I’ve been doing a lot of caricatures lately. On average I do at least one gig a month, typically lasting 2-4 hours, completing about 12 drawings an hour. I have 3 on-location gigs this month, as well as the monumental task of completing 60 pieces from photographs in the comfort of my studio (a task I could not have completed without the invaluable help of Mr. Derrick Dent and Mr. Greg Cravens).

Parties, lock-ins, bar mitzvahs, bat mizvahs, wedding receptions, marriage proposals, and trade shows are the most popular events, and I realized that I’ve been doing this odd job off-and-on for over 14 years, since before I graduated high school. I also know that I came the conclusion very early on that I don’t really enjoy it.

I am referring to the on-site, quick-as-you-can, live, in-person gigs; not the sit-at-home, take-my-time, make-changes-at-my-leisure, gift-art jobs. The latter I would gladly do at any given opportunity, but there is a catch to it. The problem with doing portraits from a photo is that the end result often does not resemble the person, unless you know them personally or are familiar with their personality, like a celebrity from TV or movies (I think I could have fit “person” in there again somewhere, but let’s not overdo it). A snapshot is a moment in time that cannot possibly communicate all of an individual’s characteristics, nor the accurate contours of their facial features. That is why I often request multiple photos, preferably with people smiling or laughing. Sill, sitting across from someone while they talk or laugh or sway drunkenly is a much better way to capture their essence. Better, but not easier.

I’ve narrowed it down to two main reasons why I don’t like doing party caricatures. They are seemingly contradictory in nature, so I will try to explain.

First, I like entertaining people, and the more the merrier, just not while I am trying to draw. I will dress in costume, put on a puppet, play guitar, stand on stage, and stay in character for hours without a second thought, but if I am focused on a job, I get tunnel vision. Over the years I have gotten used to people watching over my shoulder and making cliche` remarks, but don’t expect me to exchange witty banter, tell funny anecdotes, or even ask for your name until I’m done. My brain isn’t wired that way. So sit down, chat with your friends and don’t look the artist in the eye.

Second, I don’t like lying to people, but I don’t like hurting their feelings. This is a tough one. Most folks are familiar with the nature of caricatures and expect a humorous cartoon interpretation of themselves. The features are exaggerated to differing degrees and the head is bigger than the body. There are a variety of styles limited only by the artists’ discernment, and some very tricky decisions are made instantaneously. Moment of truth; how far do you push it?

Consider this: A middle-aged gentleman sits down across from you. He is slightly overweight, mostly bald, bulbous nose, elongated earlobes, large wire-rimmed glasses, squinty eyes, no neck, and a mustache that covers his mouth. I call this a treasure trove of fun features, like getting to visit the goody box at the dentist when you were a kid. Where to start? Good news is, he is a dude. And he is smiling. Already you can breathe easy. Guys aren’t nearly as concerned about their appearance, and he seems to know what is coming. Most likely he has had one done before at Opryland or somewhere. Have fun. Go nuts. As long as you include big glasses-nose-ears-mustache, the rest doesn’t even matter.

Now imagine this: his wife sits down next. She is very plain, straight hair, no makeup, no jewelry, no expression. Asking her to smile reveals a thin-lipped mouth devoid of teeth. She stares straight ahead and waits. You mind goes blank. What are you doing here? How did this happen? What possessed you to turn your college education into a carnival side show attraction? Your palms begin to sweat. You can’t hold on to your marker. Your eye begins to twitch. Your back aches. Your head pounds and then… you take a deep breath. Relax. This is what you’ve been preparing for. This is where you put your training into practice. Pen to paper and, voila! You’ve drawn a hilarious caricature of Michelle Pfeiffer or Nicole Kidman or some combination of both and everyone walks away happy because you, you brilliant artist you, have found staggering beauty in a complete stranger.

And it’s as simple as that. Automatic. The hours fly by as you effortlessly flatter and amaze and embarrass crowds of customers who you hope to never see again. And the money is good. And you can’t turn it down because it’s the only legit paycheck you’ve received in weeks. And you will probably do it again next month, even though your mind searches desperately for excuses and scheduling conflicts as soon as they call.

Some guys thrive on it. I know extremely talented artists who would do party caricatures full time, regardless of the circumstance. More power to them. For now, I’m just thankful that I’m not sweltering under a tiny umbrella at Dollywood, working on commission. So if you contact me and request that I draw at your next Mardi Gra office party, rest assured that I will probably say “yes”. However, if you ask me if I am enjoying myself, don’t anticipate your portrait resembling a Hollywood starlet.