Sunday, September 28, 2008

Working Out The Likeness

A comment by Denise Letter on my previous post:
"Hello Peter, good drawings! Could you put some of the photos of these people up to compare and learn?"

A very good idea, Denise! First of all though, I must give the following disclaimer:

The fact is, working from still photos is not my preferred method for drawing caricatures. When I draw caricatures of celebrities I never use photos if I can avoid it, as I much prefer to sketch them from watching video. By seeing my subject in motion, I find that I get a better feel for their simple visual design without getting bogged down with extraneous details. Also, I am equally as interested in capturing their distinctive personality in addition to their physical likeness and this too is more easily achieved by seeing my subject in action. For me, video is my favourite medium to work from, even better than real life, as it is totally controllable in my ability to play over or pause on a single frame for studying something in depth. When I work from still photos, I must admit I can't guarantee a great likeness of the subject, as the best I can hope for is that the interpretation results in something fairly close to the reference photos provided. So, having said that, I now present for you the way I work when limited to still photo reference alone.

When I sketch my fellow NCN members, the resulting caricature is very much dependent on what sort of photo reference that member has provided. To be perfectly blunt, there are some members who I am unlikely to even attempt to draw because they have only posted a single photo to work from. I never draw from a single image, as it too limiting in its visual information. So the members I like to draw are the ones who have provided a variety of pics, showing different angles and some variation in natural expression. (I say "natural" because I don't like made up funny expressions, like tongues poking out, crossed eyes, etc.)

My first step is to download as many of the pics as I think may be helpful to draw from by placing them in a file folder. At this point I then open them all up on my computer desktop and just look at them for awhile, glancing from one pose to another in order to try and see the underlying "design" of the face. So now I'll use these three examples to attempt to explain my thought process in working out the caricatured likeness.

This "Wolverine" lookalike is Adam Pate. As I study the selection of photos Adam has provided, I first try to see the overall shape of his head and face. Adam has a very wide, blocky jaw structure and a sturdy neck. His head shape seems to taper in narrower at the top. I keep everything loose at this stage of my drawing, as I may need to go back and fine tune things as my drawing progresses. Next it's onto the facial features themselves.

The facial features should be analyzed in three different ways: 1) Their relative spacing and placement on the facial plane, 2) their relative size to each other, and 3) their distinctive shape.

My visual impression of Adam's face is that his features are close set along the vertical centre line of his face with plenty of open space for the wide jaw and chin. Size-wise, he seems to have a large nose, small eyes and narrow mouth in its relaxed state. When I study the shapes, his eyes are slanted up and narrow with small light coloured irises. His nose flares out at the bottom with prominent nostrils. The mouth is always the most flexible feature, so I based its shape specifically on his expression in the 4th photo. I like the way his eyebrows arch upward in some expressions, so I portrayed them that way. In fact, Adam's face is very much based on a series of angular, alternating 'V' shapes. Sometimes I like to mentally compare a subject's face to a famous celebrity I've drawn before, and in Adam's case I thought there were some similarities to Kevin Kline and also, strangely enough, the young Peter Ustinov!

My next subject is Ken Coogan, or "Coogy" as he goes by professionally. Coogy's got a long narrow head shape that is swept back in a convex facial plane as can be clearly determined from the profile in the 5th photo. Because of this, my impression is that his features are stretched along this vertical space with a small chin that is close set to a long thin neck. His longish nose keeps the eyes and mouth separated some distance from each other. His eyes are squinty and heavy-lidded when he smiles and he has prominent lips. The shapes of his eyes and mouth are based on more curving 'U' shapes that head in opposite directions from each other. There is a droopiness to his features. Again, like in Adam's face, I chose to portray Coogy's raised eyebrows that I see in some of his expressions. As I drew Coogy, I couldn't help but think that he has similar features to that of comedian Garry Shandling.

