The art of exaggeration, ridicule, condemnation, criticism, irony or simply comedy; caricature is a way to simultaneously poke fun and make people laugh.

Sketching is one way to create a caricature, but it’s not the only one.

Molière, who is often regarded as France’s Shakespeare, was one of the masters of satire through his theatre.

Molière’s story of the Tartuffe, which spoke out against hypocrisy within religion in the 17th century and ridiculed the clergy was banned by Anne of Austria (Queen of France in the 1600’s).

The history of caricature, a form of art based on exaggeration, is fascinating.

As Frédéric Pajak, who is famous for his art and writing explains:

“Caricature has existed since ancient times and spans centuries. Comedy drawing is more recent, as started to appear at the beginning of the 20th century.”

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What is a Caricature?

This is how ‘caricature’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

A picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

This is a good definition, but let’s look at caricature as a drawing in further detail.

Caricature in drawing and painting involves just as much exaggeration as it does in literature and theatre.

Caricature is a form of mockery that has been around for centuries
Molière's 'Le Tartuffe' is a well-known theatrical caricature ¦ source: Visualhunt - reaganstage

Even the word ‘caricature’ is significant.

Coming from Italian, ‘carictura’, this word can be translated literally as ‘an exaggeration of reality’ – and this is exactly what a caricature is – observing and exaggerating particular details! Quite unlike technical drawing where every detail has to be 100% accurate.

The Fascinating History of Caricature

Caricature drawing has a long and interesting history.

Since antiquity, Greek and Roman men practiced this art.

In the Middle-Ages, caricatures were usually sculpted, particularly in churches and cathedrals. They included all kinds of grotesque human figure and mythical creatures. At this point in history, beauty and ugliness represented good and evil.

During the Renaissance, satirical drawing began to emerge with the development of printing. From the 18th century, lithography made the mass distribution of these images possible. The French Revolution and the value of freedom of expression was a turning point in the success of the caricature. Satirical newspapers began to appear. These publications condemned certain people and aspects of society through the caricatures they contained and mocked the world of politics.

In the French Revolution, satirical and caricatural representations divided French society into three orders: The Third Estate (which represented the majority of the French population), the aristocracy and the clergy. In short, from this moment onwards, caricatures became a common way to mock and condemn unjust systems.

From 1830, the satirical press continued to develop through publishing caricatural drawings. Beyond their humorous quality, these drawings essentially became opinion pieces. People we no longer mocking for fun, but to ridicule aspects of their reality. Among the most famous satirical tabloids of this era were La Charivari and La Caricature, which were often illustrated by famous names such as Daumier, Gavarni, Granville and Doré, masters of the art of political caricature.

Despite this level of development, some degree of censorship was still present and caricature artists often got into trouble with the law because of their work. Honoré Daumier, a caricaturist and sculptor, ended up behind bars for having ridiculed King Louis-Phillipe. Napoleon rose to power and banned the publication of political caricature, and satire became oriented towards society and members of the public.

Paul Hadol, a famous caricaturist of the time, had to wait until 1870 to be able to publish his work ‘La Ménagerie Impériale’ (The Imperial Menagerie), in which he ridiculed members of Napoleon’s family by portraying them as animals. Napoleon III appears as a bloodthirsty vulture, holding in his talons an eviscerated France.

It wasn’t until 1881 that the law of freedom of the press came into effect, allowing the art of caricature to develop freely. At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of satirical newspapers was higher than ever before. During the world wars, caricature and satire in the press began to be used as propaganda. Following the end of the Second World War, satire in the press in all its forms began to decline.

The freedom of the press played a large role in the success of caricature as an art
France has a long history of satire in the press: 'Le Canard Enchaîné' was first published in 1915 and is still in production ¦ source: Visualhunt - Lorie Shaull

However, caricature did not disappear – it was reborn. A new genre of caricature appeared. On French television, puppets were used to mock politicians on the Bébête Show while British audiences enjoyed Spitting Image, which did the same. Caricature and satire in the press and the media has a strong position in modern society, with plenty of satirical news shows and podcasts such as the BBC’s Dead Ringers poking fun at public figures.

Learning How to Draw a Person as a Caricature

So, you have plenty of experience with various drawing tools and using a graphite pencil and paper for still life drawing and put your imagination on paper, as shown in your sketchbook, but how do you incorporate humour into your drawing?

