How to Become a Caricaturist

It is said that some of the first caricatures were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, as far back as in the 15th century. Today, however, caricature is a popular form of art and entertainment. You can find caricaturists at theme parks, in public spaces, at events and gatherings and even in newspapers and journals.

These artists have a special talent to take a quick look at a person or scene and create their reflection in a funny sketch that highlights or exaggerates some of their traits. One of the big tricks with caricature is to make drawings funny but not offensive – this takes skill and practice.

Besides artistic and drawing abilities, caricaturists must have a good eye for detail and be quick on their feet when it comes to seeking out personality traits in their subjects. They should also have great communication skills, because part of their job is often to draw in front of their customers, so it helps if they are well-liked by the crowd. While it can be a fun and rewarding profession, it is often not the easiest to make a good living from, so be prepared to work hard and diversify if you choose this path.

Here is an infographic with some more information about caricaturists.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Nolan Harris

Over the Line Art – Co-Owner

Quick Look Bio

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  • Nolan Harris
  • Seattle, WA
  • 16
  • Over the Line Art
  • @otlarts

Understanding My Career Path

  • I started drawing live caricatures at age 18, which was my senior year of high school.
  • Working in a live environment at a theme park summer job, with a variety of experienced artists was extremely valuable to my growth. I managed to excel very quickly as an artist and salesperson due to the extremely competitive environment.
  • During college, every year I would return to my summer job as a caricaturist. There was no better way for me to stay sharp with my skills than to draw every day during my summer break.
  • Once college wrapped up, I decided to commit to one more summer as a theme park caricature artist, refining my drawing and business skills, which gradually evolved into a career with a theme park art concession company, managing and growing artist/employees.
  • After a few years, I moved to Seattle to start an art-entertainment business with my best friend/business partner Dexter Rothchild. We started out with a few seasonal concessions (caricature stands) in Seattle.
  • Once we built up enough capital, we expanded into festivals and special events/parties.
  • As each year passed, we would invite more artists to draw with us, growing bigger and bigger, eventually leading to our expansion into airbrush apparel and face painting.
  • After 5 years we are the largest art-entertainment entity in the Northwest with a team of 14 talented artists. Our growth has also translated into national events, where I travel the country offering art-entertainment at trade shows and conventions.

Recommended Organizations

  • International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA) – Since caricatures are such a peculiar artform, there is only one viable option for artists aspiring to grow and build a career. I am the president of a wonderful organization called the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA). We have a yearly convention that houses over 200 attendees from around the world; all are caricature artists.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I do not believe a formal art education is important. However, it is important to surround yourself with talented artists and smart business people. Having a core group of honest and critical artists surround you will only make you better. While college tries to create an environment of growth, I feel that it lacks a certain degree of honesty that you can only get by drawing endless hours with a team of talented artists.

Why should you surround yourself with smart business people? Art is a business. By building a foundation in business, you are only setting yourself up for success. Selling hundreds, maybe thousands of drawings each year will give an artist more confidence in themselves than any individual graduating with an art degree.

Tips for caricaturists

  1. Focus on your artistic growth before diving into the business world. It’s always important to have a great product that keeps customers happy.
  2. Have fun! We draw funny pictures for a living. Success is a wonderful thing, but stay grounded.
  3. Theme parks are the perfect environment to start drawing caricatures. You will grow as an artist, and you will gain the confidence to sell your art.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
There is a small assortment of companies that hire caricature artists with little to no experience. My advice is to assemble a strong portfolio that caters to facial drawings. Draw your friends and family! Once you have a solid portfolio, seek out companies in your area that offer caricatures. I highly recommend companies that reside in theme parks, malls and zoos, as you will always be surrounded by talented artists and diverse drawing subjects.

Stan Yan

Caricaturist

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Understanding My Career Path

  • I have been drawing cartoons since I was old enough to hold a crayon.
  • I never considered art to be a viable career choice, so I studied and got my B.S. in accounting.
  • I worked as a stockbroker for 13 years while I self-published my first 3 comic books and first graphic novel, marketing my work online and at comic book conventions.
  • I was referred a gig illustrating 100 caricatures for one of my former professional networking friends’ clients in a one week span. I didn’t consider myself a very confident caricature artist, but I was willing to give it a shot in spite of my fears.
  • I got laid off from the brokerage industry 2 times in 3 years and decided to try freelance illustration full-time.
  • In 2006, I realized I actually needed to make money at conventions I was attending to promote my comic books, so I started offering to do zombie caricatures, which happily was fairly lucrative and got more and more lucrative with the rising popularity of zombies.
  • In 2009, a high school friend running an events company got reacquainted with me on Facebook after seeing my work at the Denver Chalk Art Festival and began hiring me to do some traditional caricature gigs.
  • In 2011, I finally published a zombie-related comic book, Vincent Price Presents #33 for Bluewater Productions, written by me, and illustrated by Daniel Crosier, and began to try to regrow my readership by offering these books for free to my zombie caricature customers.
  • March 7, 2015, I’m launching a crowdfunding campaign to redraw Vincent Price Presents #33, offering backers the opportunity to be drawn into the book and even be the villain.

