Tales from the Theme Park #2

October 25th, 2013 | Posted in Tales from the Theme Park

Time for another thrilling tale of yesteryear from my days as a theme park caricature artist! I know… you are overwhelmed with anticipation. Try to stay calm.

When you draw caricatures from live models for enough years, you are bound to have some moments where you do something dumb and embarrassing with the drawing because you just weren’t paying attention. Those types of things can happen on really busy days when you are going at high speed and are distracted by your environment‚ or just plain not being attentive. There is a certain subset of these instances that I like the call “missing missing limb” moments. I have several examples of this‚ here are two really bad ones:

This first one happened when I was just a nineteen-year-old kid drawing at Six Flags Great America near Chicago. I finished ringing up my most recent drawing and turned to find my next customer, a 13-ish year old boy, already sitting in front of my drawing board. The tables we used were at an angle that really only showed us the subject from the lower chest up, and that’s an adult. Kids this age I would only see from the shoulders up unless I peek around the board to see their clothing, etc.

I dig into the drawing, with the kid’s family behind me. They are laughing as I do his caricature, then I get to his body. I had a repertoire of stock gag bodies I did a lot of, and one that worked well with boys this age was the old “flexing right arm” drawing with a mosquito-bite sort of muscle bump for a bicep. When I get to drawing this part it usually gets laughs and comments from the crowd. This time the crowd goes silent… which was odd but I just kept on going. I finished the drawing and whipped it over the table showing it to the kid. He laughs and stands up to get the drawing and pay…

… and he has no right arm, only an empty t-shirt sleeve.


I apologized and offered to do it over, but he just laughed and said he loved it. Whew.

Another example happened years later when I was working at Valleyfair. Same thing, I turn from finishing one transaction to find a couple already sitting, ready to get drawn. I launch into it, eventually getting to the bodies. I pull out another cheesey, stand-by gag where the guys has his arm around the girl and is doing a “thumbs up” as he looks at her. These subjects were hispanic, and their friends behind me had been commenting in Spanish and laughing, but when I get to the “thumbs up” they went crazy, guffawing raucously and chattering away. After a bit of this, I turn around and ask what’s up. One of the onlookers says something to the man I’m drawing and my subject raises up his hand…

no thumb.

I was stunned for a second, but then I did a little creative adjustment to save the drawing. It happened to be during the theme park’s October “Halloween” days, so I drew a scar and stitches on the thumb, threw a couple of bolts on the guy’s neck and painted lightning bolt streaks on the lady’s hair to make it a Frankenstien theme. I also drew her with the thread and needle for the sutures, like she’d just sewn on his new thumb. They loved it‚ I think I even got a tip.

After that I became a little paranoid about that sort of thing, which caused me to always peek over or to the side of the drawing board to make sure all the limbs were intact before I did something like draw someone running or otherwise engaging in physical activity that requires functioning arms and legs. When I did that peek I often got weird looks from the subjects, like I’d just tried to look up the lady’s skirt. When this happened I would usually reply:

“Just making sure you have legs before I draw you roller skating or something.” That usually got a big laugh…

… little did they know I really WAS checking for legs.


  1. Scaricatures! Scary stuff, kids!

  2. N Gomes says:

    Ya, I feel sorry for that kid but great to learn he didn’t take it that way and rather chose to enjoy the caricature! rest of the post is so funny!

  3. Leo Kelly says:

    I hope its ok, if I share my experience, I was drawing on a riverboat, it was towards the end of the cruise and everyone had quite a bit to drink. A group of three women came up. One had a wandering eye. I was about 20yrs old..didn’t know what to do, so I drew a normal eye. When I did the reveal, they all got very loud and pointed at her face (even the gal w the wandering eye) it seems it was a badge-of-courage of some sort and I had missed it! They all laughed it off. Great feature Tom–look fwd to hearing more!

  4. Karyl Miller says:

    I have just read and re-read Tom’s fabulous Mad Art Caricature book in prep for drawing caricatures of blood donors at the San Diego Chargers Blood Drive event November 26 here in SD. Members of our club SCCS (Southern California Cartoonists Society) draw donors free every year and it’s always a blast. Since the “customers” aren’t paying anything, I used to reason that my drawing didn’t have to be that good. But I HAVE CHANGED and I owe it all to Tom! If you haven’t bought this book, DO IT! Your drawing will improve immediately following his keen instruction.


On sale tomorrow everywhere fine books (and this one) are sold!

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