Caricature Capers Part 2: In the Trenches!
In our last thrilling installment, I detailed how a young, inexperienced cartoonist (me) had figured out a way to earn money "drawin' pitchures". I had hooked up with a local caricature firm, and was going to be doing cartoon portraits of tourists and the like at a popular tourist trap in downtown Boston, MA.
Now remember, I had precious little experience drawing caricatures at the time, but I figured, the owners of this firm must have had an "eye for talent", and wouldn't have hired me if they thought I couldn't do the job.
I was sorta right.
Before I began, the owner of the business gave me a brief "tutorial" on the methods and materials the caricaturists in his firm used. The tools of the day were a Sharpie Rub-a-Dub® marker for black line work, and Chartpack® markers for colors. The drawings were done on 8 1/2" x 11" index card stock, pre-printed with the name of the company. I was also given my very own lap board to lean on as I drew. After showing me a few tips of the trade my boss assigned me to my first day of drawing caricatures for the general public, or as I came to know them, The Great Unwashed.
The caricature cart was located, as I mentioned, in a very popular tourist area filled with shops, restaurants, and street performers. As my first day approached, I felt extremely excited, and extremely nervous. I was excited to be getting paid for drawing cartoons, but nervous I wouldn't be good enough.
As it turned out, I needn't have felt either emotion. The "excitement" of being paid for drawing all day dissipated as soon as I realized how little me and my fellow artist were being paid compared to what the owners of the venue were raking in. True, we were making more than we would have been flipping burgers or cleaning toilets, but not much. I also realized that drawing cartoons for yourself was a lot more fun than drawing screaming kids and drunks all day and night. Having the above mentioned people arbitrarily judge your work based on how cranky/drunk they were was no fun either.
As for my fear of not being "good enough", I had nothing to worry about. While some of my co-workers were wonderful cartoonists and really enjoyed their jobs, the majority were hacks. Their drawings would have shamed a 7 year old, not that they cared. As long as the rubes paid for their crappy drawings they were content. In comparison to them, my stuff was ready for the cover of MAD magazine.
As the Summer of my first caricature tour of duty wore on, I settled in and realized that while there were some good aspects to the job, there were downsides as well. Such as:
• It was HOT! Given my pale, Irish ancestry, I ideally should be kept in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and humidity. No such luck. By day we were seated outside with no shade, while the Sun baked down on us. Nights were cooler, but then we became a biting insect all-you-can-eat buffet.
• The food was awful! Sure, I could have packed a lunch for myself, but that would have required some forethought, so I dined from the food court at the location we were at. After a Summer of greasy fast food fare, my stomach and I were no longer on speaking terms. My wallet was a lot lighter too.
• The clientele left something to be desired. The ideal subject for a caricature is a secure person with a good sense of humor. Why vain, insecure people with self-image issues want a caricature of themselves is beyond mortal understanding. Time and again someone would sit down with a HUGE honker and say, "Don't give me a big nose". People with glasses didn't want them in the pictures, and of course, tubs of lard all wanted to be skinny.
In all seriousness, it was truly heartbreaking when someone with a true birth defect or some other physical problem was coerced into having a drawing done. It was awkward for the subject and the cartoonist. You can't insult them by exaggerating their problem, but to leave it out of the drawing or idealize them would make it seem like you were passing judgement on their disability. The worst? People who talked their BLIND friends or family members into getting a caricature! Why would someone who can't see want a cartoon of themselves?!
• There were other negatives to the job: Parking, maneuvering through crowds, not to mention roaming clowns. The worst thing though, were the HECKLERS!
I suppose in any job where you are out there exposing your "talent" to the general public, you are opening yourself to the puckish wit of passerby. A day didn't go by where some yahoo would stumble up, look over my shoulder, and make a witty, derisive comment about my drawing. The problem wasn't with anyone making a witty comment (I've made one or two in my time), it was the complete lack of originality! Over and over again I heard, "Hey, SHE doesn't have a mustache!", and, "Wow, you're makin' them look ugly!" The subject of the drawing couldn't see their portrait till I was finished, so their heightened anxiety just added to the onlookers fun. Other winners included less pithy comments like, "She doesn't have 3 eyes!" Get the joke? Why would I draw someone with 3 eyes?! Jocularity at its finest! (I know I've forgotten some of the comments that retail caricaturists hear daily, so if any other caricaturists out there have any comments, please post 'em in the comments section.)
One of my favorite comments, that always left we scribblers scratching our head was, "It's not supposed to look like ya! It's a caricature!" That was always a puzzler to me.
A lot of you reading this will think I am a spoiled brat, whining about some petty annoyances on what appears to be a pretty easy job. You may be right. There are a lot worse gigs out there, and I've had a bunch of 'em (Gas station on a freezing Christmas Eve, anyone?). If you do think I am being a whiner, pick up a pen and start drawing funny pictures of your friends and loved ones.
Then get back to me.