Recommended Organizations

  • ISCA – Many of my peers belong to ISCA, and I lurk on their social media pages for additional inspiration, so that’s probably a good organization to look into. They also share a lot of tips on the business end of things, which a lot of caricature artists may lack.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
As an art instructor myself, it may seem strange for me to say “no”, but I feel like my experience as a stock broker helped me as much, if not more than anything else in my freelance illustration career, as it made me keenly aware of the client relationship dynamic, contracts, and such. My passion for my muse was the key ingredient to longevity in my career.

Tips for caricaturists

  1. Love it enough to do it even if you aren’t making money at it.
  2. Don’t undervalue your skill, and you will make more money.
  3. Be inspired by others so your work can continue to grow, and you’ll become more marketable.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
Most caricature artists I know started working at an amusement park. The good thing about this is you get a lot of practice to hone your craft, but it pays poorly, and a lot of artists I know overly rely on park-taught formulas, which can make artists stagnant. And I feel that half of the fun of what I do is learning to more effectively entertain, surprise, and tantalize my customers, which leads to repeat customers at many events I attend on a regular basis. This also can lead to folks that are impressed enough to hire me for parties and events.

Tony Sobota

Caricaturist

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • Although I got into caricatures a bit through accident, I started out much like everyone else in my profession: by drawing at a theme park. I had always loved to draw portraits and other subjects, but it remained a hobby until early in college.
  • The first season of drawing caricatures is easily the hardest for the artist, and many people drop out. You’re thrown into the colorful, loud, fast-paced environment of the theme park and need to come up with funny (but not too funny) likenesses of your subjects in minutes!
  • You’re ‘hired’ to draw anyone and everyone, and no one teaches you how to draw a crying baby or how to get kids to pay attention or to calm down an angry girlfriend. I was pursuing a counseling degree at the time and believe the listening skills I was honing at school went a long way in the world of retail caricature!
  • I graduated college, and as a way to earn money while figuring out my next step, a friend of mine and I opened up our own caricature operation at a zoo and seasonally at a mall.
  • I decided to go to grad school, however, I eventually dropped out to pursue art full-time, and caricatures became my bread and butter. I set up my own operation at a nearby zoo and supported myself during the off-season with odd jobs.
  • Eventually, I came across a group of artists drawing caricatures at traveling fairs and festivals, and joining up with them allowed me to draw caricatures year-round.
  • Because drawing at festivals gave me the ability to earn my living in a concentrated amount of time, I took sections of the year off in order to work on my fine art and teach part-time.
  • I’ve maintained this schedule for the past seven years, drawing caricatures for about 5 months a year and using the rest of the year for doing gallery shows and teaching.

Recommended Organizations

  • Society for Caricature Artists (ISCA) – Join the International Society for Caricature Artists (ISCA) and go to the annual convention! Nothing else will push you to grow in your artwork like connecting with other artists at the convention. There are also loads of other resources that come along with joining ISCA, like the Exaggerated Features magazine, podcasts, and more.
  • Join a figure drawing/sketch night in your hometown like Dr. Sketchy’s or a drink and draw. Drawing from life is the hardest and you need to learn how to do this if you’re drawing caricatures.
  • The Nose or About Faces – If you’re already a caricature artist, join up with organizations like The Nose or About Faces to be listed in your area as an artist and get party gigs. This is a big part of what I do and being listed on these websites helps me get gigs.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
While most artists I encounter professionally did attend some kind of art school (graphic design, fine art, illustration, animation, etc.), nearly all of them say school isn’t necessary. Here’s why: the ability to draw caricatures accurately and successfully comes down to the ability to “see” –and learning to see takes thousands of drawings and years of practice. You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to an institution to get this practice, but you can get paid to do it as an artist in the field.