What is the best way to learn how to draw caricatures?

Which drawing techniques are the most effective when drawing cartoons and exaggerating features?

The first step in learning how to sketch caricatures is to already be able to draw well.

It may seem obvious, and some people may even think that drawing caricature sketches is easier than drawing a portrait realistically, for instance – but this isn’t true.

The art of caricature is anything but simple, and every great caricaturist starts their career practicing portraiture and other drawing techniques.

The 3 Steps in Caricature Drawing

Before you attempt a caricature, make sure that you’re able to:

  1. Accurately draw a portrait: If this isn’t the case, it will be impossible for people to recognise the person in your caricatures. Learning to draw a face comes with time and patience, and requires a good technique.
  2. Observe: In caricature, every detail counts. Your attention to detail is at the heart of creating a caricature, and so you need a good eye for the characteristics to exaggerate. This can be practiced through observational drawing.
  3. Faithfully represent the person’s features: Even if traits are exaggerated, it is important that you respect the links between the different characteristics of a face in order to conserve the harmony and resemblance between the real face and the caricature.

Of course, you don’t have to be an expert to have a go at caricature. Even as an amateur, it can be useful to practice your drawing skills in a caricature style from a photograph or practice how to draw faces you know well.

You can make it more like a portrait and closer to a realism by playing with shading techniques to create highlights and shadows or aim towards a certain style such as manga.

Regardless of where you choose to start your journey towards caricature, make sure you take time to reflect on and observe the elements of each human face you wish to draw as a caricature.

As in any drawing, you’ll need to know where you want to take your piece artistically before you make any pencil strokes.

Whether it’s the nose, the mouth or the ears, you’ll need to exaggerate the right number of features for your caricature to be successful. Start with a rough sketch using simple shapes before adding in the finer details.

3 Drawing Tips for a Successful Caricature

There are a few ways you can help the message you wish to give in your caricature come across, here are a few examples to help the humoristic side of your drawing:

  1. Add text: Give the character something to say in a speech bubble or add a funny caption.
  2. Add symbolic objects: An accessory can emphasise a personality as much as the person in the caricature (does your model always wear a tie? Exaggerate that!).
  3. Create a situation: In satire, caricatures of people are often placed in a humorous context (If they like cycling, draw them on a tiny bike!).

To summarise, put all of your basic knowledge about the person into your caricature of them, but don’t forget to let your imagination express your sense of humour, too!

As a caricasutist, you'll need to have a good sense of humour
Comics use a combination of drawing and text to create humour ¦ source: Visualhunt

To practice doing these three things, it is important that you constantly look for inspiration and even take drawing classes to train yourself to draw caricatures. This can be done with drawing lessons online or face to face drawing lessons London, Manchester, Leeds etc. which give you step-by-step drawing instructions to guide you, or you can sign up to a formal drawing course.

4 Professions Caricature Skills Can Lead To

Let’s take a look at the potential professional opportunities for keen caricature artists. Your passion for drawing and painting can lead you to a variety of artistic careers such as:

  1. Editorial Illustrator: Editorial illustration involves drawing for the press and newspapers in particular. Editorial illustrators have to work as artists and have a good understanding of current affairs, which they portray in their work.
  2. Independent Caricaturist: As an artist, you can offer your services and work as a freelance caricaturist either on the streets of your city or by working for events.
  3. Comic Book Writer: Your creative soul means that you are highly likely to create scenarios and storylines in your head, which makes comic writing a viable option for you.
  4. Illustrator: Illustration is a career that offers a lot of variety in your work. You can become a children’s illustrator, or if you enjoy digital drawing, you can go into graphic design!

Obviously, every type of career requires specific skills beyond mastering the basics of art and caricature. Learning the drawing basics in various techniques such as cross hatching, blending with charcoal and pastel pencils, learning about drawing portraits and the finer details such as how to draw eyes and noses to make the portrait as realistic as possible, make your drawings three dimensional, creating a good outline, gesture drawing when learning how to draw people, and freehand control of the pencil for a career in art is a decision which will allow you to blossom professionally through your passion for drawing.

Want to improve your artistic skills or even start from scratch? You can find drawing lessons for beginners to experts with Superprof. Or why not develop a passion for art in your children with drawing lessons for kids.

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