Sunday Mailbag: See Drawing Before It’s Done?

February 21st, 2016 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I know of this particular theme park caricature operation that has this policy to seat only one subject at a time when drawing a caricature with multiple people in it, thereby allowing people int he drawing to see it before it’s finished. The company’s reasoning is that while one of the guest is being drawn the other subjects(s) will draw a crowd to the caricature booth by standing and watching. I’ve seen so many artists at fairs and other theme parks sit couples together, even groups, when drawing them. What’s your general take on this and how do you prefer to work?

A: The only time I would ever allow someone to see the “work in progress” drawing is if it was impossible to get all of the multiple subjects of a single caricature seated in front of me at one time because of space. Three, four, five, even six people (if some of them are little kids) I can squeeze into most of the booths we have in our parks. More than that and I have to do it in shifts, but that doesn’t happen very often (by the way, my record is 22 people in a single live caricature… that was two broom ball teams going head to head). Other than that very rare exception, I never let anyone see the drawing until it is finished for two big reasons.

The main reason is that retail/gig caricature, or as I like to call it “audience caricature”, is more that just drawing funny pictures of people. It is a performance art, or it is when done right. Yes, it’s a product that is sold to a consumer, but in its purest form it is also entertainment, and the people who are entertained are the “audience” who are watching the drawing unfold. Part of the “show” is the dynamic between the artist, the subjects, and the audience, which includes the fact that the audience sees the drawing while the subjects do not. A good live caricaturist plays on that dynamic, making the subjects wonder what in the hell he or she is drawing as the audience reacts to what the artist is both drawing and saying. Some of the best audience caricaturists I’ve ever seen combine witty banter with tricks in their drawing to really get the audience riled up and laughing while the subjects get more and more curious about what’s going on. The “Big Reveal” is a huge part of that entertainment, and without it there is no climax to the process. That really deters from the entertainment aspect of audience caricature.

I understand the reasoning behind wanting a crowd watching, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. However drawing people in to watch is what happens when you have an artist drawing subjects anyway. If you have any kind of traffic going by your location this happens naturally. Keeping them there is the trick, and the entertainment value of the process is what does that. IMO it falls flat when the subject is “in” on the joke.

The other reason is that they are seeing an unfinished drawing. I don’t want them to see that. I want to present them with the drawing complete and the way I want it to look in the end. There are too many points in an uncompleted drawing where things are ambiguous and awkward, like allowing someone to read the rough draft of a story that is still incomplete. Eventually they will read the final story, but seeing some of the rough draft ruins the magic of the final, polished work.

Thanks to Anonymous 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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