Last week, some friends asked me why I don’t do caricatures. I told them it takes a special skillset to draw caricatures, let alone ones that are clever and lifelike. My friends were confused by my answer. After all, they reasoned, if you can draw caricature-like figures — how hard could it possibly be to draw caricatures? As I will make clear below, it’s very, very hard. To me at least it is.
Here’s the thing. If you ask me to draw just some old guy, then I will come up with one in less than no time. I got plenty of imagination, and I know some basic tricks to age a character with a few pen stroke (see fig. below).
But, if you would want me to draw you a portrait of my late grandfather — I wouldn’t even know where to begin! What makes portraiture so challenging is that if you don’t precisely match on canvas the inclinations and angles of the head, the face, and the ears, you’ll end up with a portrait that bears very little if any resemblance to your subject. To be sure, I know there are certain tools and tricks portraitists can play with when they go about doing a portrait (e.g., like tracing silhouettes) — and yeah, I suppose I could also employ those very tools and tricks. Yet, even so, I would still struggle to really nail a portrait.
My sister, on the other hand, has such a knack for portraiture, she makes it seem effortless. The figs. below show a portrait of my late grandfather coming to life by her hand.
But don’t ask her to draw a looney cartoon of an elderly man, because, well — cartooning is unfamiliar territory to her.
Now, how does this all relate to the art caricature? Well, to be a good caricaturist, you need not just be a good cartoonist who knows how to draw grotesque but humanly true characters, you also need to be a good portraitist who knows how to capture the likeness of the subject.
In reality, there’s even more to it than this. What separates a really good caricaturist from a merely okay one is that the former really knows how to capture the subject’s personality and his attitude — his unmistakable essence, if you will — while the latter just exaggerates and distorts the obvious (that is, what the eyes see). Meaning you need to intimately know your subject if you want to be good at it. And that’s probably, definitely another reason why I tend to stick with fantasy.