PNCA Comics Lab

Jan 23

Tracy Butler on Facial Expressions -

Essential hints on drawing expressions, gorgeously presented.

Oct 29

Tutorial 1: Caricature

Caricature is the art of cartoon portraiture.
Caricatures can be wildly exaggerated or minimalist, grotesque or cute, or anywhere in between.  A good caricature is always instantly recognizable as a specific person.
The basic trick of caricature is to exaggerate the subject’s most prominent facial features. Knowing what to exaggerate and what to leave out is often the hardest part.

Whether you’re an editorial cartoonist or a graphic novelist, caricature is good practice. In creating a narrative comic, the artist essentially caricatures the entire world.
Every object is drawn with emphasis on a particular visual cue, with all other visual information either minimized or left out.
This approach allows for complex compositions that remain easily readable, and work well as elements of storytelling.


You will need one or several photos of your subject to draw from. We will use Barack Obama to demonstrate the steps; you are encouraged to try drawing a different person. Christofer Deirdorff’s photo gallery is a great place to start.

Once you have completed an exercise, please share your results with us. Use the Submit Artwork button at the top of the page to post a drawing to this site.


Step 1: make some sketches of the photos, focusing on accuracy. This will give you a good sense of the proportions and construction of the face/head. If you haven’t done a lot of observation drawing from life or photographs, don’t worry about getting a good likeness. Just spend some time studying the photos and copy them as best you can.

Step 2: Draw a neutral picture of the subject, not based directly on any of the photographs.


Step 3: Re-draw your neutral portrait, but enlarge one facial feature or zone (see color-coded diagram for suggested zones.) Make several drawings, enlarging a different feature or zone in each. You may already have a good idea of which feature you should exaggerate, but experiment with some others anyway.

Step 4: Try different combinations. Exaggerate 2 or 3 features. Shrink or eliminate some features. Keep experimenting until you arrive at a strong likeness of your subject.


Now that you have the overall form in place, take a close look at the individual facial features of your subject. Look for distinctive shapes that identify this person. For example, the convex curve above Obama’s eye, or the downward curve at the corner of his smile. We may not consciously notice the small details of the face, but they play a crucial role in recognition. Getting the subtleties right goes a long way toward capturing the likeness.


Minimalist caricatures take advantage of our minds’ tendency to fill in missing information.
Draw the head and figure as generalized as possible, except for one or two key features that will signify your subject.
In a sense, minimalist caricature is an easier approach, because there is so much less to draw. However, in order to create an unmistakable likeness, the little that you draw must be spot on. Big ears alone are not enough to indicate Barack Obama; In the image below, the first drawing could just as easily be George W. Bush. To make the caricature work, you need to capture enough characteristic shapes to identify your subject. The observation drawings you did for exercises 1 and 2 will help you get it right.

Caricature is good practice for both observation drawing and cartooning. Try drawing more caricatures of celebrities, as well as your friends, family, and even yourself. Push the exaggeration as far as you can. You will find that most people enjoy drawings of themselves, even the most grotesquely distorted drawings. Have fun!


Welcome to Comics Lab, on online community for cartoonists, graphic novelists, aspiring artists, and students. We will be posting a series of tutorials relating to various aspects of comic creation, as well as informational articles, reviews, and guest appearances.

Comics Lab is also a place to share your own work and get feedback from other artists. If you find the tutorials useful and/or entertaining, please use the Submit Artwork link above to share your results!