Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 1, 2010 Post-Prom Party

Dian's first observation when we began drawing at this post-prom party in a farming community about 3 hours from Minneapolis was that the kids were "not spoiled."

By this she meant that they were nice, natural kids from hard-working families, but also that they had not been overexposed to caricatures. Particularly the many mediocre or even downright poor caricatures that are frequently drawn at events and retail concessions. When I say "mediocre" or "poor" caricatures, that does not mean they are necessarily mediocre or poor drawings in terms of how they are drafted. Technically, some of the neatest, cleanest, most impressively stylized drawings, however, are among the worst caricatures. The goals and rules for caricatures are quite different from the usual goals and rules for realistic portraits and illustration.
The epidemic of non-caricaturists drawing what they call "caricatures" at events, and at malls and theme parks and festivals and fairs, has ruined the fun to a great extent for people who have seen only these. They fail to entertain the people being drawn or the people watching. They seem to view the guests at these parties as bowls of fruit in an art class, not audiences to be entertained; and they treat their drawings as commodities to be consumed, not performances to be enjoyed by everyone at the event.

The true art form is something rare. There are many hundreds of thousands of people in the world who have some drawing skill. That does not make them caricature artists. Caricaturing is a very particular (and peculiar!) specialty. Only a very tiny percentage of those who can draw can draw in a way that could be considered true caricaturing.
The things that make for true caricature are: a naturally funny way of seeing the world and people, and a naturally funny way of drawing.

A caricature is NOT merely a quick, sketchy portrait that sort of vaguely or remotely resembles the subject.
A caricature is NOT merely an oversimplified portrait that is devoid of humor.

A caricature is NOT a cartoonish portrait that makes the subject look ugly rather than funny.

If the artist is not naturally funny and has to "try too hard" to be funny, the results are forced and goofy rather than funny. The best caricatures are right on the line between realistic and cartoonish. The silly or stupid look produced by too many who attempt this art form is as gauche and off-putting as the bad mime artists who sprang up everywhere in the 1980s. The legions of crappy caricaturists who plague the country right now are making people turn away in droves from caricatures in areas like the Twin Cities.

A caricature should look more like the subject than they look. It should capture the essence. It should be an unmistakable likeness. It should be so sharply focused that anyone who knows the person will immediately recognize them from the drawing.

A caricature should be oversimplified but not really a "portrait" at all. It should be an artistic impression from a funny point of view.

A caricature should be cartoonish, but is not about finding "negative" features and exaggerating them. A good caricature is funny, not insulting. The "exaggerations" should occur spontaneously and be based on how the person actually looks, they should not be calculated or deliberate unless doing so genuinely results in a drawing that is fun for the subject, the onlookers, the artist and everyone involved.

We (two artists, Dian and I) drew almost 100 people this night, in three hours time. The resulting style is very loose and chaotic. This is my favorite kind of caricature. When we have to draw so many people in such a short time, it forces us to zoom in like a laser beam on the essence. It also turns off the self-critical side of the brain. It was a bit hard to have as much interpersonal interaction as we usually would, because we were having to move from one group to the next as quickly as possible, but even in those short periods of time we did keep them entertained and had a lot of fun, ourselves, as we always do.

A few of our other caricaturing photo blogs: