I stopped doing gigs many years ago. I always hated hauling all my stuff out to some company picnic or holiday party and trying to draw with people jostling my elbows, drunks sloshing around, loud music from some obnoxious DJ in my ear and typically bad lighting. After a while I just decided it wasn’t for me. I refer all party inquiries to my best artists from the parks.
That’s not to say I don’t occasionally venture out with my portable drawing table and do caricatures… it just needs to be for a good reason.
Every summer I make at least two visits to Eden Wood Center in Eden Prairie, MN, part of Friendship Ventures. Eden Wood Center is one of several lodge camp facilities that Friendship Ventures uses to host different kinds of resident camps for kids and adults with mental and physical disabilities. They range from day camps to several days of activities, fun and learning for campers with varying degrees of disabilities from high functioning autism and Aspberger’s to those challenged with severe mental and physical difficulties. The ratio of staff member to camper is about 1 to 2, so the campers get plenty of attention to their individual needs even while participating in the many group events that are organized. It’s a tremendous program and you can see in the eyes of the campers how much they are enjoying making new friends, being involved and made to feel welcome in the activities and just being somewhere special. The staffer and volunteers work very hard with everybody and make it their priority, after the obvious special needs, to help the campers have fun and be involved as much as they wish. This isn’t a case of gathering everyone in a room and ignoring them… the staff are all very involved with every moment of the camp experience. Some of the campers are very challenging to deal with, and these people deserve a great deal of admiration for their dedication.
I come in a few times a summer to draw the campers in the evening. All of them really seem to love getting a caricature drawn of them, and sometimes I end up staying pretty late to make sure all of them get a drawing. I don’t mind at all… these people face enormous challenges in their lives and some of the simplest of things in life we all take for granted are impossible for them. To see them all having a genuinely good time is good for the heart.
As a father of a special needs child, I can also appreciate the benefit such a camp provides the care givers of these kids and adults. Caring for a special needs person is exhausting and sometimes very trying. No amount of love for them can offset the fact that we are all human and subject to getting tired or just becoming overwhelmed. Having a place you can bring the special needs person for whom you are the primary caregiver that you can be confident is a place they will get the attention, care and enjoyment that these camps provide is like a miracle. Even if it’s only one week a year, it’s a chance to relax and recharge your batteries so you can be a better parent or guardian when they return.
I know a lot of caricaturists out there who donate their time drawing at children’s hospitals, retirement homes, therapy centers or some other place where the residents face difficulties and challenges in life most of us can’t fathom. If you’ve got something to give find a place to give it. Everybody’s busy and it’s never easy or convenient to do something like that, but do it anyway. Do it without expectations of thanks, praise or reward. Do it in spite of your schedule or workload. Do it for someone else and not for yourself.
It’s not entirely selfless. You do get something out of it… it’s good for the soul.
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