Finally we come to Angie Jordan. Some aspiring caricaturists are somewhat unsure of how to approach drawing the face of an attractive woman, yet one should not shy away from the challenge. Overall, Angie strikes me as having a very angular head and features, which are in great contrast to the softer, curvier features that are seen on Alison Gelbman at the top right corner of my previous montage. In determining Angie's head shape, I am more inclined to draw her in a 3/4 view so that I can play up her high cheekbones and angular jutting chin. Her nose also juts out from the facial plane, so I see the overall design of her face as being made up of "arrows" thrusting forward and slightly downward at a 45 degree angle, with bridge of nose, mouth and jawline all parallel to each other. I like the expressiveness of her eyes in the 3rd photo, so I play up that wide-eyed look, giving her a lot of white space around her irises. Her mouth stretches wide back to her cheeks when she smiles, with all of her flesh taut to the bone. With females, it's also fun to study how the hairstyle works with the design and framing of the face. Angie's hair is long and straight with an interesting tuft in front that hangs down towards her eyes.

Again, I must confess that I have no idea how much these caricatures may or may not capture the subjects, as I have never met my NCN colleagues in person to have formed a visual impression of them. If I had good video reference of these folks to sketch from, I would likely end up with somewhat different results. By the way, my Sheridan students will recall that I distinctly have instructed them to draw people for their sketchbook assignment either from life or from video, and NOT from still photos. Until you have experienced drawing people in a caricatured fashion from life, you will not be able to draw them from still photos with the necessary skill set required to make informed artistic choices. Believe me, even I feel hindered when drawing from photos and would far rather draw my NCN friends from real life in order to get a more accurate feel for what they're all about.


Randeep Katari said...

FANTASTIC post pete. Great to hear your process of how you go about caricaturing someone. I've been trying some stuff on my own, and this is going to REALLY help.

Juanma said...

You are to me the best Caricaturist there´s is .
(now....that Al Hirschfeld is dead)
I´d like to speak to you, I´m travelling back to Canada in a while to do some animation projects.
May I have your email please or your contact?, visit my blog thanks.

David Germain said...

Hey, Peter, since there's currently an election here in Canada, I would love to see your take on the candidates. I've made an attempt at Stephen Harper already. I swear, that man's skull is BORING. No exciting edges or curves, just one big ball of bland.

Nancy said...

I always recommend drawing from video if you can't work from life. I just drew a caricature of a man who has been dead since 1912, and none of his photos had the remotest likeness to one's hard!
video gives you the motion, you can see if they have dimples or crook one side of their mouths up when they smile.
Nice job on your caricaturist friends!

deniseletter said...

Many Thanks Peter!I'm taking notes!

Bob Row said...

Hi, Peter! I've been a politics caricaturist for newspapers for 30 years now and I find your process very cleaver as told. In my job, there's a nightmare when you have to take on a new personality with just one pic for reference. A longish nose, for instance, may be not apparent at all from a straight front picture.
Of all your wise hints I find the key is to pay attention to the relative size and position of the different traits to each other and not to each one by itself. The art of caricature is above all one of selection not one of universal exaggeration.
Being my style very different of yours, I find that your clean, cartoonish training gives a fully expressive and dynamic flair to your caricatures. It's always a pleasure to watch at them.

In other respects, I turned to work right on the computer in the later years. I work mainly with Corel Painter, sketching on a layer, then cleaning on another one on top and coloring with digital watercolors. Sometimes, for a more portrait-like job I employ digital oils or pastels either in Painter or in ArtRage. Sketching with the tablet on the monitor is somewhat unnatural but both programs allow you to adjust the angle of your "canvas" and go back. It just takes some practice.
But the true is that with newspapers the deadline is the top consideration and you can't expect to top with your expectations every time. You hope to be satisfied every one of three attempts.
My best to you from one tip of the continent to the other.
Roberto (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Amanda said...

I really wish you were into animating cause I'd LOVE to see all of these animated. Fantastic and hilarious, each one made me laugh 8)

Frank Macchia said...

great post pete
really liked youre breakdown of your observational process

youve really got it down to a science while still maintaining the creativity and spontaneity

ive been practicing my caricature skills big time should check out my past bunch of blog posts

in my time at Sheridan ive had a million people draw me, but no one has come close to the caricature you did of me. i love that thing.

Mitchel Kennedy said...

Haha Your caricatures are a joy, Pete!

Anonymous said...

Great, informative post! Thank you so much for sharing!!

Jack Ruttan said...

I've just got to second (or third) what people are saying. Thanks for the informative post!