Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Joe Bluhm Influence

In live caricature, I don't think there are any live caricature artists who've been more conspicuously influential on other live caricature artists than Joe Bluhm. I'm gonna show the top ten things that us folks do because we saw Joe do it first.

The main and biggest and most important thing is holding oneself to a sky standard of excellence and treating the theme park as a place to do amazing art. That’s the main thing. I’ve edited these post a few times over the years. When I posted it originally, it said something to this effect, but then I felt this response from people that maybe I was kissing up too much or something, so I got self conscious about it and took the first part out, but I wish I had left it in, because it’s very important to the post, so now, too many years after the fact I want to put that back in, and I hope too many people didn’t come here, and get the idea, that Joe’s impact is just these superficial aspects. To me and everyone I know it’s so obviously completely contrary to that, but strangers might come here too, and people who aren’t as familiar with Joe’s work. Anyway, let’s carry on.

So here we go. Top ten. Joe Bluhm.

10. Big Body

Joe turned the caricature world on it's big head/little body by bringing a fresh little head/big body alternative to the table. 

In animation traditions, this is what a body looks like, and it also served as a fine go-to body for caricature artists, but of course with a much bigger head. It's a small central mass with big hands and very big feet, but not everybody's built like this so if a caricature artist can not draw this when it's conspicuously not what he's looking at, he get's bonus points.

Joe brought to live caricature a lot of illustration traditions. This is the illustration body type: a big central mass and tiny limbs and a small head. I remember the first time I saw a Joe Bluhm full body color caricature of a kid playing soccer and he had tiny little feet and I was like, of course! That's perfect. I always loathed drawing color bodies until I realized I didn't have to shoot for Mad Magazine Jack Davis anatomy necessarily–not that I was able to do anything near that.
Now, this is a big head though, but that's probably because the kid had a big head. Look at those skinny little legs. How cool!

9. Glasses Charisma
This one has two subcategories. The first is reflections. After everybody saw Joe's reflections they were like, "Dang! How can I do that? The second category is "the glasses trick," which is this:
It makes you wanna keep a thick pair of glasses at the easel and force all your customers to wear them for the duration. "The glasses trick." You know the glasses trick. I've done it countless times I shouldn't have..and I think you need a lot of realism in your drawing to pull it off so that it actually looks like something.

8. Non-Smiles

If there's no smile and the drawing is still funny than you know that it's the humor in the drawing that they are enjoying and not the humor in the customer's expression. Isolate the source of the humor, is what I'm saying. I'm joking though, but how great is this drawing, and I think he gave her some honkers. Not sure why.

7. The Underview

By angling the customer's face downward a little bit you can get great big Disney eyes, no chance of a pig nose, and a slender chin without having to draw a single dishonest line.

But unfortunately the rules of caricature spell out very clearly that the angle you choose is part of your statement about your subject's face and in no way arbitrary. So, if there's more important stuff, that is, if there's more interesting stuff, that is, if there's more unusual stuff, that is, if there's more risky stuff down below, but you take the up-top angle, that means your a ninny. And Joe's no ninny, is what I'm saying.

 6. Eyes Out in Front

One cool thing about caricatures is you can think you know faces and then you see a drawing exaggerating some dimension that you didn't know existed and then every face you see after that has to answer to that new dimension. 
It's like, imagine the first person who drew an eyeball. Before that, all the experts were portraying human beings as just stick figures with blank heads and punching their time card and going home to read the paper, and then some know-it-all wet-behind-the-ears rookie draws a person with an eyeball, and then all these union guys were like "well that's one more thing I gotta think about," and then after a month of griping and union meetings the kid draws a person with two eyeballs just on a whim before his lunch break, and this old timer passes by the kid's desk while he's gone, and he glances down without thinking too much and then..

Here's some examples of eyes up in front. I did an eyes up in front only a couple months ago on my drawing of Bill Burr, but he definitely has eyes up in front...but here's more examples of other artists doing it, plus one more from myself.

5. Philtrum volume

Most people don't know that the "she don't have a mustache" joke was actually not a joke at all but rather just a normal father's reaction to a caricature artist trying to indicate that space between the nose and the mouth without the proper know-how.

