What Makes a Face Caricaturable?

Caricature and Drawing Newsletter for June / July, 2006
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June / July 2006

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Your June/July 2006 YouCanDraw.com



Howdy all,

What makes Dallas Maverick basketball star Dirk Novitski caricaturable?
That's this issues question :-) ...lets jump right in!

OK! Congratulations to the Miami Heat -- I've been pulling for you guys for two years now - and ya did it! BUT, today's caricature is of Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitski (No-Vit-ski). This is one gangly 7 foot German powerhouse of a player (well not quite a Shaquille Oneal) and quite frankly a very drawable guy. I spotted him a year or so ago but didn't see the flood of Internet photos until the playoffs this year. Actually, I had never even looked for pix until the playoffs this year. :-)

Anyway, today's caricature - if you didn't gather by now - is of Mr. Dirk. He's a national hero in Germany and after sifting my way through the web pix, seems like a real fun-loving guy too. Let's get right down to it.

A common mistake when drawing from photos

Here's a mistake I made - I'll admit it right off the bat: I tried drawing him from several pictures all at the same time. Trying to make a composite out of shots with different lighting directions, intensities, inside, outside shots, different shading - lots of different pictures is fine if you have the time to step back every couple of minutes to readdress one main light direction. Trying to figure it out in your head if you're rushing is not the best way to do it. (Which is why you very often see caricatures artists working live with a strong light pointing at the victims...er subjects...and always from one side, slightly in front, slightly above.)

So what makes him caricaturable? Here's a list:

Blonde locks. Yep he's got hair. All over the place. Though this seems new (for him) in the last couple years, it's become a trademark. On a guy this gangly and tall, I like to narrow the top of the head and so tighten up the hair on top as well. Remember when you're drawing hair, it's darkest in these places: next to the face, next to the head, at the bottom of any locks - if light is coming from the top, usually on the inside of tight curls, and in areas where it overlaps underlying curls.

Notice the curls and their highlights / shadows: where hair is closest to the head, it's darkest.

Also notice the overall shape of the curls within the overall outline of the hair: shapes within shapes. See the shapes and edges first. Then worry about the shading / shadow / highlights.


Bony brow. A lot of really tall guys get this very bony face - especially bony brows. In the case of a lot of really tall guys the question comes up about the presence of Acromegaly: a condition where you just grow your behind off. Someone once quipped "pro basketball is a sport where the court is worn out by a bunch of pituitary cases". There's some truth to that. I don't know if that's Dirks situation or if he's just naturally huge. The really bony brow, big broad cheek bones all can be signs of it (along with huge hands, feet and other things). I won't pretend I'm his doctor.


Deep set eyes. Check out the deep set eyes. What might set off a strong bony brow more than deep set eyes? Question: How do you make those deep set eyes? Answer: By making the darkest shadow and the lightest highlight contrast each other in very close proximity - with a strip of a middle tone between them.

Look at the photo above: the darkest part of the photo is in and around the eyes. The brightest highlights are on the cheeks -- and on the bony brow over the eyes. See how that proximity of light and dark (i.e. contrast) makes for really deep set eyes? Squint to make this clearer. Also notice the middle tone between these two extremes? The eye brows (the actual hairs of the eyebrows) make up this transition zone. Painters often use a very similar principle but with color: put two bright complimentary colors directly adjacent to each other. Your eye will immediately be pulled to that area. (Complimentary colors? Orange and blue are compliments, as are red and green or yellow and purple, etc. - they're colors opposite each other on the color wheel. But you don't need to know that to draw caricatures :-).


Strong cheek bones. I'll reuse this picture: See how broad the cheekbones appear? Especially when the hair obscures most of the forehead? Look at the right side of the photo on the same side as the microphone hand. Look at the cheekbone on that side. That's a major arch that cheekbone travels through. (travel...get it? Sorry. Real bad.)

