What Makes Conan O'brien Caricaturable?

Caricature and Drawing Newsletter for August, 2005
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Once and for all getting you drawing faces and caricatures:
August, 2005

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Your August 2005, YouCanDraw.com Communiqué


Into the "Cone Zone"


Howdy all,

this months newsletter will superficially be about caricaturing late night T.V. and comedic improviser extraordinaire Conan O'brien. I mention improviser because that's what Conan is and that is exactly what you are as a caricaturist: an improviser. You take what you're given, you react and you remain honest to your gut reaction. As a comedy actor / improviser you react with some sort of gesture: you make a facial expression, you blurt something out of your mouth, your body contorts. As a caricaturist, you draw a line on the page.

See, you're an improviser. And this is especially true at gigs. The extra pressure of working a gig actually makes it easier to make that mark on the page: because you have to. It's so much easier to waffle and even avoid drawing altogether while you're in the safety of your home. But I'm not here to talk about that today :-) I'm here to keep it simple. Sort of. Yep, I'm here today to walk through what makes Conan O'brien caricturable. And I'm not even going to draw a caricature. Maybe next month.

Conan O'brien

I also say superficially when I mention caricaturing Conan O'brien. We're going to go through a rapid fire review of using comparison when caricaturing. "Compared to what?" you're probably asking. Well if you're a YouCanDraw.com veteran this'll all be review. And you also know it's good form to review and rehearse those basics. OK, that still doesn't answer the question of "compared to what?".



Well, let's go down the list: compared to Mr. Average, compared to Bill Maher, or Ani DiFranco. Compared to anyone. It's when you compare one person's look, their visage, their face to anothers, it begins to become clear - or at least clearer - what makes them unique. Getting something to compare to in your head, or better, emblazoned on your brain, like the proportions of a Mr. Average allows you to have at the ready a small bank of measurement you can rapid fire run through to size up your victim. (Sorry about the huge run-on sentence there.) Hang on now, we're going to blaze through this just like you were at a gig. So let's dive in.


Here's a couple views of the "Cone Man":

Boyish good looks, the poster boy picture of Irish-American optimism, healthy, a guy truly enjoying his life. Trademark big hair.

Where do you start?

Where do you start? Probably not with the hair, but we will make a note that we need big hair, a real flame of a tuft of hair at that. Another thing we can note is the overall shape of the head: Mr. O'brien has an amazingly square head. He makes fun of that all the time himself - and the relative pure size of it. Ok. Is that enough to get started? Well I'd note it along side the big hair and hold off drawing just for another second.


Square head

Compared to this trio of Bill Maher caricatures, would you agree the shape of Mr. O'brien's head is probably more square like? Note especially the two left most pictures of each - look up and down between Mr. Maher and the Cone Man and see how amazingly square headed Mr. O'brien appears in comparison:


We've established the square head fact. Now back to drawing...
where do you place the eyes when you start drawing on the paper?

So where would you start drawing already?? OK, when I draw a face I almost always start with the eyes. Why the eyes? It just gets you (and me) inside that empty page of drawing paper and gives me/you a great place to build around. Where do I put them? (The eyes that is.) I place them centered roughly about 2/3's the way up from the bottom of the page. After you've done enough of these you'll get a feel for how much space to leave around the eyes for the rest of the face and a small body...

OK, start with the eyes. How to draw Conan's eyes?

Squint your eyes and ask yourself
which appears as more dominant:

"the colored part of the eyes, or the
eyebrows and eyelashes?"

With hair so light, so fair, at times almost invisible, the eye brows, and eye lashes almost disappear. Someone like say Frank Zappa, with black hair, has a firm framing around the eyes. With such light hair Conan's eyes could almost appear beady. Squint your eyes while looking at this picture just above and see if you don't see what I mean: some very light shadow with some relatively very dark irises (irises are the colored part of the eye.)

After drawing in the dark of the irises, I'd be moving on to laying down lines for the nose. I'd start at the root of the nose (right between the eyes), and extend that down to the tip / bulb / nostrils of the nose - and mostly by laying down shadow shapes.

How big to make that nose? How long? How narrow? Well let's compare Conan to Mr. Average - but first review the main "horizontal landmarks of Mr. Average:

The five main horizontal landmarks of Mr. Average


Now, in this next picture, I'm warning ya, things could get a little confusing. In a word, it's just a comparison of a few of the horizontal landmarks that are helpful for trying to decide how long to make the that nose. (If it's too confusing return to the reference sections listed below for review.)


