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Caricaturing with Inkscape

Inkscape is a great open source tool for drawing cartoons. In this article*, you can learn how to use it for creating simple caricatures.

GIMP and Inkscape are two main open source software available for graphic artists. Very generally speaking, GIMP is for photos and Inkscape is for drawings. Drawings are vector images and Inkscape is the better option for such graphics. Inkscape is also a better option if you do not have a drawing tablet-stylus device such as those from Wacom. This is because vector drawing tools such as Inkscape rely on a combination of shapes rather than raw raster content and brush strokes to create images.

Many open source artists work only with GIMP, without ever knowing about or using Inkscape. I had tried Inkscape in the past only to think that it was powerful but difficult. I created some custom desktop icons like this (Screenshot 1) and forgot about it.

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 1: Custom desktop icons created using Inkscape.

Lately, I have been watching some cartoons and this made me work on Inkscape again. I now have a small clip art library with images like this - a more anatomically accurate shark than Sharko (Screenshot 2).

Screenshot 2

Screenshot 2: An anatomically accurate shark caricature created using Inkscape.

It was still a laborious task. Later, when reading a book of Dilbert cartoons, I realised that it need not be so difficult. If you observe carefully, Dilbert cartoons are extremely simple. The caricatures are a combination of simple lines twisted here and there, minimal shading and that is about it. If you were to follow Scott Adam's (Dilbert creator's) production technique, then your Inkscape work would be much easier. What this means is that you can start drawing cartoons and caricatures with just your mouse! Yes, Inkscape will let you do that.

Screenshot 3

Screenshot 3: Dilbert caricatures are a combination of simple lines.

Screenshot 3 shows various stages in my rendering of Dilbert. First, I drew a quadrilateral roughly in the shape of Dilbert's head with the Pencil tool. (To draw straight lines, use click-move-click sequences. Do not drag your mouse on the page, as it will create a curved line.) Then, I selected the created shape (the quadrilateral) and then choose the Nodes tool from the toolbar (Screenshot 4). This enabled me to tweak the four line segments of the quadrilateral. The bottom line segment was moved at the centre to make it curved. I then selected the top line segment and clicked the "+" toolbar icon several times to add several new nodes to the segment. This broke up the top segment into several smaller segments. I curved each of those segments to form the outline of Dilbert's hair. I also drew two straight lines of different lengths on the left side of Dilbert face. I curved them to form Dilbert's ear. After that, I selected both lines and pressed Ctrl+D key combination to duplicate the ear. I pressed "H" key to flip the ear horizontally and used arrow keys to move the new ear to the right side of Dilbert's face. The rims of Dilbert's glasses were drawn with the Circle tool. The folding arms of the glasses were drawn as straight lines with the Pencil tool. The nose was drawn with the Circle tool but with the "Arc" option activated.

Screenshot 4

Screenshot 4: The Nodes tool lets you tweak shapes.

Screenshot 5 shows a Donald Trump caricature. It requires very simple lines.

Screenshot 5

Screenshot 5: The Donald Trump cartoon becomes recognisable when you add colour to his trademark mop of hair.

The caricature in Screenshot 6 is more sophisticated. I drew a circle shape and then divided it with an arc shape using options under the Path drop-down menu. The top half was duplicated and reduced in height to form the hair. The bottom half was widened to make the beard. The eyes and the nose were drawn using the circle shapes. A "filter" called "Roughen" has been applied to the hair at the back of the head and on the chin for a rugged outline. The hair was given a gray colour. Then, another filter called "Rough paper" was applied to bring out the hairy texture.

Screenshot 6

Screenshot 6: A caricature does not have to look like a mirror image of the person. It is not a painting.

A caricature is a distorted and exaggerated drawing of a person. Although your initial Inkscape drawings may not stand up to the cartoons in a mainstream newspaper or magazine, it will be good enough for a beginner. The text appearing in callouts and thought bubbles will provide the context. People will identify the real person when they read the text that accompanies your caricature.

Screenshot 7

Screenshot 7: A caricature is identified by not just the drawing but also the context in the form of text appearing along with it.

After a few days with Inkscape, you can stop forwarding funny cartoons that others send you. Instead, you can create your own.

This article was originally published in 2017 in the Open Source For You magazine.