How do you become a caricature artist?

artist and subject

A caricaturist is an artist who focuses their talents on portraits or drawings that preposterously represent a person or thing. Professional caricaturists can work for a newspaper or political group, amusement or theme park, magazine company or publisher, private business enterprise, party or event planner; or be employed as independent contractors.

Learn the Fundamentals of Drawing & Portrait Art

The word caricature means “loaded portrait.” A caricature is an overdone or garish portrait of a person or thing that exaggerates a subject’s eccentricities, defects, or distinguishing features but still retains a likeness to the original. They are typically drawn with pencil, crayon, pen, charcoal, or pastels, but caricatures may also be drawn digitally using computer software, like Photoshop CC, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Painter, and ArtRage Studio Pro.

Caricature was used, both drawn and written, early in the 17th century to convey facts or personal beliefs which are frequently repressed or censored. They were also used to mock and ridicule public figures, just like today.  Think of that the famous caricature of Napoleon Bonaparte by James Gillray, which showed a very short emperor wearing a very large hat and as a result, we think of Bonaparte as much shorter than he really was.

Today, caricature has developed into a form of art that is popular and accepted globally and has continued to poke fun at public figures, including politicians and movie stars.  Magazine and newspaper editors happily welcome artists who draw caricatures even though they might disagree with the ideology portrayed, they still respect the artists’ ability to give a humorous slant to a subject.

Magazines like Mad, Time, The New Yorker, US News Report, and more rely on caricature artists to create characters that grab at people’s consciences, make the reader laugh, and leave a lasting impression. Because caricatures can be both funny and lifelike, an artist must be part psychologist and part artist who can draw a distorted likeness of a subject and interpret their attitude and personality.

Improve Your Drawing & Communication Skills

An artist must understand anatomy to reference during the drawing phase to create a stylized caricature.  Although the final portrait is typically skewed and misshapen, if the anatomy is wrong, the drawing is going to take on an unusual and disjointed appearance, unlike the subject. It’s also significant that caricature artists pick out a distinguishing feature in their subject to emphasize; something that makes the subject unique that the artist can then accentuate and play up in his or her drawing. So, observation skills are essential.

Caricature artists must be good at communicating with humor and satire because most caricatures, particularly in the case of editorial cartoons, address potentially controversial topics.

Caricaturists should good writers too, as many caricatures will include titles or short dialogue. And, besides having the ability to draw exceptionally well, artists must also understand color and which colors work well together and complement their subject.  Understanding advanced drawing skills like perspective, style, gesture, proportions, and composition is also essential to creating a polished caricature. They need to understand how clothing fits a subject, add details to hair and body, add in a background, and have a complete knowledge of any software used to create caricatures digitally, like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, or ArtRage natural painting software. At first, most artists rough-sketch their caricatures first using pencil and paper, charcoal, pens, or some other similar medium, so understanding which works well to achieve the desired affect is also crucial.

You do not need any specific training to become a caricaturist. However, to create the professional skillset necessary to break into this competitive field, earning a degree is desirable. If you choose to pursue a degree, a bachelor of arts (BA), with an emphasis in visual arts may be best. There a several US schools that have degrees specifically in illustration and cartooning, and if this is the route you choose, you will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts (BFA). The curriculum is very similar in both programs and includes illustration, design, English, computer graphics, writing, and art. BFA degree programs that emphasize cartooning will also feature classes in the history of cartooning, advertising, storytelling, drawing and perspective, portrait and figure drawing, color theory, and portfolio, and possibly 2D and 3D design.

College programs give students a chance to create a portfolio, find internships, exhibit their work, and find employment after graduation.  Additionally, there are online programs, vocational schools, community colleges, and art institutes that offer courses in cartooning.

Refine Your Skills & Develop Your Style

Aspiring caricature artists have to constantly practice their skills. It can take lots of sketches and many versions of the same caricature before it meets your needs or the needs of your employer or client.  As you polish and sharpen your skills, you will be able to develop your own style and unique formula for creating caricatures that make you stand out and give you a level of recognition.  If you want your work to appear in print; magazines and newspapers, you can begin by sending samples of your most recent work to local newspapers and magazines. If you choose to work in advertising, then send the work to advertising directors at local ad agencies. Of course, if you plan on being self-published on the Internet, then making your own website, blog, and using other social media outlets such as Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube, or some sites specific to cartoons, such as GoComics and Illustration Friday are all good choices.

It is easier to create or update your portfolio after you have some of your work published, which in turn may help you get a syndicated comic strip.  Of course, if you graduated with a degree, you’ve already created a portfolio. You have probably also created a portfolio of work if you’ve been freelancing. However, constantly updating samples of your work is essential, as it shows your progress and improvement overtime.  Without a portfolio that demonstrates your unique style and drawing ability, the world’s best resume won’t get you hired.

Employers appreciate training and experience when hiring a caricature artist. Previous experience demonstrates to employers that you can generate great work on deadline, that you are dependable, and willing to learn.  According to a report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), syndication companies vie for newspaper space and want caricature artists that attract subscribers, so artists with a strong following are more competitive and often win out over those without any experience whatsoever.  Caricature artists can gain this experience by drawing live people at fairs and carnivals, at weddings and parties, art fairs, and at any event or social function where people gather.

Of course, networking with others in the industry is also important to an aspiring caricature artist’s career. There are dozens of associations and organizations across the US offering online workshops and opportunities to network with seasoned professionals. Contacts can also be gained through internships, joining clubs, a personal blog, and working in another department for a local newspaper.