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What Makes A Great Live Caricature?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023




Caricature is a fun art form that takes a lot of thought and creativity. Caricature art has been around for a long time - from animated films to political cartoons to even a live caricature artist drawing at a fair, festival, or event. A caricature artist's main goal is to find the likeness of a subject and exaggerate it!

"The most amazing thing about people is that everyone is unique. Caricature is comical, but in a way, it does celebrate uniqueness."

Exaggeration and Likeness are the key ingredients for executing a caricature. Likeness is recognizable. Something that relates to a person. Exaggeration is giving more attention to those features that are relative to someone. You can sometimes think about exaggeration as an exclamation mark. You're making a point on why that feature is relative to the likeness of a person.

Damion Dunn Live Caricature

Damion Dunn Live Caricature. Follow Damion on Instagram: @thedunisher

Caricature projects all the infinite possibilities of the likeness of a subject and amplifies or simplifies those features with exaggeration.

Caricature projects all the infinite possibilities of the likeness of a subject and amplifies or simplifies those features with exaggeration. There are a lot of concepts caricature artists use to create a live caricature, but the best live caricature artists usually have an arsenal of ideas. Here are some of the best concepts that caricature artists apply to make a fantastic live caricature:

 

1. Likeness

Live Caricature done by Xi Ding

Xi Ding Live Caricature. Follow Xi Ding on Instagram: @xidingart


Likeness is the resemblance of a person. In short, it's what makes a person....well them! Caricature artists train themselves by asking, "what makes a person them?" What is spectacular is that you can never really answer the question with just one idea. If I were to say, " It looks like Tom!" Well, the obvious answer is "who is Tom?" or "which Tom?" Having only one suggestion never really works. But if I were to say, " You know Tom! Big nose! Curly Hair. Sounds like a cowboy toy, has a mom that likes chocolates, his best friend is a volleyball, and he saved some dude named Ryan. You know! TOM!" Supplying more information about a subject gives the viewers more recognizability.


Manny Avetisyan Live Caricature.

Manny Avetisyan Live Caricature. Follow Manny on Instagram: @avetiarts

The ideas of likeness are super vast. Someone's appearance can be just one of many factors that play into their likeness.

There are hundreds of ideas out there in order to display a likeness of someone. Some of these include:

  • Appearance

  • Features

  • Personality

  • Similarities

  • Relations

  • Essences

  • Smell

  • Noise

  • Identity

  • Concepts

  • Themes

Caricature artists have had to train themselves and tune in on that unconscious thought. The artist has to think, " what makes this person them?" constantly.

The fantastic thing is that question is never answered with just one idea, but hundreds and maybe even thousands. Not only that, but the artist has also to exaggerate those ideas and keep them in comparison to that person.

AJ Jensen Live Caricature

AJ Jensen Live Caricature. Follow AJ on Instagram: @ajtoonheadz


 

2. Exaggeration

Most people see exaggeration as an abstract concept - even though they use it daily. From speaking, retaining information, joking, and gathering features of people they meet. There are tons of scientific studies displaying evidence of how people retain information, and if someone is to exaggerate a lesson, thought, or person - it seems that humans are able to retain the information better. In a way, we are sort of caricaturing things all the time.


Brian Oakes Live Caricature

Brian Oakes Live Caricature. Follow Brian on Instagram: @brianwesleyoakes

Most people see exaggeration as an abstract concept - even though they use it daily. From speaking, reading the information, joking, and gathering features of people they meet - they use exaggeration as a tool.

Exaggeration is the act of taking an idea further by overemphasizing or simplifying. In caricature, you want to highlight the ideas of likeness and take it to another realm. The most essential part of exaggeration - is that it needs to be done with purpose. I think this is a big misconception people have about caricatures.

Exaggeration is the act of taking an idea further by overemphasizing or simplifying. In caricature, you want to highlight the ideas of likeness and take it to another realm.
Mac Garcia Live Caricature

Mac Garcia Live Caricature. Follow Mac on Instagram: @yousillybanana


A lot of people get confused with distortion and exaggeration. You might think of caricature as, " Oh, they're just going to draw me with a big nose!"

Well, the answer to that is, "Do you have a big nose?" Exaggeration is with the purpose of the subject. Distortion is making features bigger or smaller for no reason. Say, for instance, that you draw someone with big lips and they have small lips, you're distorting a feature and losing the likeness in the process. Exaggeration is supposed to help the likeness - like a giant exclamation mark for a statement!

Exaggeration is supposed to help the likeness - like a giant exclamation mark for a statement!
Sebastian Martin Live Caricature

Sebastian Martin Live Caricature. Follow Sebastian on Instagram: @sebastian_martin_illustraion


 

3. Color Color can be used to add more exaggeration and likeness to the caricature. If you're creating a caricature of someone who is positive and energized, use bright colors. If your subject is more subdued or sad, use a palette of muted tones. The shapes and details in your drawing should be just as vibrant as the colors surrounding them.

