Notice the quick scribbly character of the drawing — I was literally experimenting with lines, hoping to find the right ones that would capture the personality. In developing a caricature, I might generate 20 or 30 such sketches, before I find a bit of lip or eye or hairline that suits my target. I will then keep that feature and begin working on the rest.

What's that, Gracie? by rlz
What's that, Gracie? by rlz

You will find in caricature that some figures are timeless and some are ever-changing chameleons. I could have drawn the above sketch of George Burns at almost any time in his career. Madonna I would have to draw week by week. For George's sketch, the eyeglasses, cigar and crinkly puckered smile were essential. The tux seemed a natural choice, but in this sketch, you may notice that the arms and hands seem a bit lost and out of character, as if they don't know what they should be doing. That's probably because when we observed George performing, we almost never saw his arms or hands (except the one holding the cigar). As a result, I had no real model to go by, so this sketch remains unfinished. But, here too, as in the Elton sketch, you can see the experimentation at play in the drawing. Don't ever stop experimenting; the perfect line awaits in the next sketch — or the next, or the next.

I'll Be Back! by rlz
I'll Be Back! by rlz

Here the perfect line happened to be a perfect jawline! For this sketch of Ahnold, the Governator, in the waning days of his weightlifting era and the introduction of Conan the Barbarian, I felt it best to dwell on his profile. There I could best capture his unique jaw, lips, facial musculature, and youthful flow of cowlicky hair. I then subdued the body into merely a swirling mass of muscleman posturing. One can see that this would never work today as a sketch of a suited-up state executive — it suits only its time. For a subject such as this, the caricaturist needs to practice his or her skills over time, capturing the subject in a variety of settings and scenes, to zero in on the identifiable essence of the person. 

The gang's all here! by rlz
The gang's all here! by rlz

One can also develop caricatures in group settings (as political caricaturists often must). Here the work is somewhat easier, because the viewer's recognition of your subjects is aided by the common theme. For example, these are all clearly musical performers, so it's easier to recognize Diana Ross by association, if not by immediate identification. The fact that she's surrounded by Rod Stewart and Phil Collins and Steve Wonder and Paula Abdul and Mick Jagger and Elton John indicate that this was the royalty of pop/rock/dance music circa the late 1980s. Working on such a scene let's you hone your caricaturing skills as well as refine your ability to 'stage' your personalities, and swaddle them in the proper wardrobe and props. 

See Dick Run. See Spiro Run. by rlz
See Dick Run. See Spiro Run. by rlz

Finally, let's focus on the political cartoon. The very nature of political discourse today seems to make political caricaturing a blood sport. It seems impossible to satirize or mock one's opponent TOO much. But one tends to forget things have always been this way. Some of the most vicious visual attacks on politicos in our nation's history actually date back to the electoral contests of the 1800s and early 1900s. By way of political nostalgia, I share with you the sketch above, which I prepared as Richard Nixon was readying his resignation speech for the Watergate cover-up, not long after his Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigned due to criminal offenses. It was a brutal (and perhaps tasteless) assault on their personalities, I suppose, but no worse than their assault on our nation's laws and executive offices. Remember, that first, last and always the aim of your caricaturing should be a sort of whimsical recognition, if not outright humor and satire.

Travel to rickzworld for even more humorous illustration.

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Comments 8 comments

elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Hey - you are good at this. I enjoy drawing too, but haven't quite got the caricature thing down yet. Aloha!

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Thanks, elayne. Here's another good tip: Don't worry about who or what you are trying to draw, just draw faces and heads and bodies. Sooner or later, one will maybe remind you a little of Clint Eastwood's stance, or Groucho's walk, or the way Elton bangs the piano, or someone's expression. Over time, you'll gather snippets you can use to make up an entire caricature. (That's how I developed Woody Allen's hair!)

Maria Rattray profile image

Maria Rattray 6 years ago

Rick - loved the bums! Very, very clever.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Good stuff Rick - I'll not be taking it up though, I have enough on my to do list already ;)

Manna in the wild profile image

Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

Top stuff! Thanks very much. I have concentrated on realism for portraits but no caricatures.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

mitw: Thanks for the comment. Why not check out my hubs on sketching and architectural rendering?

Drawing Coach 4 years ago

Caricatures aren't necessarily hard, but if it's your first time trying one it might seem a little bit daunting. As with many learned skills repetition is essential and will help you learn more quickly and easily.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Thanks, Coach!

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