Importance of Likeness in Caricatures vs. Portraits and Cartoons.

“Likeness” is a word that almost doesn’t sound like a word. Yet, while other terms such as resemblance, similarity etc.  could be used to replace it, we artists tend to stick to “likeness” because it’s means precisely what it says :)

The following definition presents the essence of it in words.

Likeness is “The state, quality, or fact of being like; resemblance.”

(Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/likeness)

I’d like to present the essence of “likeness” in “your” words. Look at the lady’s face in the following image and answer the question that follows the image.

The Caricature of the First Lady Michelle Obama with Two Rabbits.

Scroll down only after you’ve answered the question above.

——————————————————————

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last six years or you are more absent-minded than I am, your answer should be (c) Michelle Obama.

If your answer was (c) Michelle Obama, you’ve just understood “likeness.” When a caricature or a portrait doesn’t need the crutches of a name to help you recognize its subject, it has achieved likeness.

I can see a question floating in the air.

Is Likeness absolute? Is there either “full Likeness” or “no Likeness”?

No it isn’t. Sometimes a picture begins to look like someone’s picture when you look at it for a long time. This means that likeness exists but the viewer has to apply his/her thoughts to develop the link. “That nose’s got to belong to Lennon“, “that unruly hair – looks like this must be Harry Potter“, and so on.

So,

  • A portrait must have a very high degree of likeness.
  • A caricature must have a lot of likeness to the subject.
  • A cartoon could be acceptable despite very low likeness.

The right amount of likeness depends on what you are drawing. I know a wonderful digital artist who’s great with lights and shadows, but his caricatures often suffer from a lack of likeness. Every once in a while, every caricaturist fails to get sufficient likeness, but it’s our job to bring as much of it as possible in our drawings. When I look at Kal‘s cartoons, I marvel at the concept and the details, but his cartoons don’t score too high on likeness. This is fine because cartoons have stories that helps you figure out who the characters are. Unfortunately most caricatures carry their stories within – in their faces and their bodies, and so their need for exuding likeness is far greater than that of a cartoons.

It’s easier to establish likeness in portraits than it is in caricatures. The reason is simple. Portraits are expected to recreate the same proportions, shapes, and colors for a given subject, while a caricature is expected to exaggerate the same three factors. Exaggerating a characteristic feature of a person without losing likeness is tough, and it gets tougher when exaggeration moves into the realm of distortion.

Aim for achieving likeness in your caricatures. It always helps :)

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