How to Become a Caricaturist


Learn the Basics of Drawing & Portrait Art

The word, caricature literary means “loaded portrait.” A caricature is an exaggerated or distorted portrait of a person or thing that overemphasizes a subject’s peculiarities, defects, or distinguishing features but still retains a likeness to the original. Although usually drawn with pencil, crayon, pen, charcoal, or pastels, caricatures can also be drawn digitally using computer software, such as Photoshop CC, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Painter, and ArtRage Studio Pro. 

Early in the 17th century, caricature was used – both drawn and written – to express facts or personal beliefs that were often suppressed or censored. They were also created to mock and ridicule public figures – much like today.  For example, the famous caricature of Napoleon Bonaparte by James Gillray, which depicted a very short emperor wearing a very large hat.  As a result, we think of Bonaparte as much shorter than he really was. 

Today, caricature has evolved into a form of art that is both popular and accepted worldwide and continues to poke fun at public figures, including politicians and movie stars.  Magazine and newspaper editors gladly welcome artists who draw caricatures, and although they may disagree with the ideology portrayed, they still respect the artists’ ability to give a humorous slant to a subject. 

Magazines like Mad, Time, The New Yorker, US News Report, and many more all depend on caricature artists to create characters that grab at people’s consciences, make reader’s laugh, and leave a lasting memory. But, because caricatures can be both comedic and realistic, an artist must be part psychologist and part artist who can draw a slightly skewed likeness of a subject, as well as interpret their attitude and personality.


Develop Your Drawing & Communication Skills

To create a stylized caricature, artists must have a good understanding of anatomy to reference during the drawing phase.  Although the final portrait is typically skewed and misshapen, if the anatomy is wrong, the drawing will take on an unfamiliar and disjointed appearance; unlike the subject. It’s also important that caricature artists pick out a distinguishing feature in each subject to emphasize; something that makes the subject unique that the artist can then accentuate and play up in his or her caricature. So, observation skills are important.

Caricature artists must be good at communicating with humor and satire because most caricatures, especially in the case of editorial cartoons, address potentially controversial topics. 

Caricaturists must be good writers too, as many caricatures will include titles or short dialogue. And, besides the obvious, which is the ability to draw very well, artists must also understand color and which colors work well together and complement their subject.  Mastering advanced drawing skills like perspective, style, gesture, proportions, and composition is also fundamental to creating a polished caricature. They must understand how clothing fits a subject, how to add details to hair and body, how to add in a background, and they must also have a complete knowledge of any software used to create caricatures digitally, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, or ArtRage natural painting software. Initially, most artists rough-sketch their caricatures first using pencil and paper, charcoal, pens, or some other similar medium, so understanding which works well to achieve the desired affect is also vital. 

Sometimes, caricature artists come under fire from disgruntled readers. The ability to take criticism is important, as is the ability to stand your ground.  The job of a caricature artist is not to make their subjects beautiful and flawless, but to bring attention to their subjects through imitation, wit, and humor. Artists must make creative decisions on the fly, compromise and learn new techniques, especially since many caricatures are drawn digitally, and software is ever-changing. 

There is no specific training needed to become a caricaturist. However, to develop the professional skillset necessary to break into this competitive field, earning a degree is advisable. If you choose to pursue a degree, a bachelor of arts (BA), with an emphasis in visual arts may be best. Several schools in the US offer degrees specifically in illustration and cartooning, and if this is the path you choose, you will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts (BFA). The curriculum is much the same in both programs and includes illustration, design, English, computer graphics, writing, and art. BFA degree programs that emphasize cartooning will also include classes in the history of cartooning, advertising, storytelling, drawing and perspective, portrait and figure drawing, color theory, and portfolio, and possibly 2D and 3D design. 

College programs offer students the opportunity to create a portfolio, find internships, exhibit their work, and find employment after graduation.  In addition, there are online programs, vocational schools, community colleges, and art institutes that offer courses in cartooning. One other option to also consider is applying to the Center for Cartoon Studies – a program/institution located in Vermont that offers both one- and two-year certificate programs, as well as a two-year master of fine arts degree program, and summer workshops, all taught by experienced cartoonists, writers, and designers.


Sharpen Your Skills & Develop Your Style

Aspiring caricature artists must continually practice their skills. It can take dozens of sketches and many incarnations of the same caricature before it satisfies your needs or the needs of your employer or client.  As you polish and sharpen your skills, you will develop your own style and unique formula for creating caricatures that set you apart and give you a level of recognition.  If you want your work to appear in print; magazines and newspapers, you can start by sending samples of your most recent work to local newspapers and magazines. If you choose to work in advertising, then send your work to advertising directors at local ad agencies. Of course, if you plan on being self-published on the Internet, then making your own website, blog, and using other social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube, or some sites specific to cartoons, such as GoComics and Illustration Friday are all good choices.

After you have some of your work published, it is easier to create or update your portfolio, which in turn can help you get a syndicated comic strip.  Of course, if you graduated with a degree, you’ve already created a portfolio. If you’ve been freelancing, then you’ve probably also created a portfolio of work. But, continually updating samples of your work is vital, as it shows your progress and improvement overtime.  You might have the best resume in the world, but it won’t get you hired without a portfolio that demonstrates your unique style and drawing ability.

Employers also value training and experience when hiring a caricature artist. Previous experience shows employers that you can produce great work on deadline, that you are dependable, and willing to learn.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), syndication companies compete for newspaper space and want caricature artists who attract subscribers, so artists with a strong following are more competitive and often win out over those without any experience whatsoever.  Caricature artists can gain this experience by drawing live people at fairs and carnivals, at weddings and parties, art fairs, and at any event or social function where people gather.

Of course, networking with others in the industry is also important to the career of an aspiring caricature artist. There are dozens of associations and organizations across the US offering online workshops and opportunities to network with seasoned professionals. Contacts can also be gained through internships, joining clubs, a personal blog, and working in another department (such as advertising) for a local newspaper.

Helpful Resources

  • Artist Spotlight: Greg High,
    Illustrator & Storyboard Specialist

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJun 15, 2012

    Greg High discovered he had a talent for drawing and sketching early in his life. But even as he headed off to college, he told his friends he didn’t want to become an artist because it wasn’t going to help him pay the bills. Instead he was going to be an architect,...

  • Interview with Steph Calvert, Illustrator

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizOct 28, 2012

    Get to know accomplished Graphic Designer, Steph Calvert. Learn more about how he applies his training from Savannah College of Art and Design throughout his career, how Steph has navigated the demands of the business, and ultimately became an accomplished illustrator.

  • Interview with Mike Dawson, Cartoonist

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizNov 19, 2014

    Mike Dawson drew comic strips in the Rutgers Daily Targum for four years, self-published several comic books, and got his first book deal in 2008 for his tongue-in-cheek memoir, Freddie & Me, an autobiographical account of his childhood obsession with the band Queen and...