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Sketching with a Spirit Animal

November 16, 20171 Comment

Artist Snoop Dogg has a truly great face. When looking at this photo, his character and attitude are as well defined as his bone structure. In looking for his spirit animal, I was originally going to use the obvious choice of a dog, because of his name. But I decided to dig a little deeper and look to other kinds of animals for inspiration. In truth, Snoop doesn’t act or look very dog-like. The strongest association I could come up with was a lizard. He just seems kind of cool and reptilian. This monitor lizard reminds me a lot of him, especially with his uniquely sloping forehead, angled brow and lower face which projects forward.

Snoop Dogg Drawing using a Spirit Animal

This technique of choosing an animal or object to inspire the caricature is one that can help you create totally new and bold exaggerations that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. I’ve heard from some good caricaturists over the years that if your subject reminds you of something or someone else, channel that thing and draw it first as the foundation of the caricature. Those artists sometimes keep that spirit animal shape throughout the whole process and distort the head to fit in it. Their final caricatures can be so exaggerated that the finished result no longer looks like anything remotely human, and almost needs to be deciphered by the viewer. And I can see the appeal in that style. However, my personal goal is to get finished caricatures that are more realistic and instantly recognizable while still being funny. Since my work leans more towards realism, I use the spirit animal shape only so far as it helps me create a unique design. As soon as it stops being helpful or hurts the likeness, I leave it behind and just focus on the person and not the animal.

For instance, in my sketch of Snoop, I incorporated the forehead and eye placement of the lizard. But I diverged away from the lizard head when drawing the lower face because it wouldn’t have worked as well. Also, the lizard has wide open eyes, while Snoops are half-closed. If I drew those big round lizard eyes on him, it would have not been true to Snoop’s likeness and character.

One of my goals in using the lizard as the basis for the exaggeration was to create a face that was narrow and projected out forward in the mouth and nose area. The trick to doing that was how I would make that work with those wide cheekbones and widely spaced eyes. So my solution here was to have a strong taper from the cheeks down to the chin. If I had just tried to draw Snoop on my own, without the lizard, I probably wouldn’t have come up with a configuration for the head quite like this. But when starting his face on the template of the lizard, I mentally freed myself up to solve problems in different ways than I normally would.

That’s what I hope you take away from this exercise. It’s supposed to help you create something original that surprises you as you draw it.

Snoop Dogg Caricature Sketch Layin Stage

But this technique can’t be used for every subject you caricature. I find it works best for those who already are strong character types or have unique personas that lend themselves to associations with animals or random objects.

And remember, the goal is not to create a human/animal hybrid in the end. You don’t need to preserve any of the animal anatomy in the final drawing. I mean, you could, if you really wanted to – as long as it doesn’t hurt the likeness. Sometimes, you may want to make an editorial statement about the subject by including animal features. But that’s a whole other subject that we’re not going to deal with here. This lesson is purely about the mechanics of drawing a funny, exaggerated likeness. And I use the spirit animal as just my initial inspiration.

At this point, I’ve removed the lizard sketch and now this is a pretty standard caricature drawing demonstration. I got what I needed from the animal and I focus now on resolving the likeness working solely from the Snoop Dogg photo reference. The animal head strongly influenced my initial design. But now my efforts are focused on resolving the planes of the head and making his human anatomy work within the bounds of these contours.

The amount of influence that the spirit animal has over my caricature subjects varies from person to person. There’s no one right answer for every subject or every artist.

The Spirit Animal of Snoop Dogg in a full face sketch.

In the premium course I go over a lot more examples of using spirit animals to solve a wide variety of caricature subjects. Some of them influence the caricature a little. Some others influence it a lot.

I find this is one of the more fun and relaxing ways to do a caricature. Using an animal or object in the beginning stages of the drawing makes it into kind of a game – an improvisational exercise that can help you get out of your own head. Drawing caricatures can be frustrating sometimes when you aren’t getting good results right away. There are no shortcuts or replacement for patience and hard work. But this kind of technique can help shake you out of a funk where you’re just repeating the same mistakes over and over. It’s a way to trick yourself into going in a new direction. Even just doing a search for the right spirit animal is a valuable exercise. It makes you super focused on your subject and what the qualities are which define them. And when you draw your own spirit animal caricatures, you’ll learn how to apply those decisions into your workflow.

Final sketch of Snoop Dogg as a Caricature with lizard feature.

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  1. Cheryl Vargas says:

    SOooooo beyond DOPE!

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