Follow the mood of the subject. If someone is full of energy, use very vibrant colors. If someone is low energy, use dull or cool colors to set the tone.
Kiko Yamada Live Caricature

Kiko Yamada Live Caricature. Follow Kiko on Instagram: @ninjasketch


If you're drawing a caricature, one of the best things you can do is exaggerate the colors!


For example, sometimes, you will see spots of color on areas of a face that seem out of the ordinary. You can have a very purple color around people's eyelids, a blueish hue around someone's 5 o'clock shadow, orange-reddish cheeks, bright magenta on ears, blue veins on foreheads, warm-red colors on the chin, very yellow colors on the forehead, super bright warm colors on the nose, or a purple/magenta tint on the bottom lip. If you really saturate these colors, you can really exaggerate these features further. Also, you saturating the color for your caricatures helps make them look more vibrant and fun!

If you really saturate colors away from the basic "skin tones", you can exaggerate features further and make the caricatures look more vibrant!
Eric Goodwin Live Caricature

Eric Goodwin Live Caricature. Follow Eric on Instagram: @ericgoodwinart


When I first started out, I was so confused about how actually to color a caricature. I found my caricatures looking dull, flat, and unsaturated. It wasn't until I realized the importance of color theory, values, and being more confident to really lay down color. I remember one of my friends suggested to me that I need to saturate more, along with laying down more values, and I have taken that advice ever since.

I noticed my colored caricatures "popping" more and became more tactical on what colors to use for a caricature - instead of the usual peach and pink skin tones. I also found myself studying how color acts on a face. Warmer colors around noses, cheeks, and ears. Cooler colors for jaws and eyelids. Yellow colors for foreheads. Now, not every face behaves that way (because everyone is unique) but it helped me establish a basic foundation. That way, when someone didn't share those characteristics - I would notice different colors.


Kelly O'Brien Live Caricature

Kelly O'Brien Live Caricature. Follow Kelly on Instagram: @komakes


Use color theory in order to make the caricature visually more attractive by harmonizing colors and applying color schemes.

The use of color theory in caricature is very important. It helps you create a visually more attractive image by harmonizing colors and applying color schemes. Caricature Artists with a good understanding of color theory are able to create excellent rendered live caricatures.

To use it, first, you need to learn about different types of color harmony:

  • Analogous - using similar shades from neighboring hues (for example, red and orange).

  • Complementary - two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel (for example, blue and yellow).

  • Triadic - three colors opposite of each other on a color wheel (for example, yellow, blue, and red)

color wheel
Caricature Artists with a good understanding of color theory are able to create awesome rendered live caricatures.
Hitomi Ishihara Live Caricature

Hitomi Ishihara Live Caricature. Follow Hitomi on Instagram: @cj_hitomi_ishihara


 


4. Design When you're drawing a caricature, it's important to remember that you can push, pull, stretch, and shorten shapes in order to help exaggerate your subject's features. Making sure that you have an arsenal of compatible shapes will help your caricatures look more visually appealing.

When you can find shapes within a face, then exaggerate those shapes, and apply them in a very balanced way - your caricatures will look awesome!

Design is applying shapes that help balance the caricature. This will help with making the caricature look more dynamic.

AJ Jensen caricature tutorial
AJ Jensen drawing a caricature using design

Finding dynamic and fun shapes is an excellent way to add great designs to your caricatures. Applying these shapes will still need to be balanced. I always pretend that when I add shapes, I act like I am building blocks (like I did when I was a kid). You want to ensure the heavier shapes (features are prominent) or a solid foundation and nothing tips over. Any shapes that feel light (features that are small) can be placed or stacked as long as there is a foundation holding it all together.


Alex Pungot Live Caricature

Alex Pungot Live Caricature. Follow Alex on Instagram: @pungotcha


Sketching is not only a great hobby but a great way to improve yourself artistically. I personally will sketch some cool concepts for caricature design - playing around with organic, fun, or dynamic shapes. That way, when I am ready to do live caricature, I have mentally prepped myself. I always encourage everyone to sketch! Because when you're doing live caricatures, you are very limited with time and mental energy, so sometimes it can be hard to find new ideas, shapes, and designs.


 

5. Line Work

Great line quality will help your caricatures drastically. Having crisp lines, line variation, and line tampering is an excellent way to make your drawings to pop more. Of course, what type of lines an artist applies is coordinated to their preference and style, but I firmly believe line work is a significant factor in live caricatures.


Destin Andrews Live Caricature

Destin Andrews Live Caricature. Follow Destin on Instagram: @destotoonz


Clean line work will help your caricature seem more interesting. Using thick and thin lines will create variation for your drawing and make it more visually appealing. If an artist can coordinate thicks and thins according to where lights and shadows will hit, it will help give the caricature more form as well. Drawings with little or no line variation will look flat and boring. Plus, unable to create subtle details that a thin or thick line could establish. If you want your caricatures to look more dynamic, appealing, and with form - try practicing line quality exercises.

Drawings with little or no line variation will look flat and boring.

Damon Renthrope Live Caricature

Damon Renthrope Live Caricature. Follow Damon on Instagram: @damonrenthrope


 

6. Composition

I believe composition is a very misunderstood and crucial factor when it comes to caricature. Admittedly, it took me years to see the importance of composition. The paper size limits the information you want to include in your caricature.

