April '09  


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FLIP Featured Artist
Ed Wexler

All artwork in this article is the propety of Ed Wexler

I've met so many talented people since my first job as an in-betweener in 1973 - so many skilled draughtsmen.   To me, the best animators are making caricature art with every key extreme they draw whether it's a wide shot or a personality close-up. They are distilling something about the real world into simpler symbols and making some sort of comment on it at the same time. I think that's what good caricature art does.

The NY Daily News had a Sunday magazine that ran full-page caricatures of sports figures by Bruce Stark. As a kid, I remember staring at the artwork and appreciating how beautiful and funny they were. Also around that time I discovered Mad Magazine

I remember being very taken with the Mad satire of "Five Easy Pieces". I hadn't seen the film and didn't know who Jack Nicholson was, but I totally "got " who he was from Mort Drucker's depictions.   Months later, I saw Nicholson  on TV. My jaw dropped when I saw how spot-on and funny Drucker's interpretations were, and I knew I wanted to try that. So, like so many others, I did my best to ape him in the art I did for the high school paper. I was a copier. I copied hands, folds, movement lines, etc. 

A bit later on, I became aware of Mad's earlier greats like Will Elder, Kelly Freas, and Harvey Kurtzman. After that I learned about David Levine, Rick Meyerowitz, and Ed Sorel.

In high school, I made spending money doing party caricatures. It wasn't much of a hardship doing sweet 16's when I was 17 - I quite liked it. It was the Bar mitzvah's that were a drag - nothing's worse than drawing an ugly kid while his mother is standing behind you saying "Oh his ears don't stick out THAT much,", or "he's MUCH more handsome than that". Guess again, lady! He looks like you - I thought to myself.

Anyone who can hold a pencil can be taught caricature. There are some formulas.   Artists who churn out   caricatures at theme parks rely on formulas.   I've seen people who have done that for years and are able to work directly with a black marker. They do profiles that start at the top of the forehead and work their way down to the chin. Then they fill in the eye and rest of the head before sticking on a little body that depicts the hobby of the subject. One guy I saw put on a cloth glove that had a different color chalk on each of the fingers that he used to smear in various colors and tones. This kind of thing has very little to do with drawing or art.

I always start a caricature of a famous person or a political figure by going to Google to gather a bunch of recent photos and putting them all in one file. It's helpful to see a variety of views at the same time. Sometimes I group the front views, 3/4 views and profiles together. Then I go to the kitchen and get something to eat. 

When I come back, I stare at the photos and decide what kind of statement I need to make in order to make an insightful and entertaining caricature. Then I start making sketches. I work in Photoshop, so it's easy to save my very first sketches and work over them on another layer to "plus" them. I save variations along the way. Usually one of the early sketches  catches the likeness and has a spark to it. That's the one I continue working on. Sometimes I need to take  a bit from an earlier variation. Sometimes I bend and or move things around a bit.   If I were working on paper, I'd need to make a new sketch, but with Photoshop it's much quicker, plus the spontaneity and looseness are maintained and show through in the finish.

When I get a decent sketch of the head or heads, I go back in the house and get something to eat and maybe watch a few minutes of Maury.  Then I begin thumb-nailing the composition of the whole piece. I drop in my tight-ish head sketch or sketches and throw in some color before I email it in to the art director for notes.

Sometimes I re-draw the whole thing, Often, I'm able to let bits of the early sketch show. That always works best for me. I block in my flat colors on another layer. Then I spend time getting the head shaded and hi-lighted. Once that's more or less done, the rest is easy.

A few weeks ago I was assigned to draw Rush Limbaugh for for US News &World Report online.   I wanted to draw Rush like Jabba the Hut. But when the art director saw it, she said that the editor would never go for it. She said that she didn't see his neck. I said I didn't either. Fast forward ahead, after several begrudging revisions, My Rush depiction looked like an ad for Trim-Spa. 

The Hollywood Reporter had me to do a group caricature of the Academy Award nominees of 2002.   They put it on the cover. They told me that when the issue came out, my profile would be increased - an understatement. I did more than a dozen covers and many spot caricature illustrations over the next 6 years.   HBO hired me to do a mock H'wood Reporter cover with Adrian Grenier that was used in an episode of "Entourage".

The main difference between the animation work and my work as an illustrator is the collaborative nature of the animation process verses more or less solitary nature of doing an illustration.  As we all know, there are many more people involved in animation. It's always a pleasure working with talented, experienced artists. What's less fun are some of the animation executives. It's great working with execs who like you and trust you and let you do your work. Others, not so much. 

I have a children's book in the works and a coffee table  book of my caricature art from The Donning Press in which Jeffrey Katzenberg has written the foreword.

See more of Ed's work at his site: www.edwexler.com

To view a gallery of work for US News & World Report:


click on Art Gallery

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