|The Grimaces by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1823,
lithograph, 13 1/8 x 10.
A few weeks ago I was in the Met and saw "Infinite Jest," an
exhibition of drawings and prints that explore satire and caricature from the
Italian Renaissance to the present. I enjoyed the show, walking around and
chuckling at several of the drawings, but nothing really spoke to me, and yet
weeks later the images from the show are popping into my head as if I had seen
them just this morning.
I've been puzzling over why that could be and came to the
conclusion that even though caricature is a completely different category of
portraiture, it uses the same strategies that can make fine art portrait
painting and portrait drawings memorable.
At its most essential, a caricature is an exaggeration or
distortion of a person's physical characteristics, but it is still a study of a
person's physicality. We've all seen the boardwalk artists at the beach who
draw quick caricature sketches in a handful of minutes. The artist gets the
shape of the face and accentuates two or three physical features of the sitter
and voila, a caricature.
|Caricature of a Woman in a Large Hat
by Enrico Caruso, 1920, 14 x 20,
||Senator Dolph of Oregon by Thomas Nast,
1894, pencil drawing with ink,
13 1/2 x 10 1/4.
||The Clown: M. Joret
by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, 1885,
pen and ink drawing.
Although fine art portraiture takes longer to create, an oil
portrait painter still uses the same approach. First, it is essential to get
the shape of the head right. This is a crucial step because it determines how
the head sits on the neck and leads into the torso, and how the features sit on
the face. Think of how you are able to recognize a friend or acquaintance from
across the street. The same rule applies for a portrait; the sitter will be
recognized first from their big ol' noggin.
With a caricature, the artist will usually exaggerate a
person's features—eyes, lips, chin, ears, or hair, even freckles or big
eyelashes. It always varies, but usually the artist doesn't emphasize
everything and only select one or two features for the biggest impact. Fine art
portrait artists should work in the same way. Not in terms of exaggerating the
size or proportion of a person's features, but drawing attention to certain
aspects of a person with color, light and shadow, and brushstrokes.
For me, looking at a model and first thinking of how I'd
draw their caricature can really open up my mind to what I'd showcase in their
portrait. And, just like the caricatures that stood out in my mind weeks after
I'd seen them, a portrait that visually "heightens" certain aspects of a
person's looks will certainly stand out from the crowd. For more on what goes
into painting an excellent portrait and how to capture a person's likeness, our
Master Teachers Highlights magazine is a great all-in-one resource. And today
you can download Master Teachers Highlights for just a dime. Yep, only ten
And in the spirit of appreciation for
portraiture, American Artist is
sponsoring a self-portrait contest that I would love for you to be a part of!