Frank Zappa – Caricature insight!

So, maybe my process isn’t typical in the caricature drawing methodology, but I thought I would share my insight in order that you can understand the process I go through to achieve an individual caricature. In this case Frank Zappa. Now, this is not a standard, but most of the time it is a typical process.

I recently completed Frank Zappa, and I will use this to highlight the method by which I end up with a final image.

Depending on the complexity of the caricature I am attempting I do several methods. This insight is for a caricature that was difficult on only one level. These difficulties can include;

  • not finding a large enough reference image
  • not finding a colour reference image
  • not finding an image of the personality in the frontal orientation


So, in the case of Frank Zappa, there were many good image of his face, but in black and white mode. This was a little bit of a set back, as the caricature was destined for the colour series. The sad truth is that Frank departed us early due to prostate cancer, so the library of images was slight. I did some research and found three images I believed I could work with.

I found the image on the right, in black and white a very stylised and typical image of a Zappa expression. The one low and one high eyebrow and lid. However, as I said before, the image was not in colour, and even through further research a colour version could not be found. Nonetheless, I continued and found a great image of Frank Zappa with a unique lighting value in a colour image. this is the image on the left. At this point I rendered up a pencil sketch, like I always do with the caricatures. The sketch is simply for a guide, so no real amount of detail is added to the artwork. The point is to do these artworks as fast as possible.

At this point, and you will notice, I have added the same hairstyle as the one seen in the black and white photo. I have continued to scan the image into Photoshop ready for the rendering of the artwork, but felt that Zappa had a stronger look and personality. So, I remembered during the research stage that there was a very characteristic image of Frank Zappa with his well-known ponytail look (the middle image above).

I started painting, using the left image as a sampler for the colours of the face. Saying that also, I had to find another image to show his eyes in detail so I could style the pupils better. However, most of Zappa‘s face is coloured from that left image. The shading of the eye area however was taken from the black and white one, and I simply sampled colours from the left photo and painted the lines of the right.

After I completed the face, I decided that the hair needed to have some more style, so I switched colour image and simply painted the hair and the orange tee shirt from the middle image. Sampling the highlight tones for the hair from the left image.

So, to complete the entire image of Frank Zappa, I used a total of four reference images, with which I crossed colour two and styled with two. All in all the caricature has gone down well, so far.