Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Caricature Capers Part 3: How People Really Do Not Want to Be Drawn

Drawing caricatures at a live event can be, as I have mentioned before, a terrifying experience. Many of your "subjects" should not be sitting for a caricature at at all: They have no sense of humor and are extremely insecure about any of the "flaws" or distinctions that make them a unique individual. Why they are getting a caricature drawn of themselves is a question we will never know the answer to. To avoid hurting the feelings of these folks, or worse inciting a nasty confrontation, I usually take the "safe" route, and draw a tame, polite, "funny" likeness of the subject. I am usually not thrilled with the results, but the subjects are, and I avoid any physical injury to my person.

Cartoonist Joe Bluhm, on the other hand, has no qualms at all about drawing folks the way they are, warts (and worse!) and all, with  great style and humor to boot. I have never met the man, but I admire him greatly and wish I had a fraction of his talent, and a smidge of his guts when it comes to live caricatures.  

Recently, I was flipping through Bluhm's excellent book, Rejects: The Extreme Art of Retail Caricature. The book is a collection of caricatures returned to the artist by disappointed/outraged clients at live events. The drawings are hilarious, and just go to show how ignorant the general public is about this sort of thing. 

Inspired by Bluhm's work, I dashed off a quick doodle of Perfect Wife in his style. (For you "methods and materials" nuts out there, I did it with a conte crayon on newsprint, and it took under 2 minutes to draw.) I think it came out really well. PW is a gorgeous woman, but she is unique, and the drawing captures that in a humorous way, in my humble opinion. Even PW liked it, or at least pretended to*.

Perhaps someday, I'll have the guts to draw like this at a live gig. For now, I'll leave it to braver souls than I. Like Joe Bluhm.

*UPDATE: It turns out, PW really didn't like this rendering of her.  At a recent family get together, I found out her family didn't like it either. That does it. I'm never going to family get togethers again!

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Blogger Chris Sabatino said...

That looks like a great book, Bill! I check it out a bit inside on Amazon. Awesome caricature f your wife!! My last year of art school, my friend & I were hired through the school to do caricatures at a fancy smancy party. Thought it would be a good way to make some comic book money after graduation. I was too young & stupid to realize that you have to make your subject look good. Everyone hated my cartoons, said they didn't look like them at all, my tip ashtray was empty and saw some of my best work thrown in the kitchen trash. I've never done it again!!!

June 2, 2010 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Ah, Chris, your story is all too typical. Many a green, young cartoonist has been scarred for life by their first "live" caricature gig, and never done it again.

I might never have done it again if it wasn't for the fact that it paid (relatively) well, and it was the only cartooning job I could get at the time. Despite all my kvetching, I'm glad I did. Being forced to draw all the time, day after day was invaluable to me.

I wonder how you would like it now, now that you are a "seasoned pro"?

June 3, 2010 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Chris Sabatino said...

I would be better at it now, not because I am a "seasoned pro", but because I am married...and now I know you have to make every woman look like Wonder Woman when you draw them!!!

June 3, 2010 at 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

after seeing this image, is your wife still speaking to you?


June 3, 2010 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Chris- As long as the drawing doesn't contradict their self image, women actually seem less vain than men when it comes to caricatures. Go figure.

eeTeed- My PW was fine with this drawing of her. She just didn't want me to do something stupid with it, like post it online for all the world to see.

June 3, 2010 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Pepper Potts said...

How am I supposed to keep up the reputation of PW if I have to kill you now!

June 3, 2010 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...


No court on Earth would convict you.

June 3, 2010 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger P.L. Frederick said...

I did one caricaturing event, drawing kids. They're the best. I didn't get kicked. One boy gave me the stink eye, suspecting me of drawing his (cute!) freckles. Fortunately I noticed and limited it to 3 dots each cheek. I don't know that I could draw adults. So far, in my vast experience, the drawing only works when I kind of fall in love with the person I'm drawing. If that makes any sense.

Bill is an awesome caricaturist! Look at the one he did of me. Hilarious.

Oh, and about people getting caricatured. I think most people misunderstand that it's supposed to be a funny drawing, thinking it's more of a "portrait," where they "look" "real." (Guilty.) If people are to grasp the reality of caricaturing, I think we'll need to rebrand it with a funny sounding title. "Caricature" is too high-falutin', serious, stogy, and slightly Latin.

The Peanut Gallery

June 3, 2010 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...


I have actually found that children are harder to please than adults when it comes to caricatures. They are much more likely to tell you point-blank that your rendering doesn't look like them or, to put it in their words, "sucks". On one gig I did, a precious tyke ripped a drawing to shreds in front of me. That may be a story for another post.

You are right about the term "caricature". It is too high-faluting a word. I cannot come up with a substitute though. Anyone?

June 4, 2010 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Ben Ellis said...

I agree kids, can be tough to draw/please. I have noticed if you please Mom or Dad that are with them and make it a memorable or a fun experience for the child or children it generally results in a tip, it also helps when the drawing rocks! But then again I have little experience drawing caricatures I've only done it a few times (I'm making 2 or 3 times sound better). But the funny part about me is I'm a talker, but I worry less about people looking at my drawings, even when they are "crap" to me, but what I'm saying to the person I'm drawing. I find myself tripping up on what to say so I don't have to worry about my speech impediment doesn't cause a really awkward situation along with causing me to be devastated and then having a drawing totally ruined.
This of course has only happened once, and it was on the first caricature I had ever done live. That made it a horrible experience, but since then instead of focusing more on the drawings I focus on what I'm saying.

I didn't let it ruin my whole experience because I had support and the want to really do caricatures. But it is always in the back of my mind so it has kind of scared me.

Any suggestions?

June 25, 2011 at 2:36 AM  

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