Caricatures - Vladimir Putin:
What Makes Any Face Caricaturable?
How About Vladimir Putin?

How do you know what to exaggerate? The answer is in the details...
Caricature and Drawing Newsletter for March 1st, 2005
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1 March 2005
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Your 1 March 2005, Communiqué



Howdy All! 

Lots'a fun today. Since we're just "post Summit" here in the states -- or something like that --  between Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin, I was struck by what a drawable face President Putin has. So what follows today are three fairly well developed drawings of Mr. Putin. 

[To see photos of Mr. Putin, click on Google, type in "Vladimir Putin", click "search" and THEN click on "Images" (just seems to work better when you do the image search after you do a subject search).]

Here's a quick mini-trio of the three drawings:



So what makes President Putin drawable / caricaturable?

Let's dive right in. Starting at the top, literally at the top of his head, err, actually his head, Mr. Putin, very much has a light bulb shaped noggin. If you look above in the trio picture, I think the middle drawing is the only drawing that exploits this, and you can see the heavy-on-the-forehead overall light bulb shape. Since I think there's so many other things notable about Mr. Putin, the other two drawings sort of ignore the top heavy look. 

The hair is thinning and receding. In order to capture the shape of the hair without overstating the shadows, I opted for a sort of light-then-dark rows of hatching. 

Moving south from the hair down to the forehead, Mr. Putin has both the bulbousness and prominence of a large Wizard of Oz forehead. Seems like he's always thinking too hard -- I say that because of the veins that always seem to be bulging on the forehead as well. To capture the veins along the edges of the forehead, I treated the veins as highlights and hatched in shadows alongside the veins. Omitting any actual lines that represent the veins works just about right. (As in "negative painting", drawing in the area around the area you're trying to draw will produce the shape of the thing you're trying to draw -- with often very pleasing results. (See more on negative space if this idea is confusing.)

The eyes

Mr. Putin's eyes have that "I've seen and heard it all" look you might expect to see in the former head of the KGB (which I just learned he was :-). What expresses that "seen it all" look? The half-mast upper lids. In some photos his eyes look almost "buggy" i.e. they seem to bulge a little. You'll see that in some of the Putin caricatures out there too. 

One drawing effect I'm pleased with that I'm recapturing with more and more regularity is the "shadow within a shadow". I mentioned this first in the Elvis drawings (January 1st, 2005), but look close at all three of these pictures. If you look at the eyelids or the lips or around the nostrils there's always an area of light just before an area of shadow just after the darkest shadows of that local area. I know, that was a mouth full but look close at the upper eye lids for instance:

The "darkest line of all" would be the edge that represents the eye lashes. Just above that you can see the area of lightness, even highlight, then it gets dark again. See that?  Look at the nostrils: there's the area of real dark shadow (like you see within the nostrils) then the area of highlight just above it (this is reflected light), followed by yet another band of shadowing. It's subtle, but it's realistic (i.e. it's exactly what you'll observe in the real world).

Look for the features we've discussed so far in this picture -- which to me looks like a cross between Prince Charles and Ted Koppel as much as it looks like President Putin:

Picture 1

Vladimir Putin: The Prince-Charles-meets-Ted-Koppel "I've-seen-it-all" version


OK! Moving done the face, Mr. Putin's most exaggerate-able feature is the nose. It starts out thin and high on the lower forehead (the "root" of the nose), and gracefully slopes down towards the mouth where it fans out to some extent. The nostrils of the nose being more prominent than the tip of the nose I think. (The tip being both rounded but with some fine angles and edges within the very tip.)

A word of advice: I know lots of folks rush into caricaturing and get frustrated with their drawings. If that's you I offer two recommendations. First, go back and spend time with each and every feature. Work with each feature (like the nose, the eyes, the lips, and the ears) until you've drawn each one so many times you can draw it from memory. And work big! Make sure the lips you draw draw or 4 or 5 inches wide. Draw them all different sizes, draw them with different emphasis: emphasize lines, then emphasize light and shadow, then negative space, then by drawing the little geometric shapes you see hid within them.