Have real passion
Like many artistic professions, you have to really want this to get in and stay in, because the career definitely has its ups and downs. Ask yourself: How badly do I want to do this? Drawing caricatures is a rewarding career in that I get paid to do what I love, meet lots of people and see different parts of the country, and work side-by-side the most driven, talented, and fun group of artists in the world. But if you’re not sure you want to do caricatures – if you don’t love it – you won’t have the motivation you need to make it long-term.

Read this book
If you want to learn how to draw caricatures, I highly recommend you pick up Tom Richmond’s book, The Mad Art of Caricature, and gather some like-minded friends around you and practice what’s in the book. There are a lot of good books on caricature, but Tom’s is generally known as the caricature “Bible” and offers an accessible, detailed, and fun approach to think about and learn caricature.

Draw, draw, draw
If you can, draw something every day. I drew all the time as a kid and young adult, and it no doubt helped me have thousands of hours of practice under my belt by the time I started drawing caricatures. Be patient with yourself, and remember that learning to see takes time, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t ‘get it’ after 10 drawings, or even 100. It may take 1000 bad drawings to get to the good ones. So have fun along the way!

Advice on getting your foot in the door
Sign up for a job at the theme park. This is easily the best way to get started in the field. To get in at a theme park you usually need to have a portfolio of portraits, caricatures, and other illustrations. 10 pieces will suffice. And usually an interview sketch is involved: that’s right, you draw your interviewer live! Believe me, there is no better way to learn than going through the process of drawing at a theme park with other artists – and you get paid to do it!

What are My Study Options?

Learn about art schools accepting students now:


More than anything, you will need a lot of practice and perseverance to become a great caricaturist. While hands-on learning is the only way you are really going to learn the craft, as well as from mentors, you do have some study options when it comes to a career in caricature.

While you do not need a degree to succeed in the field, if you would like to get one, an arts degree might be of great help. This will let you explore different media and meet other artists, practice while in school and also begin building a community of like-minded individuals around you. To complement this, you could minor in sociology or psychology, to help you better understand people – making you a better caricaturist.

Another option is to get a business degree. A large percentage of caricaturists are self-employed, which means that they are running a business. To do this, you will need to understand marketing, accounting, advertising, communication, customer service and many other aspects of a successful business – therefore it could be helpful to study this in school.

WHAT IF I WANT TO PURSUE A FINE ARTS DEGREE?

  • Indiana University
    The Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1895, offers students a variety of options when pursuing studio art degrees. These include subjects such as drawing and painting, graphic design, digital media and photography. Master’s level studies and special concentrations are also available. In-state tuition is $10,338 per year and out-of-state undergrads pay $33,240.
  • University of California
    The Los Angeles campus of the University of California allows fine arts students to pursue foundation courses and complement them with studio courses of their choice, including sculpture, painting and drawing, and new genres (where students explore other types of fine arts). MFA programs are also available. California residents pay $13,806 per year, while non-residents must additionally pay a $24,024 tuition supplement.
  • Temple University
    The Taylor School of Art, at Temple University in Philadelphia, offers a variety of art-related courses, including studio focused degrees such as painting and drawing, graphic and interactive design, and printmaking. Students may also pursue such degrees as art history, visual studies and art education. The school also holds multiple exhibitions for the public. Full-time tuition for Pennsylvania residents is $14,006 and $24,032 for out-of-state.
  • Cranbrook Academy of Art
    This is a small and prestigious graduate program, with an annual intake of 150 students. Located in Bloomfield Hills in Michigan, it allows students to focus on any of the 10 departments, including painting, print media, 2D and 3D design, among others. Total tuition is $33,406 plus other fees.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    The School of Art at VCU offers students to pursue a wide range of majors, including such subjects as kinetic imaging, graphic design, craft and material studies, as well as art education, art communications and cinema. Prior to entering into one of the majors, students must complete an Art Foundation Program. Additionally, students may pursue studies at the Qatar campus in Doha. Each semester costs $4,230 for Virginia residents and $11,450 for non-residents.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Many caricaturists start out by working at theme parks. Of course, you will need to have practiced at home before you try to get a job there, maybe draw sketches of your family and friends until you have a small portfolio you can show. Then, apply for a job and start practicing, while also getting paid for it. This will give you invaluable experience, allow you to hone your skills and help set you on the way towards a career as a caricaturist.

From there, you will need to make your own way by either working as an independent artist on the street, looking for corporate and event clients, opening your own company to freelance for newspapers, magazines or other publications…You name it! There is definitely demand for the work, but you will be facing fierce competition and will need to establish your name in your area. It is also advisable to get a mentor early on in the process, that way you are learning the ropes from someone who understands and knows the industry.