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Finding and Using a Spirit Animal to Draw the Face

October 20, 20170 Comments

Assignment

To do this exercise at home, find some subjects to draw who are really distinct character types. People with unique looks or strongly defined personalities will lend themselves more easily to comparison with some kind of animal, plant or object. And start by drawing the shape of the spirit animal first. Then try your best to fit your exaggeration around it. If you end up getting crazy non-human head shapes, even better still. This exercise is designed to push your skills and expand your caricature consciousness.

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There are certain people – certain faces, that when you look at them, make you think of something or someone else. The person could have physical traits that remind you of a particular type of animal because of their head construction, features or just a particular facial expression you find in one photo. Or it may not be an animal at all. They could remind you of a plant, or an object or even another person. So I use the term spirit “animal” loosely. And sometimes, there doesn’t even need to be a physical resemblance between the two. Their spirit animal could simply be something that’s associated with their personality or public persona.

Once you’ve figured out the spirit animal for your subject, try to work that creature or object into the exaggeration. But remember, you’re not necessarily trying to create a human/animal hybrid, the spirit animal or object should just influence the design and inspire you to exaggerate in ways you would never have thought of on your own. And the animal doesn’t necessarily need to be obvious in the final drawing as it is in this caricature of P.T. Barnum.

Just let it inspire the initial shapes in an abstract way. This technique helps me a lot, personally. Because normally, I tend to exaggerate my subjects with a very literal and realistic approach. But whenever I assign the right spirit animal to my subject, it helps me draw more exaggerated and interesting caricatures.

Example

Our first example is one where there is a strong physical resemblance to a particular animal. American Senator Mitch McConnell’s spirit animal is a turtle, or more precisely a Galápagos giant tortoise. Comedian Jon Stewart of The Daily Show famously had a long running gag about McConnell looking and even sounding like a turtle. But that’s something I had thought on my own when I first saw the senator on TV years earlier. So I’ve always wanted to do a turtle caricature of him. If you look at the senator from different angles, it’s an easy comparison to make. The puffy face, long tapering neck, bulging, widely spaced eyes, weak chin, long philtrum and lipless mouth all contribute to the tortoise look.

So to start, I do a quick thumbnail sketch of the tortoise. I’m not doing an exact copy of the tortoise as I see it in the photo – but a slightly anthropomorphic version of it so it’s proportions are more human.

Then, I begin my sketch of Senator McConnell on top of the reptile. I try to find points on the senator’s face that correspond to the tortoise’s anatomy at first. But if the tortoise anatomy doesn’t help the likeness, I’ll just adjust the proportions on my drawing and move away from the tortoise influence. Remember, the spirit animal is only a guide. You don’t have to literally make your subject look like an animal. Just let the animal’s shapes provide the jumping off point. The idea behind using the spirit animal is to inspire a different way to solve the problem of finding a funny exaggerated likeness. If I had never made a tortoise connection, and just used the average head diagram as my basis of comparison, I would have made different, and perhaps, less interesting exaggeration choices.

But as you can see with the finished result, there is still a strong tortoise element to the caricature. And it’s a pretty good likeness. If I were to take this drawing to a finish, I would next trace over this rough sketch with the abstraction to fix any errors or asymmetrical distortions.



Also, remember, the spirit animal doesn’t have to be an animal at all. It can even be an inanimate object. Check out the premium version of this video where I do a second demonstration, using Dirty Harry’s gun as Clint Eastwood’s spirit animal.

This spirit animal technique can’t really be used for everybody you’re going to draw. It’s much harder finding a spirit animal for average-looking or typical pretty people. I find it works best on those who are very interesting or unique looking — people who are already good potential subjects for caricature. Associating them with a spirit animal is just a way of pushing the exaggeration in a different and unexpected way.

Critiques

For the best chance to have your spirit animal caricatures critiqued in an upcoming video, gather together all of the following images: Your reference photos, your thumbnail sketch of the spirit animal AND the final rough caricature sketch and post them in the Proko Caricature group on Facebook.

Premium

If you want to learn even more about using the spirit animal concept to grow your caricature skills, get the premium version of this course. There is a longer version of this lesson as well as several more narrated spirit animal caricature demos on lots of different character types. And as a special bonus for premium students, there’s even a full demo of me doing an oil painting of my Clint Eastwood spirit animal caricature.

Clint Eastwood Oil Painting

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Assignment

To do this exercise at home, find some subjects to draw who are really distinct character types. People with unique looks or strongly defined personalities will lend themselves more easily to comparison with some kind of animal, plant or object. And start by drawing the shape of the spirit animal first. Then try your best to fit your exaggeration around it. If you end up getting crazy non-human head shapes, even better still. This exercise is designed to push your skills and expand your caricature consciousness.

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