Roughing out proportions

OK, what's all this confusion about? (In the picture above.) Well, to make sense of this picture, let me tell you what I'm comparing. If you start with the Mr. Average head on the left, the yellow lines roughly compare the distance between the middle of the eyes and the bottom of the nose. They're proportionate in this comparison. But look what happens to the distance between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip: on Conan, this space is a lot narrower. Now I aligned / sized Conan and the Mr. Average on the right by eyes and chin. This distance is the same - but look how the different features (mouth and bottom of nose) line up. This time Conan's mouth lines up a bunch higher on the face compared to Mr. Average. (I also realize that the "Mr. Averages" aren't even the same - the one on the left is a little wider).

Again, the blue lines on the left hand Mr. Average compare the space between the bottom of the nose and the top of the lip (the blue line from the left hand Mr. Average to Conan's bottom of nose is partially obscured by the yellow line...look close). How do they compare? The gap between Conan's upper lip and the bottom of his nose is narrower when compared to Mr. Average. Compare this same space with the Mr. Average on the right. Same deal. So what would you do when drawing this? That would cue me to start cramming together the bottom of the nose and the mouth.


Starting to get the idea? This should be review -- (we've gone to ridiculous detail in the book about Mr. Average in the main section on Shapes of the head and in the Ani DiFranco in-depth lesson. You can also review this and and run through a unique, one of a kind Flash exercise on internalizing these Mr. Average proportions.

The differences are subtle! But this is the core of drawing faces, portraits, and caricatures: honing up your powers of observation to a very high degree.

In the next trio of pictures, compare these lines: the middle of the eye line, the bottom of the nose line, and middle of the mouth line. Starting to see the differences? Point here is -- if I haven't lost you -- is to 1) shoot from the gut: how does the person you're drawing strike you at first observation? (e.g. big nose, long nose, with pointy tip, big chin, wide cheek bones, lotsa teeth, no teeth, full lips, thin lips, no lips, deep dimples, large forehead...etc...)

...and, if you're getting stuck, 2) comparing the face you're drawing to a face like Mr. Average. Now go compare these proportions in this next picture:


Compare those horizontal landmarks and their proportions from face to face


What did you come up with? What do you get when you square up Conan's chin with Mr. Averages? I'd say definitely bigger than either of the Mr. Averages but certainly nowhere the proportion of Mr. Zappa's. How about the angle of the jaw back there by the ears - or more accurately just under the ears? I'd say Conan has much more of a sharp angle than does Mr. Average.

Now, if you draw an imaginary horizontal line from those same corners of Conan's jaw (below the ears there), and compare that line with the bottom of the nose line, can you roughly see that gap? Do the same with Mr. Average. Where do the corners of the jaw (under the ears) line up when compared to the middle of the mouth? That space is much larger in Conan. I would say. (Put a piece of paper right up to your screen on the illustration above and use it as a ruler if this isn't making sense to you.)


On to the vertical landmarks

What about widths? Say like, how wide would you make the mouth in comparison to the eyes? The Mr. Average rule is basically this: the corners of the mouth align roughly with the center of the eyes. Compare these two in this illustration:

"Proving" the mouth is small


Here you can see the corners of the mouth come up a little on the narrow side (of course Conan's expression narrows his mouth even more, but if you watch Conan and look at other pictures I'll bet you'll come up with the same conclusion: his mouth is proportionately on the small side. The nose is on the narrow side too. Soo...draw the mouth small and the nose narrow (regardless of the length you make the nose).


One final observation

OK, here's the last little snippet of overall observations. Notice how Mr. O'brien's head keep's getting wider as you head up towards the hairline. Squint and look back and forth between Conan and Mr. Average. You'll see the square overall shape, the tall forehead, the angle of the jaw under the ears - and low at that. The Mr. Average head rounds off at the top and is much less angular around the corner of the jaws - in fact Mr. Averages entire face has more rounded curves.


Sum it all up:

Big hair! High forehead; almost beady looking eyes, narrow nose with a slightly bulbed tip that pushes down onto the mouth, small mouth with narrow lips, strong jaw that's very squared. Strong cheekbones (made more obvious with shadowing) - which set the nose and mouth up to be made even narrower. Sum that all up and here's our man: .

The aggregate Conan O'brien caricature



Now lastly, here's a link to a fine airbrush caricaturist: Will Terrell's Lucid comics. He does some great airbrush and caricature work. Check him out:

Will Terrell's Lucid comics


Assignment: Click this next page link for Will Terrell's Conan O'brien airbrush caricature. Your assignment is to figure out how you could make Conan look even more like Conan (hint: review the lesson above :-):

Will Terrell's caricatures version of Conan O'brien


Click here for more Conan photos

(Word of caution: great collection of pictures but watch out for the pop-ups)



Stay cool those of you in the northern hemisphere, stay warm if you're south of the equator and all of ya's, keep on drawing!





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