Sunday Mailbag

June 3rd, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: A friend of mine who does the party caricatures for a living told me “zones out” a lot while drawing a big crowd. He said that he gets in a rythm of drawing where he’s so comfortable and routine he goes on automatic pilot to the point where he’s actually floated above himself watching himself draw and entertain for a couple subjects. My friend says it happens almost every gig. Sometimes its out of boredom too. Its very surreal. He said watching himself draw and talk was freaky. He doesn’t do drugs and has a couple beers to unwind only after the gig. Have you ever zoned out?

A: This is a very real phenomenon. Drawing live caricatures is a mentally and physically draining thing to do, especially in a theme park. It is an exercise in endurance. I have been known to draw for 14 hours straight without more than a 10 minute break to wolf down some food just to keep my blood sugar from bottoming out. My entire body will shut down, and I feel no need to eat, use the restroom or any other bodily function. I get exhausted but don’t crash until after the last drawing of the night, when I’m putting my money in the cash bag and my hand is sore from drawing for 14 hours. Then it all overcomes me, and I am suddenly ravenous, exhausted and need to sprint for the bathroom. It is purely mind over matter on those days.

What your friend is describing is part of that. Fatigue, both mental and physical, combine with the pressure of a long line and the drive to keep going to switch you into a kind of semi-trace state. You talk to people, interact and generally act normal, but you feel weirdly detached from the situation. Your drawings change from being a result of analytical thinking to being a purely reactionary, intuitive process. Eventually you reach a point where you literally feel like you are watching the drawings happen rather than doing them. It only happens on those extreme burn-out days, but I’ve experienced it many times.

The oddest thing is that when this happens you are not on “autopilot”, where you do mediocre/bad drawings to just kick them out and move on to the next customer. When you reach that out-of-body-like point, you do the best drawings of the summer. Everything clicks and every line sparkles, even though you are drawing at top speed. You can do no wrong. It’s like magic…

…on the other hand, it might be the combination of airbrush fumes and bug spray that does it to you.

Thanks to Nick Cirasella for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

Comments

  1. Trevour says:

    While I’ve been drawing caricatures professionally for only a couple years, I can vouch for this too. I wouldn’t say my work is anywhere near spectacular yet, but I have definitely noticed some of my best live work coming out of those long ‘zone out’ stretches. Airbrush fumes, you’re probably right Tom! 🙂

  2. I just walked in the door having just finished a wedding where I drew for 6 hours straight without a break. I can’ t believe how much your comments rang true.

    “The oddest thing is that when this happens you are not on ?¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ?√¨autopilot?¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ¬¨√π, where you do mediocre/bad drawings to just kick them out and move on to the next customer. When you reach that out-of-body-like point, you do the best drawings of the summer. Everything clicks and every line sparkles, even though you are drawing at top speed. You can do no wrong. It?¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s like magic?¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ¬¨¬∂”

    That’s EXACTLY what happened tonight.

    Good times..

  3. mikecur says:

    In the zone. It’s a Zen thing. Or if not Zen, in the moment. Yes? No?

  4. JWB1 says:

    I’ve been in that autopilot zone but usually not for more than 5 or 6 hours. I wish I got more of a chance to test my endurance these days.

    When I read the question I immediately flashed back to reading an old interview with Jay Leno! When he was doing his stand-up he would zone out, float above himself, and not really remember anything from that night’s set. He compared it to sleepwalking. I’ll have to see if I can track down that article.

  5. Tom says:

    I wonder if that still happens to Jay Leno? If so, I wonder if his floating self looks at his watch, yawns and wonders if he will ever be funny again?

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