Artist Arie Monroe does a caricature of 8-year-old Emma Barcus with her mom, Nancy Barcus, in downtown Parkville over Memorial Day weekend (photo by Jim Barcus)

Kansas City artists make a go of the art form and have fun doing it

People often think of caricature as political, biting and message-driven, but it can also be an art of people pleasing — a fun way to enliven an event or occasion and allow sitters to see themselves in a new light.

Family caricature by Deborah Moreno (from the artist)

“I like to bring out the best I can in my customers,” says caricaturist Deborah Moreno. “I try my best to provide them with a fun, enjoyable drawing that is filled with the things they love and enjoy. I don’t believe caricature only has to be about exaggeration of a person’s flaws.”

Moreno is one of a hefty roster of Kansas City artists making a go of the art form, like Marietta Williams, who answered a job ad for Worlds of Fun when she was 15 and was hired to draw at the park. Now Williams has a full-blown career: In December alone she traveled to six states, producing 20 drawings per hour at various events.

A subject responds to her caricature by Marietta Williams (from the artist)

For Williams and other KC caricaturists, including former Worlds of Fun artists Arie Monroe and Darren Kennedy, caricaturing is a fun art form that also engages people’s humanity. “It is a celebration of your unique features,” Williams says. “Your ancestry, your job, your life and your experiences are all on your face.” The artist’s challenge is “to highlight them in a delightful, enjoyable and mindful way.”

“From proposals to drawings of pets to baby’s first caricature and beyond, I get to be part of some really big moments. It adds a lot of meaning to the work I do,” she added.

At a recent holiday party, Williams drew a guest and included the woman’s recently deceased husband. “When she saw it, she immediately broke into tears and gave me the biggest hug. It means the world to me that I have the ability to help in some small way, to add any joy or healing,” Williams said.

Caricature as Portraiture

Caricatures are fundamentally portrait art, and like portrait artists, each caricaturist has a personal style. “Artists’ works are like fingerprints. We are all different, and our styles can be like a signature,” says Arie Monroe, who like Williams, began her caricaturist career with a high school summer job at Worlds of Fun and trained at Kamans Art Shoppes. She went on to earn a B.A. from UMKC in studio art and art history and then attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Graphics in New Jersey.

Monroe’s work took her to Los Angeles, where she was an illustrator for Warner Brothers and drew caricatures for Universal Studios Hollywood. In 2014, she moved back to Kansas City and opened her own event and contract shop.

In the life of a caricaturist, human drama comes with the territory. Monroe vividly recalls a bearded, ponytailed, hat-wearing man who came to her shop for a caricature. Explaining that he was a reformed drug dealer, he asked her to add diamond earrings to the picture. When she did, he complained it made him too girlish. He bought it anyway.

Discovering Caricature

Deborah Moreno’s introduction to caricature happened at a hospital.

“When I was a kid suffering from broken bones, internal bleeding and lacerations to my face due to a car accident, I got a knock on my hospital door,” Moreno related in a recent interview. “A couple of artists from Hallmark, volunteers, asked if I wanted to get my picture drawn. When I looked at my sketch, they drew me without my scars. I was so happy I forgot I was at the hospital!”

Moreno now draws caricatures at Children’s Mercy herself. After studying fine arts at the Kansas City Art Institute, she spent many years doing pop-up caricatures at Union Station and Crown Center, where she opened her own shop, Deborah’s Art Studio.

From her youth, Eileen McCoy always loved drawing and was never without her sketchbook. Mornings she would sit in McDonald’s on Broadway and do three-minute sketches of people. Customers often requested the drawings; she likes to say she “got her start on Broadway.”

Caricatures by Eileen McCoy (from the artist)

After graduating from UMKC, McCoy went on to hone her talent as a production artist at Hallmark Cards. She has been employed as a courtroom sketch artist, decal designer, logo creator, illustrator and landscape painter. Among her clients are the Royals and the Chiefs, Sprint, and jewelry retailer Kendra Scott. She now has a custom studio and also does murals with her daughter, Katie; the outdoor mural at the KC Current Training Complex is theirs.

A subject proudly displays her caricature by Debra McQueen (from the artist)

Debra McQueen says she entered the field as a “lark,” doing a favor for a marketing client at an event. It was a surprising fit for her, and she followed up doing beach caricatures in Florida, along with T-shirt designs, for a year. Now, with a degree in graphic design and marketing, McQueen and her caricature company Fine Tooners represent face painters, tattooists, fortune tellers and balloon artists. She’s a sales rep for Fun Services Midwest.

What it Takes

KC’s caricaturists pride themselves on being professional, reliable, warm and courteous.

They have to be — they’re on the go and in demand. They perform in and outside Kansas City at private and corporate events, trade shows, universities, museums, parties, festivals, comic book shows, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs and for many charitable functions.

They also give back to the community in other ways. Darren Kennedy honed his drawing skills at KC’s Illustration Academy, a summer workshop offering instruction with world class illustrators, and then spent three and a half years with Kaman’s Art Shoppe doing caricatures at Worlds of Fun and the Kansas City Zoo. Since 2014 he has worked as a yearbook cover designer/artist for schools across the country. Kennedy also teaches art to kids at the Break Free Hip Hop School in Kansas City. A longtime street dancer — “one of the few poppers and lockers in town” — he finds its “freestyle/improvisational” nature similar to caricaturing.

Williams, too, gives of her time, serving on the artist advisory board for the Superhero Project, a nonprofit which pairs kids with disabilities and terminal illnesses to create their own Superhero alter ego.

Caricature also brings unique benefits — and challenges — to its makers.

“When I’m painting, I have no other cares, and time simply disappears,” says Moreno.”

And the job is never boring.

McCoy has been asked to “add more hair and take away chins, to dissolve wrinkles and remove braces.” She’s drawn newborns to 100-year-old dancers, a woman gravedigger, a drunk bride who fell out of her chair and a child who threw her lollipop across the room.

McQueen loves seeing kids laugh and run to show their drawings to their friends and families. But she also found it a “hoot,” she said, when a 7-year-old camped behind her and critiqued every piece she did for two hours!

For a deeper, fascinating look, check out the 2020 documentary “American Caricature” For more information about the artists, visit,,,,, and @DKDelicious.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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