Sunday Mailbag- Live Caricature Marathons?

September 13th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: This question may sound funny, but I think it is quite relevant: Imagine you are doing live caricatures and there is a desirable long line of customers waiting. Suddenly you really have to powder your nose. What are you doing/saying? Have you ever been in such a situation? And do you remember how long your longest non stop live drawing session has been?

A: I started doing live caricatures 30 years ago at a theme park called Six Flags Great America near Chicago. That summer in 1985 had long lasting effects on me in multiple ways. First, I fell in love with the art of caricature and made it the focus of what would eventually be my career. Second, it trained me to do two things that, despite my not really doing live caricature work regularly for about 10 years now, are both habits I cannot shake: having an iron bladder and eating really fast.

The arrangement with the company I worked with, Fasen Arts, was that of an independent contractor. I was paid a commission on every drawing… no hourly rate. We worked open to close every day, which was 10 am to 10 pm. I only made money when I was drawing. Therefore, any time I spent NOT drawing was wasted time. As a result, I actively resented any time my body required me to be away from my drawing table doing useless and non-earning things like eating and urinating. So, I spent that summer, and the next two decades of summers, racing to the cafeteria and speed-eating one meal in a 12 hour day, and using the restroom maybe twice in that same time period (if that) taking only a few minutes to do my business and get back to the drawing board.

To this day I still eat fast, despite the fact that I am not consciously trying to do so. The odd thing is I don’t LOOK like I am eating fast. I have good manners and do not appear to be wolfing down my food, yet my plate becomes mysteriously empty in a short amount of time. That was what always flipped out my kids. We’d sit down to eat dinner and we’d seem to be having a relaxing, conversation-filled dinner when suddenly my plate was clean. They’d be amazed because I didn’t attack the food or visibly shovel it in. It was just gone.

Same with the bathroom stuff. The artists I worked with used to do drawings of me showing my ever-present thermos (filled with watered down Gatorade for the hot summer days) hooked up to me with a catheter, since they figured that was the only way I could drink liquids all day long and not go to the bathroom but once in 12 hours. I also only took a minute or two for that bathroom break… it was rumored the urinal I used had a dent in the porcelain from the force of the stream, and that I air dried my speed-washed hands on the way back to the booth. It’s a skill.

Actually there is a weird sort of phenomenon that happens when you work long hours doing live caricature. You get into a kind of zone and the passage of time falls outside of your sphere of perception. This sounds rather Zen, but your subjects, the paper, the pencil, your hand… they become the total focus of your world and all external stimuli turns into distant noise. This includes your bodily functions. You don’t feel hungry, or thirsty, or feel the need to use the restroom… only when the immediacy of one of those things becomes very intense does it intrude upon that caricature zone. Many days it never became that intense. I would run to use the bathroom if we got a lull, not because I needed to but because there was no one in line at the time and I might as well. The downside to that phenomenon was that about 20 minutes after my shift was over I would be hit by hunger and other bodily needs like a freight train.

As for the longest I ever went without stopping drawing? I can’t say if you include taking 3 minutes to run to a restroom. I never kept track and I don’t think even I ever went a full shift without getting up at least once to go to the bathroom. I can say that, back when my Minnesota theme park was open the ridiculous hours of 10 am to midnight on weekends, I worked many 14 plus (we’d draw past close until security kicked us out) hour days with no meal breaks and non-stop drawing.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger 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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