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.

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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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Drawing Tutorial – 5 Ways to Generate Likeness in Caricatures

I happened to look at some caricatures today. These caricatures were executed with a high degree of finesse, and the technique used was perfect. However, something was amiss. The caricatures didn’t “belong” to the personality that was caricatured. The artist, I am sure, believed that he was caricaturing that specific celebrity, and through the eyes of his mind, he saw the face of that celebrity morph into that caricature; yet, if you looked at the caricature – even after knowing whose it was – you couldn’t see the likeness.

Likeness is possibly the most important yet the oft-ignored characteristic of a caricature.

“A Caricature is a humorous likeness of a person, created through selective exaggeration of his/her physiognomy (facial features) and other physical attributes.”
 Source: Evolution of a Caricaturist – How to Draw Caricatures (Chapter 1)

Note that likeness is important. Without likeness, the caricature doesn’t belong to “a person”; without likeness, the caricature might as well be a cartoon.

Likeness isn’t easy to achieve, especially in caricatures, because you go about distorting the person’s features, and with every little distortion, some likeness is lost – unless the distortion is done selectively.

Here are a few pointers that may come in handy for generating likeness:

  1. Before you begin a caricature, remind yourself that likeness is primarily based on the structure of the face. Great technique could change your caricature into a masterpiece, provided you had built in the likeness when you were sketching it. No technique can compensate for the lack of likeness.
  2. Remember that you don’t have to exaggerate everything. Recall the Gestalt theory of Figure and Ground. It applies to faces too. In every face, some features stand out; others recede.

    In every face, there are features that standout – that make that face the face it is. Identify such elements and focus on them for exaggeration. Try to limit the number of features you exaggerate to 4. It should help.

  3. According to the Geon Theory by Dr. Biederman, “we recognize faces (and other objects in our environment) by breaking them (figuratively speaking) into geometric elements.” So, focus on the shapes of the characteristic features. Is Morgan Freeman’s nose spherical, are Rowan Atkinson’s eyes elliptical? Exaggerate not just the size, but also the shape. Don’t meddle with the eyes. Repeat. Don’t meddle with the eyes – unless:
    1. you think that the eyes are extremely important (figure?) or
    2. you believe that you can really caricature them without letting them lose their character.
  4. Remember that it’s easier to learn the sum of all the art-techniques, than to learn how to draw the eyes with true likeness, let alone exaggerate them. In most cases, if you don’t exaggerate the eyes and instead you draw them with complete fidelity; irrespective of what you do with the other features, your caricature will maintain the likeness.
  5. Let someone else look at your drawing, before you shade it in or color it. This might save you a lot of heartache later. It’s good to remember that all caricaturists go wrong sometime or the other…but if you get another “brave” opinion from someone who doesn’t really care a lot about how he’d (or she’d) end up in your bad books by criticizing, you could end up being the caricaturist who seldom goes wrong 🙂

I hope this helps all those fabulous artists out there, who make beautiful portraits and who have great technique, but who wonder why likeness eludes their caricatures.