Many people perceive the human face as incredibly complex. Depending on who you talk to, there are approximately 52 muscles in the face. There are a variety of factors that can play a role in the look/perception of a certain face, such as: age, race, expression (we are capable of around 5,000 expressions), sex, environment, and weight. Sounds fairly complex, right? Well, the truth is, not really. Every building, no matter how complex, begins with a foundation and framework. So, what about caricature features?
The truth is, that the human face is made up of five very simple shapes. When you place these shapes in the proper relationship, you have a face. Even when it comes to a caricature, you want to make sure to draw these shapes accurately, so they are recognizable as your subject’s features. Anything beyond that, such as eyelashes, wrinkles, cheekbones, dimples, etc. are just details. These are like the décor of a building- they make it unique and full of life. However, if you don’t have this strong foundation, then it can all fall apart.
So, how does this relate to caricature? Absolutely everything- there is one word that is the secret to caricature, regardless of the approach/technique you plan to practice: relationships.
What Does Relationship Have to Do with It?
The manipulation of the relationship of these shapes is what creates the foundation of your caricature. In fact, some experts believe that most of your caricature depends on how you relate these shapes to one another.
After all, you realize the power of exaggeration with the foundation upon which you build your building. As long as the foundation is good, the rest is simply details. When we talk about “relationships” between the shapes, we mean the distance between them, their size when compared to each other, and the angles they are from the center of the face.
When it comes to traditional portraits, we divide the head into what is known as “classic” proportions. This simply means that the features are within a certain distance of each other, and the size and angle of the face and head are acceptable. In a classic portrait, you achieve the likeness of your model by drawing the shapes and details of the features within the framework of “classic” proportions. Of course, it’s true that each face varies a bit in one area or another, but overall you don’t stray too far from the classic formula.
When it comes to caricature, you also achieve the likeness of your model by drawing feature as they look- but changing the relationship of the features based on how you perceive their face. You only change the relationships of distance, angle, and size.
So, how do you determine the “correct” changes that you need to make in order to create a good caricature of someone? This is where “seeing” comes in. When you study caricature, you’ll learn about a concept often referred to as “The Inbetweener” which is the basis for nearly every observation. Basically, it’s the relationships of the features in classic portraiture that are used as a point of reference. After all, every caricature begins with the observations made of the subject by the artist. Most experts will tell you that there’s really no “correct way” to create a caricature portrait of someone. You can do several different caricatures of someone, exaggerating various features. This is the unique thing about caricature as an art form.
Classic portraiture is absolute- the drawing you create either looks like the person you are drawing, or it does not. On the other hand, caricature is subjective to a point. The goal of the artist is to draw the face the way they perceive it and exaggerate their perception. The result will most likely be different than others’ perceptions- but as long as the three elements are present, it’s still considered a successful caricature.
Of course, that’s not to say that all observations are appropriate. If you have a subject that has a cute, button noes, you can’t really give them a giant one and call it an exaggeration- that is considered a distortion. However, you can choose to draw the nose like normal and then find something else to exaggerate. This is the task of the caricaturist, study the model and determine what is unique about them, and exaggerate that uniqueness by altering the relationships of that feature.
As you can see, caricature features must have three relational elements in order to create a successful caricature. You can’t “exaggerate” by drawing a feature the complete opposite of what it really is. You must choose a feature and exaggerate it by manipulating the three relational elements.