by Edna Cabcabin Moran, Illustrator and Author
Can you picture yourself leaping from a plane, parachute strapped to your back as you free-fall to earth? This scenario is similar to drawing caricatures on the fly. Okay, so it’s not as dangerous. Still, the level of risk is high especially in the company of a Type A personality party planner and a group of strangers. If you are averse to risk-taking then read no further. But if you relish the challenge of drawing people and providing one-of-a-kind entertainment then check out this overview on breaking into the profession.
First and foremost, your talent and ability to draw, as well as, “see” are paramount. A caricaturist must capture the likeness of a person, honing in on her unique features within seconds. This takes practice. So get your drawing and observation skills up to speed through daily sketching and drawing. Draw the people around you, on TV, off magazines and from your imagination. I recommend keeping a sketchbook specifically for caricatures and cartoons. Practice using the tools of the trade—markers of all types, pencils, even paint. Use what feels natural to you.
You must also have a solid understanding of human anatomy from an artist’s perspective. When I first started out in caricatures, I was mentored by an artist who managed a caricature booth at a theme park. He recommended several of Burne Hogarth’s books, Dynamic Figure Drawing and Drawing the Human Head. While I was already competent at drawing people, I found that Hogarth’s books helped expand my knowledge with creating an invisible structure from which to render and exaggerate.
All this practice leads to “systemizing” a drawing style. It’s like having a recipe and saving time on drawing which is a key element to drawing party caricatures (which can take up to 5 minutes each). You might start out with a mentor’s system of drawing like me. I began with profile view and full-body caricatures. Once on my own, I changed to drawing people’s faces from three-quarter view. Mentors also turn up in the form of books or online tutorials. Copy a style you admire until you are proficient. Once you have that style down then go forth and draw people from life.
Taking the Leap
Starting out, I volunteered to draw at small functions and schools, and for family and friends. With each caricature, I learned something new—how to prep for a marathon drawing session, which papers worked best for me, and perhaps, most importantly, how to keep the hand moving. To gain proficiency at drawing people on the spot, you have to actually draw people on the spot! I was scared and embarrassed at first. I didn’t want others to see my wayward lines or their noses or chins gone kaput. But I kept my hand moving and with practice—lots and lots of it—I got better. Once you learn to relax and improvise as you draw, all the markings you make work toward a desired result. Over time, my speed and confidence picking up, I started getting work for corporate events, private parties and grad nights. Whether or not it’s a paid gig, you gain invaluable experience by showing up at the drawing board with actual subjects to draw.
Go Forth and Gig
During the pre-internet and early dot com days, caricature gigs were handled by talent agents and entertainment brokers. These folks still exist and while they hire caricature talent, they aren’t the only game in town. You can also market yourself through online resources like www.the-nose.com or www.gigmasters.com (I have no preference for either). My fellow caricaturists are divided into two categories—full-time and part-time. (I, myself, am a part-timer as I take on other freelance art assignments.) Full-time caricaturists typically have a website or online portfolio dedicated to caricatures. Try out the free blog and portfolio sites, join an artist community, study the market rates in your area and invest in advertising through venues that interest you. People will always want their pictures drawn. So, if you have an adventuresome spirit, talent, skill, enthusiasm and stamina to draw for hours, the market is there. Best of luck drawing people for fun and profit!
Edna Cabcabin Moran creates artwork for magazines, books, billboards, t-shirts and brochures. She is also the author/illustrator of THE SLEEPING GIANT: A Tale from Kaua’i (BeachHouse Publishing 2006).