The first thing I hear when someone sits in front of me for a caricature is usually “Make me skinnier.”
Well, that and “Make me younger.” And sometimes, “Make me prettier.” “Make my nose smaller.” “Make my boobs bigger.”
People are worried about how they are going to look in a caricature. They want to be made fun of… but not too much. Every now and then someone sits down and says “Go for it,” but most of the time, I have to draw the line between funny and cute.
So here’s what I do, and what I recommend for anyone trying to draw heavier people: Split the Difference.
Imagine someone averagely thin. Imagine where they would go on the paper. Now look at the heavy person in front of you. See how much larger they are than the person you’re imagining, and split the difference.
If that neck is actually two inches wider than the average neck, make it one inch wider. If the cheeks droop an inch below the jaw, make it half an inch. If there are three chins, make it one and a faint suggestion of a chin.
Doing this, you can keep your good cartoon likeness and still manage to flatter a little bit. It’s kind of an optimistic drawing… it’s what your subject would look like after a month or two of diet and exercise.
Weight is usually carried around the neck, cheeks, and jaw. There’s not much difference between fat and skinny above the ears. It’s the lower half of the face you have to be most careful of. It’s especially difficult when you’re adding that little caricature body.
See, an average-thin face will have a prominent jaw and a prominent chin. You draw a thick, heavy line around the underside of the face, then you can slap a neck and body of any size underneath it. It looks like a bobblehead, but it appears natural to us.
A really fat person will have a big, bulging neck that leads directly out from below their ears. The jaw vanishes. It’s prominent enough to be an important part of their likeness, but very difficult to bring down into a scrawny caricature neck you can fit onto a tiny body. With no jaw, there is no clear line where the head ends and the neck begins.
In this situation, I use the chin as my guide.
Imagine a simple chin drawn on a page by itself. It’s a somewhat flattened U-shape. If you draw a thin person’s jaw around it, the chin will prodrude down past the jaw. If you draw a stocky person’s jaw, it will join flush with the underside of the U. And if you draw a chubby person’s double chin, it will form it’s own shape a full half-inch or inch below that U.
Here’s how you attach the heavy neck to the tiny body: Use that double chin technique. Draw a big round shape that floats below the chin. Start from below the ears, bulge out in the real shape of the neck, but then bring your lines together under the chin. Leave a gap wide enough for whatever tiny neck you’re going to put there. Then, you can put a little skinny neck, a little skinny body, and keep the likeness while still flattering a little bit!