Car­i­ca­tur­ing with Inkscape

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

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GIMP and Inkscape are the two main open source soft­ware avail­able for graph­ics artists. Very gen­er­ally speak­ing, GIMP is for pho­tos and Inkscape is for draw­ings. Since draw­ings are vec­tor im­ages, 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, be­ing un­aware of Inkscape. I had tried Inkscape in the past and con­cluded that it was pow­er­ful but dif­fi­cult. I cre­ated some cus­tom desk­top icons like the one shown in Fig­ure 1 and for­got about it.

Lately, I have been watch­ing some car­toons and this made me get back to work­ing on Inkscape. I now have a small ‘clip art’ li­brary with im­ages like what’s shown in Fig­ure 2. (I be­lieve this im­age de­picts a more anatom­i­cally ac­cu­rate shark than Sharko!)

But the task was still pretty la­bo­ri­ous. Later, when read­ing a book on 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’s cre­ator) 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 lets you do that.

Fig­ure 3 shows the var­i­ous stages of my ren­der­ing of Dil­bert. First, I drew a quadri­lat­eral shape, roughly re­sem­bling 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 chose the Nodes tool from the tool­bar (Fig­ure 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’s face. I curved them to form Dil­bert’s ear. Af­ter that, I se­lected both lines and pressed the Ctrl+D key com­bi­na­tion to du­pli­cate the ear. I pressed the ‘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.

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

The car­i­ca­ture in Fig­ure 6 is more so­phis­ti­cated. I drew a cir­cle 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 grey colour. Then, an­other fil­ter called ‘Rough pa­per’ was ap­plied to bring out the hairy tex­ture.

A car­i­ca­ture is a dis­torted and ex­ag­ger­ated draw­ing of a per­son. Although your ini­tial Inkscape draw­ings may not com­pare well against the car­toons in a main­stream news­pa­per or mag­a­zine, these 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.

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

Fig­ure 2: An anatom­i­cally ac­cu­rate shark car­i­ca­ture cre­ated us­ing Inkscape

Fig­ure 3: Dil­bert car­i­ca­tures are a com­bi­na­tion of sim­ple lines

Fig­ure 1: A cus­tom desk­top icon cre­ated us­ing Inkscape

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

Fig­ure 6: A car­i­ca­ture does not have to look like a mirror im­age of the per­son

Fig­ure 7: A car­i­ca­ture is iden­ti­fied not just by the draw­ing but also by the text ap­pear­ing along with it

Fig­ure 4: The Nodes tool lets you tweak shapes

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