When I started out, I found myself doing "Charlie Browns." Which basically translates to not appropriately placing the drawing on the paper and having the drawing fall off the sides of the page. Even when I was pre-sketching, I noticed I was lacking correct placement.

If you don't have a good composition, it can make or break your artwork. The composition refers to where you place each element of your drawing and how they relate to each other in terms of size, shape, and space. In order to create a compelling caricature, it's essential to know how these elements work together so that they create balance within your drawing while still maintaining focus on what's most important: YOUR SUBJECT!


Composition allows the artwork to be more visually appealing, symmetrical, and balanced.

Composition can be broken down into eight categories:

  • Placement Making sure you use the established techniques of composition. 1. The Rule of Thirds 2. Iconic 3. Leading Eyes

  • A Focal Point This is the center of interest, the one thing in your drawing that makes someone look. When it comes to caricature, the focal point can be the key feature or key features that make your subject unique.

  • Contrast Light and dark values in order to create shapes, forms, and shadows. When it comes to caricature, you can create higher contrast or saturate colors on critical features that make your subject look unique.

  • Flow Structuring shapes in ways to direct the viewer's eyes from one shape to other areas in your drawing. This also helps supply your caricature with more dynamic shapes and allows your caricature to feel more balanced.

  • Negative Space This can be space that is not taken up by your focal point or an important subject. You typically try to use Flow and Negative Space together. That way, you can help direct the eyes from one area of the caricature to the other.

  • Overlapping Use shapes to overlap each other. This creates a more dynamic caricature.

  • Proportion Keep in mind that some features are going to be bigger or smaller than others. This is very vital to doing couple caricatures. If you draw a feature really big on one subject, you can really give the impression of other shapes being WAY BIGGER or WAY SMALLER.

  • Balance This is the visual weight of the image. Using symmetry or asymmetry to give the caricature a sense of stability.

Brian Oakes Live Caricature

Brian Oakes Live Caricature. Follow Brian on Instagram: @brianwesleyoakes


When doing caricatures with more than one subject, you will need to make sure that you are balancing the two - or more - subjects on the paper. Not only that, you want to highlight features that help bring out the characteristics of each person. Being aware of where to place the features on the paper will help the caricature feel more balanced and aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. So you must be very tactical and diligent about where you place the features between the two subjects. For example: You're drawing a couple caricature. The husband has a super long nose and skinny face, while the wife has a wide face with bubbly cheeks. You need to make sure where you can overlap and place the shapes of each feature for the different subjects.

Damion Dunn Live Caricature

Damion Dunn Live Caricature. Follow Damion on Instagram: @thedunisher


When doing live caricatures, some artists will incorporate themes in order to give customers a more fun experience. In order to successfully add themes, you need a strong sense of composition. If you lack the critical ingredients of composition, you can find your caricatures dull or the information you drew confusing.


 

7. The Joke

Caricature can either be a belly laugh, a slight chuckle, or an intriguing statement. Humor will help liven your caricature and make it more of a memorable takeaway for your customers. The great thing about live caricature is that the set-up really helps provide a funny experience for your customers. The BIG REVEAL, showing your subject the caricature, will help surprise your customer! Surprising or catching people off guard is one of the most significant factors in how to be funny - so the BIG REVEAL does help you as an artist to a certain extent.


The BIG REVEAL, showing your subject the caricature, will help surprise your customer!

Now, personally, I have tried to figure out a way to give a better experience when people sit down for live caricatures. Not only that, but how to create a hilarious experience. I am starting to believe you can not solely do this with your artwork but with a combination of how your interact with your customers. This is especially important if you're drawing more of a wild-style caricature; there has to be some set-up there. If not, you're sort of leaving an impression of a statement rather than a joke.

AJ Jensen Caricature

The great thing about adding jokes to your caricatures, is funny enough; it helps bring out a likeness of your caricature. People will connect with the humor of a specific trait or personality of who you're drawing. Personally, I like incorporating BIG MOUTHS for people that are loud or bubbly. It gives the caricature a little bit of life. I'll even make awkward smiles or faces for people that are....well, awkward! These are, of course, subtitle details, but they do help bring life into your caricatures.


Incorporating subtle personality traits in your caricatures is comical!

Of course, you can make bold statements as well by really exaggerating your subject's features. Using resemblance is a perfect tool not only to help capture a better likeness but also a funny statement.

Some older ladies can look like pugs. Or you'll see some people looking like dragons, elephants, newts, etc. You can either take it a step further and compare people to objects like balloons or chairs. Use resemblance as a tool to create humor. You can literally play off that idea to help push your ideas for caricature.


 

In this article, we've outlined some of the key points to keep in mind when creating a caricature. We hope you found these tips helpful and use them when making your next drawing. Thanks to the talented: Damion Dunn, Xi Ding, Manny Avetisyan, Brian Oakes, Mac Garcia, Sebastian Martin, Kiko Yamada, Eric Goodwin, Alex Pungot, Destin Andrewss, Damon Renthrope, Kelly O'Brien, Hitomi Ishihara




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