This is how it's done right here. It's got to be puffy. A nice puffy philtrum is the only reason you need to not draw the smile.

Mom: Smile honey! Can you draw her smile?

Artist: No, ma'am, but wait till you see this puffy philtrum!

I use to ride the middle ground a lot, have some teeth showing, but get a little philtrum in there too.

4. No Names, No Hearts, No Song and Dance
Mom: I have prosopagnosia, and don't call me Shirley. 

The job of the artist is to make something awesome. If they are unable to make something awesome, which is their job, the other alternative is to be cooperative and friendly which has an awesomeness to it as well, like when the restaurant makes a mistake with your order so then they bring you a free pizza and you say "AWESOME!"

3. 3/4

Yeah. I'm giving Joe credit for 3/4. I don't know. Why not?

2. Natural Lighting

 I almost put natural lighting as Joe's number one influence on live caricature. This is a big one. It's one of the most noticeably different things he does, and it is a major part of every single sketch. And even people who don't dive in full force and use a brown color stick when coloring white people will still put a little black shadow in the teeth and eyes because of Joe.

Nothin better than some natural lighting. They train us to use an imaginary light source which is a great way to create a sense of volume lickity split, but everything ends up looking a little balloony. People who do studio life drawing know that if you stay faithful to the light source and if you are patient and pure of heart, in time, volume will manifest itself.  Joe however uses natural lighting to build volume, and skin looks like skin and hair looks like hair. It's really very incredible. Part of me wishes he still worked at a theme park, you know. Somewhere, deep down, another time..

1. Undersketching


 It's weird. The most easily quantifiable difference between Asian live caricatures and American live caricatures is, I do believe, the undersketching. I may change my mind about this, but this is just what I'm thinking now. Here in Korea, the business side of the force encourages undersketching, and in America the business side discourages it. I'm not sure why the difference, but I really think that's true.

In America the word Joe Bluhm is synonymous with undersketching. The boss will say to some rookie, "No undersketching!" and the rookie will say "but Joe Bluhm does it." and then the boss will say, "but he's Joe Bluhm, and he's amazing, and you're not amazing." Wise words indeed.

In conclusion, Joe Bluhm has been influential to many caricature artists. These are just my opinions and guesses. I don't know too much about live caricature history, but there's not much literature out there so it's mostly hearsay I think.

Thanks for coming to my blog. 



Adam Street said...

I agree, I've learned a ton from looking at Joe's work. Nice analysis Aaron.

Tom R said...

Aaron- As much as I love and respect Joe's work, 90% of this stuff was being done in theme parks when he was still working on getting potty trained.

Aaronphilby said...

Im sure my view is a little Kamanscentric. What, if anything, would you say I got right?

Aaronphilby said...

And bear in mind im not talking about joe inventing anything, only popularizing it.

Unknown said...

I do agree that a couple of things were here before Joe came to play. With that being said, Joe was a gift to the caricature word just like Sebastian Kruger (hope that's how it's spelled) they push the bar. Setting it on level most couldn't even think about. I remember when Joe came to my first park I worked at. Dorney park, a mix pot of the worse of the worse with a few gems here and there. He came in and the first drawing was rejected and i couldn't believe what i saw when he was drawing it. Typical city black guy with his back country white lady. The city slicker ask to have a pimp like theme with money on table and glass in hand. Wooow.. between the glasses and the Nyc hat the guy was awsome. The woman was hands down the funniest. Small head with a fat lava body. When they left I hung it up so everyone could see it all day. They walked by and weren't to happy. But, this was the turning point for me. Joe showed me to draw for me not for the customer. Cause at least you can save the rejects that are bad ass and use them later.
All in all you hit it on the head about bluhm. He came in and chanced the caricature way of being and set the true caricature artist free.
Wish I could work next to him again as well, so much fun.

Michael (gonzo)
allentown, pa

Eddie Van Gogh said...

Good comeback Aaron :D

Mike Hasson, About Faces said...

I learned more from reading your blog post than I did from looking at Joe's work. Because some of us need to be spoon fed like that.

Aaronphilby said...

Thanks, Eddie

Aaronphilby said...

im glad we could spoon.

Alex said...

I've got Joe's book on its way to me; thanks for posting this.