Learn to Draw > Caricatures

We have so far treated our aim in drawing as reproducing what we see as nearly possible to nature. This is the only sure and secure foundation on which to branch out into exappgeration and distortion and one which to start artistic creation. This is a valid foundation for caricature as well, but here we have to move on to the second and last stage, that of creation.

First, we must explain what we mean by caricature. The word first brings to mind the witty drawing, which has so many uses: the illustration to a literary joke, social or political satire, advertisement. No academic training is necessary to produce this, as long as the drawing is not required to caricature a particular person. Many cartoonists, and by no means the worst, use the same figure again and again, of the kind that a child could soon learn to copy. Here the talent of the draftsman lies less in manual dexterity than in the brillance of his literary concept. Even the satirical drawings of men of great ability like Goya, Daumier, Chodowiecki or Dore are not really caricatures, but very representative and typical figures with portrait-like features.

What we mean here by caricature arises from the portrait of a definite individual, portrayed as a person and not as a general type. Portrait caricature of this type demands great ability; it is also the clearest example of how something can be created out of a carefully understood natural form by the power of the artist to see into the essential nature of the person.

Toulouse-Lautrec, self-portrait Many paths can lead to this insight, but its practical presentation depends on two things: the most precise pinpointing of the characterists forms of the face, and their exaggeration. Both of these can be emphasized with the pose and gesture of the whole figure.

It can be approached from two extremes, as can nearly all artistic creation, either from the visual experience and impression of what is immediately seen, or from a knowledge of human peculiarities, weaknesses, and strengths, in short, an impression of the artist's psychological experience of the person. This portrait approach could arise without the artist ever having seen the person, and it is conceivable that a caricature could be made without ever having seen the subject, although it might then have to be provided with a title.

Here, however, we are dealing with a caricature portrait that can be recognized without a title. It is built on characteristic forms. If she starts from a visual impression, the artist will ask herself what this or that form or line signifies, whether this aspect is typical or not, whether the person's nature -- helped here by his knowledge of anatomy and physiognomy -- is to be found in this or that peculiarity, and what is essential, what subsidiary.

Portrait studies used in drawing the caricature on the right

Starting from the psychological idea, the artist will seek formal structures which can express it. He must not alter forms consciously, but rather work with what is to be seen. His psychological impression will guide him in what he selects to emphasize and what he rejects. Usually of course, he will use both visual and psychological approaches. A significant caricature can arise only from an all-around idea, and it is irrelevant whether it appears immediately or grows slowly. This idea cannot be forced, but much can be done to help its growth.

Here I can illustrate a systematic reduction of a portrait to a caricature as the idea takes shape. First comes a portrait study, or, better still, several. Over them she lays tracing paper and redraws the forms, already beginning to select and emphasize certain features. These tracings can be made again and again, or one can start at the beginning and draw a final caricature direct from the model or from memory. Systematic work of this kind, which can be varied in a number of ways, is always of some value; it may result in a brilliant portrait or it may fail. Nothing can be won without trying, and systematic work is the best way to try. Even if the result is a failure, the practice is its own reward.

Successive stages in this caricature were obtained by tracing the portrait study seen from the front. It is that of an eminent surgeon. Like many great doctors, he employed sarcasm to ward off the absurdities of his patients.

All this indicates that genuine caricatures cannot be a sideline. It is a branch of fine art, demanding specialization and a grounding in straightforward portraiture which uncritically contains all that can be seen. Unless the artist can dominate nature, he will be unable to create, emphasize, or exaggerate.


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