Charcoal Portraits as Caricature Art [Part II]

The best caricatures not only emphasize a unique aspect of their subject’s face, but also indicate their subject’s personality. The most interesting caricatures tell a story about their sitter. While these stories are short (simply a snapshot), they are nevertheless intriguing. For example, a female subject may carry her chin rather highly. It is the job of the caricature artist to exaggerate this trait and thus intrigue the viewer who will wonder, “Does she carry her chin so high because she’s proud? Perhaps she think she’s very pretty?” These are all questions that the artist wants the viewer to ask, and is pleased that such a caricature can provoke such thoughtful ruminations.

For those artists who are just starting to draw caricatures, it is helpful to begin with two dimensional representations of your subject. Be sure to not just collect a single photograph of your subject, but at least five or six images. Unlike real life, photographs do their own caricature work, manipulating images and making it difficult to determine which aspects of a subject’s face are truly unique and interesting. Having an assembly of images will help you to truly determine which features are worthy of exaggeration.

Edgar Allan Poe by Court Jones
Edgar Allan Poe by Court Jones


Now that you have gathered a battery of images, you will need charcoal. Try experimenting with Nitram Academie Fusains in Medium, which are sold in packs of five. Also, to truly emulate the professional caricature artist, purchase a Nitram Giant Soft Charcoal block. Now, select the photograph that you think best represents your subject. Utilizing the other photographs, choose the features of your subject that should be exaggerated. Using your sharpened Nitram stick and a ruler, draw a grid on your photograph. Depending on the size of your canvas, double or triple the size of your grid and duplicate it onto your canvas using either a sharpened Nitram stick, or the corner of a charcoal block.

While grids are typically used to create exactingly similar representations, this grid will be used to determine what is exact in order to manipulate dimensions and produce a caricature. Bearing in mind the features that you have determined to exaggerate, find them on your grid and lightly draw them first. If, for example, you’ve chosen to draw a bulbous nose, lightly sketch an exact drawing of the nose and then draw the nose larger in a bolder stroke of your charcoal pencil. Notice how every other facial feature will need to be slightly diminished in order to accommodate for the large nose. Draw these features (eyes, ears) accordingly. By utilizing the grid, you can simultaneously bear in mind an exact representation of your subject, while also manipulating and tweaking it in order to produce a caricatured image. Through balancing both the realistic representation and the caricatured one, the beginner caricature artist can create a drawing that most importantly looks like the subject, but is also a subjective, nuanced portrait which tells a story in a snapshot.

Just getting started? Read part 1.

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