Long face. Using the photo above as reference you'd think with those broad cheekbones he'd have a broad face. But a relatively small mouth (small in relation to the middle of pupils -- which is the standard for the Mr. Average mouth: from corner of mouth to corner of mouth as wide as the center of one pupil to the center of the other. See vertical landmarks if this isn't clear...I also recommend going to the Archives page and scrolling the far right hand column and click on the "Vertical Landmarks" Flash lesson for a really in-depth review.)

The small mouth and the partial goatee contribute to the overall length of the face too. Now look at this subtle detail: notice the bottom edges of the cheeks: notice how long they appear? Drooping to well past the bottom of the nose? (as if anything could droop on a guy with 4% body fat). And the nose being on the long thin side only adds to the overall long sense I get when I look at this face. This is subtle too: look at where the corners of the jaw seem to tuck under the cheekbones. Being so gracefully hid under / behind / beside the cheeks I think almost unconsciously makes a face appear narrower. All that is summed up in this picture:

The maxilla bone (the bone the upper teeth are anchored in) also looks really narrow in this photo above (yes it's a small picture but you can see it! Don't know what a maxilla is? Open your sourcebook, click on the "find" function and type in "maxilla" or just Google it...or heck, just click here for a quick maxilla anatomy lesson.)


Big choppers. That's what you see in this picture. I noticed it during the NBA finals too: Dirk flashes those teeth in the heat of competition and they become a real noticeable thing to exaggerate (in my way of thinking anyway).

Chin hair - modified goatee. In the photo directly above, Dirk's chin hair is kind of in an intermediate phase. It's become another staple of his look the last year. (I'm sure any of you Texans will straighten me out on this for sure: how new / old / temporary the look is :-)


Here's an older picture that shows the medium long hair and the growing chin hair. But you also get the sense of the strong bony brow over the eyes, the deep set eyes, broad cheekbones and the narrow "apron of the upper lip".

(The "apron of the upper lip" is the skin that covers the upper teeth between the bottom and sides of the nose and spreads out like, well, an apron on it's way down to transition into the upper lip).

See the teeth too?


Well I'm getting close to identifying all the things that make Mr. Dirk unique and are features (or features within features) that I think make him caricaturable. One last thing:

Shoulders that stretch from here to St. Louis. I've never met Mr. Nowitski but being 7 feet tall and weighing 245 pounds, well, that's just plain a big man - and still he looks so skinny! (Shaquille Oneal is 2 inches taller and over a hundred pounds heavier - but Shaq doesn't look tall or gangly or disproportionate unless someone or something is standing next to him for comparison / contrast). So if Dirk weighs that much, looks so skinny and is 7 feet tall, why does he look like if a big wind came up he'd get blown away? It's those shoulders that are as wide as the Black Pearl's main mast, shoulders that a jersey hangs on like a main sail, shoulders that stretch from here to St. Louis! Look at those shoulders in this picture:

Twice as wide as that! (Shoulders that stretch from here to St. Louis).

OK, I've been going on and on here. It's time to take a look at this months caricature and you can see if I've captured at least a few of those things I recognized. Here's the list one more time:

  • Big hair (see the Annie DiFranco section for more on hair)
  • Relatively narrow forehead
  • big bony eyebrows
  • deep set eyes
  • narrow maxilla set between broad and long Cheeks / cheekbones
  • noticeable teeth that really come out in the heat of competition
  • chin hair (modified goatee) at the end of a long jaw
  • a roughly diamond shaped face (in a front view)
  • and...shoulders that stretch from here to St. Louis:


I was going to chronicle each step but the light was so bad and the setting on the camera was "manual" - so I didn't realize how dark the pix were getting. I salvaged these next two steps in Photoshop (using several series of brightness, contrast and "multiply layers"...for those of you who use Photoshop to touch-up photos).

The first one shows the outline of the face, hair, and eye. You can see the cheek forming up on the left side of the picture and lines that define the upper lip:


And here's a nearly complete drawing before shadowing, headband and
deeper hair texture were added later:


Well that's all for now folks. Keep chipping away: make a regular practice of drawing (a minimum of 15 minutes 4 or 5 days a week will truly get you in the groove!). Have a great 4th of July weekend (you USA folks), a great Summer elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere and a cozy Winter in the Summer Hemisphere!






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