A caricature is an image that has some of the features of the subject either exaggerated or simplified, but still specifically recognizable. It is most often made for purely entertainment purposes, such as caricatures of celebrities in magazines, or for a political purpose, often in an insulting way towards a politician or a political group. The caricature is a term also known in the literature, where it describes a character in the same way that the caricature image presents them, by exaggerating some features and oversimplifying others.
Caricatures are most commonly based on someone’s identifying physical features (nose, ears, hair), or a situation/event that people connect them to (a politician drawn with exaggerated baby features because the public, or at least the artist, considers them childish). Of course, it is important to find a balance between being humorous and satirical, and purely offensive, even without potential background for it, although that is often exactly what the cartoonists are going for, because, well, the drama and scandals will cause them to become more (in)famous, or will help the paper they work for to sell more issues. Sometimes it can backfire, but it is a fact that caricatures are an important part of free speech and people being able to criticize people who deserve it without fear of retaliation.
In politics, caricatures are usually not drawn on their own, but as a part of political cartoons. For example, one of the most famous political satirical cartoons, James Gillray’s ‘The Plumb-pudding in Danger’, shows French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and British prime minister William Pitt greedily cutting up a plum pudding shaped like the world in a metaphor for their fight for the geopolitical power.
Another good example is the satirical art of Thomas Nast, often known as the father of the American cartoon. His caricatures and cartoons of politician William Magear ‘Boss’ Tweed and his political circle are often considered one of the reasons for the loss of public support for Tweed in the USA’s 1872 election.
Of course, caricatures can often be much more light-hearted. When an otherwise famous person, either from another fictional world, or a real one, makes an appearance in a cartoon, they are often drawn in the show’s style, but with some features exaggerated just enough to make the watchers understand immediately who the person is. Or, of course, if a person knows they might meet their favorite celebrity at a movie premiere or a convention, they might order a caricature made with the hope that they will get it signed and will maybe even make their idol laugh. Sometimes, when a big sports event is happening, a collectable sticker album will be published, with the sportsmen presented through caricatures.
The history of caricatures goes all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci, who used people with deformities as models for some of his sketches. His goal was to make an impression of a person more striking than a portrait would be. The caricatures gained popularity in both England and North America during the 18th century when some caricaturists made them just for fun, and others did it with more of an agenda, usually a political one. As mentioned already, those two kinds of caricatures remained the most popular ones all the way up to today.
The third kind of caricature, however, is the one where people hire someone to draw a caricature of them or a person they know as a gift or a souvenir. There are often street vendors in popular tourist spots or street fairs and carnivals that will quickly draw a caricature of a person for a small fee. The caricature artists are sometimes hired for events like weddings or birthday parties too, where they can draw the people attending the event.
All of the caricature examples below were collected from CaricatureMaster – Caricature Online, check out their site to see some other creative samples.
In this caricature we see a lady presented as a mermaid, possibly Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’. Long red hair and turquoise tail make the connection immediate in the viewer’s mind, but the outfit is customized by a matching bra that does not look like Ariel’s shell bra, and golden bracelets and decorations. Her face is also more expressive than the one drawn in Disney’s cutesy style.
This caricature is showing us a freshly married couple, still at their wedding. Their features are slightly exaggerated, but definitely recognizable to anyone who knows them. The white background and simple outfits make the focus of the image on the couple’s faces and their big smiles.
In this image, we see a man and a woman dressed as Superman and Wonder Woman from DC Comics. The caricature style is slightly cartoonish, or even comic-ish, with head to body ratio realistic, and no facial features particularly exaggerated. The people in this image are standing in power poses, with smiles, making them look strong and confident.
Another caricature on this list is of a cute black and white dog. It has a bigger head and smaller body, reminding us of ‘The Dog’ toys that used to come in McDonald’s Happy Meal. One might think that a caricature of an animal will not be able to portray character, but we can clearly see that this dog has intelligent lively eyes and its tongue sticking out makes it look like a cheeky pet having fun.
The next caricature is the one of a newly married couple that closely resemble Croatian football player Luka Modrić and his wife. They have huge grins, but they do not make them look weird, instead, they seem to be radiating with joy. They are sitting in a tiny car with ‘Just married’ written on it, giving the impression of leaving the wedding reception for the honeymoon.
In another pet-loving picture, we can see a woman and her dog exercising together, running in nature. The woman seems like she is having fun, and the dog looks surprised. You can almost hear it say: ‘We are trying to run here, please, no pictures, no paparazzi!’ (pun very much intended)
The next image shows us a woman and a man golfing and having fun. The man is in the middle of the swing, and the woman is driving a golf cart. You can almost see the movement of the club and the cart in the image and hear the two people laugh while they are playing.
In this image, a family is having fun in the mountains. Even though there is snow everywhere, they do not look cold, they are enjoying their holidays. The caricature style is a mix between a classic caricature with exaggerated features and the more realistic one. Daughter’s phone and mother’s glass of wine are fun little details, not to mention that their small dog looks super cute.
Caricatures are usually considered mocking in one way or another, even if it is the ‘gentle mockery’ of a person the artist is fond of, but in modern caricatures, the mocking part can be removed, if a person ordering the art wants so. For example, if they order a caricature in a realistic style, their features will not be exaggerated, and if they order one in a cartoon style, they will look almost like a character from a (you guessed it!) cartoon. It does not mean that those will be ordinary drawings, though. The caricature style will still be recognizable, just not in a way that could potentially cause bad feelings to anyone.
The possibilities for ordering a caricature of yourself, your family, or your friends, are endless. You might want a depiction of you and your significant other as superheroes, or any other fictional characters of your choice. You might want to get a caricature of your best friend to annoy them, or you might want to get a caricature of your pet for no other reason than you think it’s fun. Another option would be getting a caricature in which you are posing with your favorite celebrity, or in which you are in an unusual or funny situation. Family caricatures can be used to send Christmas cards to relatives, and even if you have no particular idea of what you are going to do with it, getting a caricature of yourself drawn is guaranteed to make you chuckle.
A great thing about living in the age of technology is that today, we do not depend solely on hoping to meet street artists so they can draw us. The digital caricature is gaining more and more popularity for many reasons (undo button, anyone?), and a great thing about it is that it often means that you can order it online, without even having to book a meeting and sit through the drawing process. A couple of pictures is enough for an experienced artist to make a fun and recognizable caricature of a person that you want, and having it in a digital format means that there is no fear of a coffee spilling on a paper that holds the only version of your favorite personalized caricature, or putting it down somewhere and then forgetting about it and never seeing it again.