Sunday Mailbag

January 20th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You mentioned you drew caricatures in bars to help support yourself in school. What’s the financial arrangement between you the artist and lounge owner drawing in bars? A friend told me-why bother spending/wasting money socializing in bars when you can get paid for doing the same thing working in a bar as a bartender-bouncer-barback? I thought about it and he made sense-but drawing sounds a lot more fun and lucrative.

A: I didn’t really make much money doing it, but I did draw caricatures in bars and clubs when I was a full time student between summers at the theme park. The Lovely Anna was my sugar mama in those days. She made the dough working as a restaurant manager while I went to college. I did make enough to help pay the bills and for some spending money for us. I would mostly target bigger clubs and hotspots where there were large crowds and people with money. For a time I was drawing on Friday and Saturday nights, Wednesday night (Ladie’s Night) and Sunday night (all ages) at three different establishments.

It was hard to find a place that worked out. The problem was usually space. Clubs tend to get outrageously crowded and there is barely any room to stand let alone draw. It was hard to find a club that would have all the elements I needed to do a decent number of drawings and that would allow me to do it at all. Many club managers just slammed the door in my face when I asked about drawing there.

As far as the financial arrangements, that depended on the bar. I usually paid the bar between 15% and 25% of my sales. That is chickenfeed to a club owner, of course. It’s not about the money with them, but about having something interesting and fun for their patrons. Most clubs have girls walking around with single roses for sale that are purchased by drunken idiots who give them to some hottie they have no chance of going home with that night. I showed club owners couple drawings that had the club name or logo drawn in… that seemed to be something they were interested in. I drew in a few Twin Cities clubs in the late 80’s like “William’s Uptown” and “After the Gold Rush”, that were meat markets and had enough room for me to operate. On a good night I might take home $100 to $120. On a bad one, $20. That was at $5.00 per face in those days.

There are serious headaches involved with drawing in clubs, and I mean that literally. The noise in those places is so outrageous you can’t hear your own thoughts. Then there are the serious drunks… even the passive ones are annoying as hell. Get hold of some drunk jerk who decides you made his girlfriend look fat and there will be some trouble. Drunk women were sometimes an issue as well. Once I had one take my business card off the stack on my drawing table and call my home late one night asking Anna if I was “really engaged”. The next night that I worked Anna came along, sat next to me flashing her ring and staring daggers at every woman who stumbled up. That was my record low night in tips.

The other approach, if you don’t care about actually making money, is just to bring your sketchbook into a bar with you. Start drawing people and then showing them the results… especially the bartenders. I’ve never done that, but many people I know who do it say they pay for very few of their own drinks those evenings. I guess it depends on how nice your caricatures are… nice ones and you get a free drink, nasty ones and you are probably wearing that free drink.

Thanks to Matt 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!

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