Learning all the subtleties and learning to seek out these subtleties will truly catapult your drawing. Do this with all the features. And again, do it often. If you see someone with a nose that strikes you as "interesting", ask "why?". You have all the tools you need to evaluate it: look for the lines that make it up, look for the highlight and shadows, the hidden spheres and cubes and tubes and squares within it. Look at and find the "negative shapes" around tough to draw areas. You get to become a disciplined and astute observer :-).

Secondly, if you're getting discouraged, get away from faces for awhile and draw leafs, trees, the potted plant on your dining room table, a curtain, a picnic table, go to CNN and draw the outlines of all the shapes on the first three photos that pop up. You're literally sitting in front of the world's fastest and most diverse library of images the world has ever known. And don't forget about the scenes right outside your door :-)

More on the nose. Look through the three pictures on this page. Squint your eyes and ask "where are the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights on e.g. this nose?" Hint: darkest right up there between the eyes and in the nostrils. Brightest along the center spine of the nose.  Also look at how the nose fits in with the eyes and highlights of the cheekbones.

Ask yourself: "where do the eyes and the eye sockets end and the nose begin?" in this next drawing (squint your eyes and notice it doesn't take a great deal of detail to show this):


Picture 2

A more blubbery (unfairly) and scheming Prez Putin  ...(oops, forgot one of the ears :-)

South of the nose and transitioning into the mouth we have the nasal philtrum. Mr. Vladimir has one of the most well-defined philtrums I've ever seen. Watch how the highlights and shadows course over through and around it's basically recessed rectangular shape. What's a philtrum? It's the little groove between your nose and the upper lip.

Since the nasal philtrum lies right n the center of the "apron of the upper lip", that allows us to segue to the "apron of the upper lip" :-) . In a side view you'll more easily notice the maxilla -- i.e. the bone that supports the nose, the upper teeth and is covered by the upper lip -- you'd notice how his juts away from the plane of his face. Those lines coursing away from and down from the sides of the nose mark off the edge of the mouth. These same lines course in a big bow-like shape down and around to the chin below. In a chimpanzee this same anatomy would be marked off by the lighter skin color around the mouth, like this: 

The Chimp's lighter, protruding mouth

Mr. Putin's lips  -- especially the upper lip -- seem sharp and thin in comparison to the overall breadth of the nose, chin, jaw and forehead. The lower lip is full, but again in comparison to the rest of the face, it's small. In some caricatured versions I've seen on the net, the lower lip and mouth are drawn quite thick with a thin but very wide line representing the upper lip coursing from stage left all the way off stage right. All this is encompassed by the very strong jaw. To keep a strong jaw appearing athletic -- versus just fat or flabby -- make sure you emphasize sharp edges and angles like you see in the picture below.

Very lastly, notice the pattern of dimples. Hatching-in some contrast between jaw, dimples and the muscles around the mouth (the muscles that tent the corners of the mouth -- see the Flash lesson on the lips and mouth) seems to push the lips and mouth out farther. I use the a shorthand of hatching on the right side of the picture in the jaw to avoid getting caught up in too much detail in and around the dimples and skin folds. And it works quite nicely!

Observe the shortcut hatching in Mr. Putin's left jaw 
(on the right side of the picture):


Picture 3

The light-bulb shaped, top-heavy version of Prez. Putin


Okay! That's all for today folks. Print this out -- the pictures are big enough and detailed enough so they ought to make good studies to practice and imitate. Dive on in and don't be afraid! 





Your Assignment

PS - Almost forgot -- If I had an assignment I'd say pick one of the versions of Mr. Putin above, get some really thin tracing paper and trace one of them with as much accuracy as you know how. (I used one of those plain old mechanical Bic pencils you buy in a pack of 10 or 12 at the local grocery store in the school supply section; these keep a pretty sharp line.)

THEN take a second sheet of tracing paper, put it over the tracing you just did and exaggerate anything that looks exaggerate-able to you. 

Feeling really gutsy? Take another sheet of tracing paper and tape it over (maybe tape it just at the top because you'll probably want to flip the paper up and down while you draw it); tape it over your first exaggeration and exaggerate some more! :-) 

Feeling really really gutsy? Repeat this again or even 2 more times. You might amaze yourself with how wild your likeness gets :-). Go for it!


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