Can a Caricature Help My Portrait Painting?

12 Aug 2014

The Grimaces by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1823, lithograph, 13 1/8 x 10.
The Grimaces by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1823,
lithograph, 13 1/8 x 10.
Awhile 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, pencil drawing. 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.
Caricature of a Woman in a Large Hat
by Enrico Caruso, 1920, 14 x 20,
pencil drawing.
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, a 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 strokes.

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, Alain Picard's Successful Pastel Portraits Value Pack is a great all-in-one resource. Enjoy!

 

 


Featured Product

Successful Pastel Portraits with Alain Picard Value Pack

Availability: In Stock
Was: $185.47
Sale: $122.00

Kit

Join artist and expert Alain Picard in a thorough exploration of pastel portrait painting.

More

Related Posts
+ Add a comment

Comments

on 5 Nov 2011 9:16 AM

Why are these contests not open to Canadians? I subscribe to two American Artist magazines and can't enter their contests, it doesn't seem fair to take my money for one but not the other. Other magazines have contests that are not restricted to US citizens.

on 7 Nov 2011 12:40 PM

Hey William,

I think it has something to do with legalities that are beyond our control. But I'll look into this asap and get back to you. Thanks,

Courtney

on 7 Nov 2011 1:11 PM

Hi William,

Apparently each country has its own set of rules and regulations in regards to contests, and we don’t have the bandwidth to open contests up beyond the continental U.S.

We appreciate your interest though and would love to see your work represented in our online galleries, and in our latest online contest to create a holiday eCard for American Artist and Artist Daily--look under the Galleries tab for Move Over Hallmark! Holiday Card Contest. Let me know if you have questions and thanks again.

Courtney

on 13 Aug 2014 6:52 AM

Thanks, Courtney, this is great. Bernini was one of the greatest portraitists in both painting and sculpture, and also a great caricaturist, and they were for him related--because the caricature gets at the essentials of what makes someone unique, as opposed to the general characteristics we all share. I think of portraits of Ben Franklin, which always seem to be caricatures of him in one way or another, convey something essential and charmingly unique about him.

MHubley wrote
on 13 Aug 2014 11:31 AM

Caricature is an art form in itself, and not an easy task to accentuate a piece of a face, and make it look even more like that person than he really is.