Sunday Mailbag

Q: In your book you address the problem of nondescript, ‘standard’ faces, and mention finding ‘one outstanding feature. Just one’. My question concerns the opposite scenario – where a subject may have numerous ‘deviations from the norm’ … I suppose we should be driven by a quest for likeness, no matter what. But is this a situation where subjectivity comes into play?

A: Caricaturists have a term for a face like you describe… it’s called a “Field Day”.

I understand what you are saying, and it is true that if a face has a lot of features begging for exaggeration you can be confronted with a “where do I start?” dilemma. That’s a good problem to have as a caricaturist, however. Too many things to play with is always preferable to having trouble finding anything.

My advice about finding just “one thing” really only applies to those boring faces that just don’t have anything that stands out to you for exaggeration. It’s perfectly possible to exaggerated multiple things on a given face in a caricature. In fact, I try and find at least three things I want to exaggerate on every face. It’s a lot more interesting to see a caricature that describes multiple unique qualities as opposed to just a single thing. If I can find more, all the better!

Likely where you might run into trouble on one of those crazy faces is exaggeration choices that contradict one another. For example, perhaps your subject has both a lantern jaw and a bulbous, bald forehead. You can’t enlarge both the jaw AND the cranium… in fact the “Law of Constant Mass” dictates that if you exaggerate the large size of a subject’s jaw/lower face you have to shrink the size of the cranium, and vice versa. So, what do you do? In those cases you just have to decide which is more important…in our example that would be the forehead or the jaw.

This caricature of former pro-wrestler, actor and…ahem… Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is a good example of having to choose between exaggerating his cranium and jaw:


I went with the jaw. One could easily have gone with the forehead as well, but given Jesse’s tough guy image the lantern jaw makes more sense for his persona. Now, you COULD exaggerate both, but you’d end up with a nondescript caricature that doesn’t really say much of anything. Just a big head.

Wow, that park sample is 15 years old. Excuse me while I go grab an Ensure.

Thanks to James Gardiner for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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