Caricatures for the Soul

August 21st, 2007 | Posted in General

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.


  1. mengblom says:

    Bless you, Tom! That’s a fantastic way to use your abilities. You’re right…we have a duty to use our skills to help those around us, wherever the need presents itself. It’s great when people give financial donations to worthy causes, but it’s even better when people can donate their time and talents to those causes, since it gives you a perspective you simply can’t get when writing out a check.

    It’s wonderful that there are so many experiences available for people facing all kinds of challenges (whether physical or mental). I’d never heard about Eden Wood Center before, so thanks for making us aware of it. How many years has Elizabeth been attending the camp program? It must be one of the highlights of her summer.

  2. paulcapurso says:


    I’ve never met you in person, though I feel like I have, but you have ALWAYS helped me out in many ways and I’ve always respected you for it, NOW I respect you even more!! God bless you and your family.

    Take Care

  3. Tom says:

    Thanks guys. Yes, donating your time or skills is much more appreciated than just signing a check… although I do that as well for some other charities.

    Mark- As to Elizabeth, the funny thing is she’s never been to that camp, and never will. I honestly can’t remember how they originally found and called me and asked if I would draw out there… it’s been several years I’ve done this now. It certainly had nothing to do with Elizabeth. It’s just a coincidence I have a special needs kid.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for her to go to the camp just for the experience. However she is very intolerant of people and being out of her comfort zone. She quickly breaks down when her environment is unfamiliar. Anna and I discussed it but we both believe Elizabeth would not enjoy or even function at such a camp… it just isn’t for her. Too bad, I wish that was different.

  4. quikdraw4 says:

    Tom I really enjoyed this post today!
    I remembr about 10 years ago I was drawing free caricatures for a pro sports teams fans. I had a long waiting line and an arena security guard near me to keep the line orderly.
    Happened to look up at the line while drawing and saw this mentally challenged teenage boy smiling at me from his wheelchair while his father stood patiently behind him. They were in the middle of the line.
    I told the security guy to bring the son and father to the head of the line now as they were next. People online groaned but I didnt care. This kids eyes lit up as he was wheeled in front of me. I drew both he and his Dad playing football. I drew him out of his wheelchair catching a pass from his Dad. The son smiled and I looked him in the eye and told him someday-this will happen. I hugged his father who had tears in his eyes.
    I posed for a couple pics with them and went back to drawing the crowd.
    Felt like I hit the worlds biggest lottery. I’ve done charity work ever since.

    We as artists are blessed with unique gifts. Using those gifts to entertain less fortunate people is the least we can do to payback our Higher Power for giving us our talents in the oh so short time we have on this earth.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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