Charcoal Portraits as Caricature Art [Part I]

Caricature artists often use charcoal pencils for their black and white portraits. If you have ever watched a professional caricature artist at work, you will likely notice that these artists hardly ever erase. Caricatures are often created at tourist sites—on busy piers, at the beach, etc.—and these artists typically create their portraits fast. Hence, each individual mark that they make on the paper really counts, and charcoal (which as a medium is pretty difficult to erase) is often the perfect fit for a caricature artist who also wants a tool that can quickly create deep shadows, and strong lines.

Caricature Art

Obviously, a major reason why professional caricature artists draw quickly is because they want to produce as many portraits as possible and thus earn as much cash as they can while working at a tourist hot spot. However, it is also possible to argue that a great deal of the fascination with caricature art stems from the fact that it is done quickly, with certainty, and that it almost magically transforms a blank sheet of paper into one’s own likeness within a handful of minutes. In order to accomplish this feat, caricature artists often use charcoal due to the subtlety and boldness of its tonal range, as both deep blacks and soft light grays can easily and quickly be applied to a canvas and enliven a portrait.

How does one create a convincing caricature? The key to caricature art is selecting one or two different point of emphasis on your subject’s face. Marilyn Monroe’s coy smile, or Humphrey Bogart’s bulbous nose are good examples. Sometimes, the source of exaggeration isn’t a single feature at all, but rather is a unique pairing of features, or an odd distance between features. Caricatures of Leonardo DiCaprio typically emphasize the great distance between his rather squinty eyes as well as the severe roundness of his entire face.

A caricature is not a “straight” photographic likeness of your subject, but is rather an exaggerated and uniquely interesting commentary on their facial features. When looking at your subject, think about the features they possess which your eye focuses on first. A good trick is to look at your subject quickly, look away from them at a different person and then refocus on your subject’s face. Which features most strongly differentiate your subject from someone else? Find those features and start drawing, allowing for all other features to diminish in order to highlight the most unique qualities of your subject’s face.

Read part 2.

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