A.J. Jensen

If you’ve been to a recent festival in Piedmont Park or at Stone Mountain, you’ve probably seen caricature artist A.J. Jensen at work.

His gift as a cartoonist dovetails neatly into what has become a full-time business called The Toon Headz, the only official business devoted to caricature art in Atlanta.

According to Jensen, the definition of caricature is morphing a subject using exaggeration while retaining a likeness. Exaggeration can mean stretching and pulling features or even to simplifying them. The main goal of his crazy renditions is to make them humorous, but to all maintain the essence of his subject.

“Understanding likeness is generally based upon someone’s artistic experience,” Jensen said. “The majority of people expect likeness to come from what’s in front of their eye. Yet, one subject is in a vast realm of having comparisons to millions of shapes, forms or even textures. Identifying theses comparisons allows one to broaden their experience of the humor of caricature.”

Through years of practice, Jensen has learned to be fast – from cracking a few jokes to get genuine smiles to quickly picking up on prominent facial features. Some people are nervous about getting their caricature done in fear that they will turn out ugly or fat, but seeing a caricature allows people to embrace their human side, not their best side.

“I respect everyone who sits down to get a caricature from me. They are putting all of those insecurities on the back burner to laugh. When I show them the drawing and they laugh at it, I know that they lifted themselves and lifted their spirits from not worrying about their looks,” Jensen said.

Just as caricature art saves people from insecurities, the art saved Jensen from his own struggles. For years, he suffered from panic attacks and homebound agoraphobia. During this dark period, he learned to play the piano and to draw.

Jensen started to connect with the outside world by sharing his caricature art on YouTube. He began to face his fears through exposure therapy, usually something as simple as dining in a restaurant. Those early meals were difficult, yet caricature art helped him draw through the pain.

“I brought a sketchbook and started drawing people,” Jensen recalled. “The next thing I knew, I was there for two hours because I totally zoned out as I was drawing these people.”

As he gained confidence, Jensen went on to attend a caricature convention and meet a few like-minded friends who suggested he start doing live caricatures. Many already knew Jensen from his popular YouTube videos that get 4,000 hits on average. One day while drawing in Helen, Jensen met Bobby Morris, another caricature artist. The duo started a joint business and when they started getting gigs, like corporate parties that pay as much as $150 an hour, they decided to make caricature art their full time job.

Last fall Jensen hosted a seminar for a caricature convention, talking about his agoraphobia and the importance of caricature art in his life, in front of 300 fellow artists from around the world.

Jensen will return to the annual caricature convention this November to exchange ideas, learn new techniques and remember why caricature art is important.

“There is no truth in caricature, just humor and art. People shouldn’t subject themselves to believe their face is a way of identifying themselves. That idea is too subjective and unfair,” Jensen said. “The truth of understanding someone is by studying what lies within.”

For more information, visit thetoonheadz.com.