How to Draw Caricatures

How does one draw caricatures? Believe it or not that is one of the most commonly asked questions that I get about learning to draw. Everyone wants to know the secret and I tell them there is no one secret. In fact, there are THREE!!!

The first is simple–good draftsmanship. The second is great distortion, and the third, which is the grand daddy of them all, is what exactly to distort, evolving a realistic drawing into a caricature.

A caricature of Manny with a photo showing what I was working from.
A caricature of Manny with a photo showing what I was working from.

Caricature artists are some of the greatest artists in art history. Degas named Honore Daumier as one of the greatest draftsmen of all time. In fact, Degas admired Daumier so much that he collected about 740 of his works. Daumier's drawing techniques were second to none, but he was also able to take the spirit of his sitter and play with it in an ironic, humorous, and sometimes mischievous ways.  The key to his success among others was the ability to draw well, distort with purpose, and know how and when to distort.        

One key to unlocking great caricatures is to learning how to draw truthfully. In other words, hold back on distorting everything and don't go overboard! The other thing is knowing where to just let it go and get crazy. For example in my drawing of Manny I kept his face relatively proportionate, then I took his strong nose and played with it so that it became an interesting and subtly distorted focal point. His nose is strong but I made it even more powerfully robust. Then I took his "rock and roll" haircut, as he calls it, and turned it into the wild and wonderful bird's nest that it is.  His hair feels humorous and I love the shapes that it makes as it cascades down his long oval profile. In addition, his lashes are pronounced in reality so I pushed them ever so slightly until they were like butterfly lashes. Finally I took his Don Juan goatee and used it to sharpen his upper lip and chin. Thank you Manny!

A photo of Manny. My caricature of Manny.
A photo of Manny. My caricature of Manny.

In the end, good distortion is a profound exploration into the sitter's soul. If you dial into the essence of the person, into their inner self, you will see their life written into their features. Rugged crow's feet tell stories not only of one's age but also of struggles, experiences, and journeys. The direction of wrinkles reveals the attitude and outlook on one's life. When you think about how to draw caricatures it's not just learning to draw funny features. It can be a look into the person's life story. Yes, if someone has a bizarrely big nose you probably want to exaggerate that feature but you should ask why the nose is big? Is it cartilage growing after years of aging? Is it because they had it broken 6 times because they are a professional MMA fighter? Make sure there is a rhyme and reason for the distortion. That will make your voyage of how to draw caricatures more clear and emotional.

Good luck and get to work!!!


Justin BUA is internationally recognized as a gifted and commercially successful artist, best known for his best-selling collection of fine art posters. His piece, The DJ, is one of the most popular prints of all time.

Classically trained, BUA taught figure drawing at USC for ten years. In 2009, he released the book, The Beat of Urban Art, which captures his unique style and voice. He currently teaches at the Artist Works Online Art School.

For more information on BUA's drawing system, visit the BUA online school.

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About BUA

Groundbreaking artist Justin BUA was born in 1968 and grew up fascinated by the visceral street life that surrounded him in New York City.  Born into a family of art connoissuers, he became interested in art at a very young age from being exposed to the great master painters in the NYC museums.  As a way to develop his raw talent, BUA attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts and later earned a  B.F.A. from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.  

An active member of the early Hip Hop movement, BUA also spent a lot of time studying the old graffiti writers and developing his own style of street art into what he calls “New Urban Realism”.  BUA soon expanded beyond the streets of his native New York to become internationally known as a gifted and best selling artist.  An entrepreneur by nature, BUA got his start in the world of commercial art by designing and illustrating different projects that include skateboards, CD covers, and advertising campaigns. He has also worked on video games, music videos, and TV shows.  He rose to international recognition for his best-selling collection of fine art posters.  His most famous piece, The DJ, is one of the most popular prints of all time.

Classically trained in all fields of visual art, BUA taught figure drawing at the University of Southern California for ten years. In 2009 he released his first book The Beat of Urban Art, which captures his unique style and voice.  His latest book, The Legends of Hip Hop, features portraits of 50 of the greatest Hip Hop artists (including DJ Qbert, who gives DJ lessons at ArtistWorks).

Just as Bob Ross used technology in new ways to teach people how to draw through television, BUA is now channeling his passion for art by teaching people how to draw online at ArtistWorks.  In addition to his online art lessons, BUA continues to contribute to the art world with exhibits around the world of his work.  He also does speaking engagements and makes frequent appearances on TV as a host and guest.  BUA is celebrated worldwide from a diverse range of fans that include former presidents, actors, musicians, pro athletes, dancers, street kids, and art connoisseurs.

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