Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Open Letter to the Guy who Merged onto I-71 in Front of Me Last Night.

Dear Guy who Merged onto I-71 in Front of Me Last Night,

I couldn't help but notice that you shouldn't be allowed to drive on the same roads as the general public. Maybe it's your sense of adventure or your devil-may-care attitude, but merging onto a busy highway at 35 miles per hour while it's raining after nightfall with no headlights on while you're talking on your cellphone is typically enough for me to lament the fact that you, presumably, are legally licensed to drive.

I've come across a lot of idiot drivers in my time, but I've never come across someone that has made this many dangerous errors simultaneously. I know Ohio drivers aren't the best. Sure, they don't drive like Jeff Gordon on PCP, as Michigan drivers do, and they don't drive everywhere doing 25 like a lot of folks in Florida. I've had run-ins with moronic thugs on crotch-rockets weaving in and out of traffic on 75, and I've nearly collided with redneck meatheads who think that having four-wheel-drive in their giant stupid trucks means that they don't have to be careful on top of six inches of snow. I won't go into any specific rants in this post about people and their inability to drive in snow around the greater Cincinnati area. They know who they are. Still, none of these people have astounded me quite as much, in terms of total ignorance of their surroundings, quite like someone who, say, might merge onto a busy highway at 35 miles per hour while it's raining after nightfall with no headlights on while talking on a cellphone.

Let me gently make the point that, while I don't consider myself to be an advocate of suicide, I can still think of many, many ways that you can off yourself with no involvement of the strangers around you, other than, for instance, merging onto a busy highway at 35 miles per hour while it's raining after nightfall with no headlights on while you're talking on your cellphone. As a matter of fact, I can even think of at least three other ways you can kill yourself with your car, off the top of my head, that don't involve jeopardizing the safety of those around you. You f#$%ing idiot.

If anyone should notice a man in his early-to-mid 40s that drives a maroon sedan like a jackass and looks kind of like Dante Hicks from Clerks, make sure you take down his license number so we can report him.


James W. Rockwell

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Most Awkward Interview Ever.

One of my more prominent responsibilities as an assistant manager for Kaman's Art Shoppes was the interviewing and hiring of employees. Since most of the positions could be performed by high school students, the interviewing process was comparatively fast and simple: make sure the kid that you're hiring a) seems like they'll be happy enough at work to talk to people, b) won't prove to be a liability, and c) can draw, if applicable to the position. I don't think that I was all that difficult of an interview, which, I feel, was appropriate, considering that I was the first interview that a lot of these kids had ever had. I, for one, interviewed with Kaman's when I was 15, and I'm pretty sure I almost threw up when Sandy Fogel asked me what my name was.

I probably hired way over half of the kids that I interviewed during my four years at King's Island, and over half of those kids would work more that one season because they liked it. I still feel really good about the kids who we took on that ended up having a great time working at the park, because they prove to be stories about a successful hire. This is not one of those stories.

2004 got off to a rocky start for the Caricatures department at King's Island. Despite being in the capable hands of Nolan Harris, we had hired five artists from the same art school who had all gone through training and had either gotten fired within their first week, not shown up at all, or, in the case of one of them, whined enough about basic job responsibilities to make the rest of the crew hate the f#$% out of him. Keep in mind that a crew at full strength was somewhere in the 20-25 range counting part-timers, so this was a pretty sizable recruiting failure. So when Lisa (Evert, another KAS assistant manager at the time, and my girlfriend) called me, bragging about how she had set up a caricature interview for me, I was pretty relieved.

And so I walked up to Security Post 3 later that week to pick up my interview. I spotted her off of Lisa's description, and introduced myself. She said hello, shook my hand, and handed me her application, which she had already completed. As we walked back towards the office in Mining, I started reading her application while we were making smalltalk. I noticed several warning signs that this was not going to go well.

1. King's Island season passholders who a) are not kids and b) don't have kids of their own are to be handled very carefully.

2. AGE: ___22___ (do not fill out if you are over the age of 18)

3. When you interview high school kids on a regular basis, you get pretty used to misspellings on their apps. This was different.

WHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK IN THIS POSITION? I love Kings Iland and i have always really liked drawling since I was little.

DESCRIBE YOUR BACKGROUND AS IT PERTAINS TO YOUR POTENTIAL POSITION. My art teacher has said that I was the best at drolling in my class this is when I was in Art 2.

Sure, misspellings are forgivable, even if the former copy editor in me (Editor's Note: Before I worked for a real newspaper, I thought I knew what copy editing was. I didn't. I can check for spelling and basic grammar. That's about it. I'm an idiot) shudders when I see them on a job application. But if you can't spell the name of the place that you want to work correctly, and you not only misspell the primary function of your occupation, but you misspell it in two different ways, then we're going to have some serious problems.

4. I know that we aren't interviewing you to put pieces of your artwork up in the Louvre. Having said that, there are many diverse and appropriate ways to transport your portfolio. Tossing it all in a garbage bag, even from a postmodern or Dadaist perspective, is not one of them.

You know when someone on television or in movies comes to the sudden realization that something is horribly awry, and the camera simultaneously zooms in on their face and zooms out on the background? Well, I actually had a brief out-of-body experience and saw this happen to myself as soon as my brain had quantified the above information and added it together. But, being the consummate professional that I was (I wasn't), I didn't have the option of cutting the interview off early, although I briefly considered faking a seizure or lighting myself on fire as a diversion. No, I decided, I should look at her portfolio, in case she's some sort of artistic genius. I had to give her that chance.

Penny and I (we'll call her Penny to protect her anonymity) walked in to the office and sat down at the desk, where John Roessner was working on one of his infinitely long inventory reports for the Rivertown Mining Shop. I introduced the two of them, and he dutifully reverted to typing numbers in as I sat down next to him. She took a seat on the other side of the desk, and we continued the interview.

ME: So, tell me more about yourself.

PENNY: Well, I really, really like King's Island, and I love drawing. My teacher said that I was the best in my class!

ME: Yeah, I noticed that on your app, that's great. So, you're talking about high school, which was a few years many years of art classes did you take?


ME: ...uh...huh. Right on. And this "Art 2" class you were talking about...was it more geared towards illustration, or...

PENNY: We made pottery! And I drew Garfield! It's in my portfolio...I'll show you in a minute.

ME: Ah. Right. Yeah, let's go ahead and get started.

She opened her garbage bag, rooted around in it for a minute, and pulled out her first portfolio piece. Any hopes that I had that this girl was some sort of artistic idiot savant disappeared rapidly, as I realized that it was a series of cat heads drawn on lined notebook paper, complete with torn fringe on the side. She handed it to me.

ME:, these heads?

PENNY: Yep. Bobcat heads. I like bobcats...not like, a pet or anything, but like...I don't know. I just wanted to draw their heads. Not their bodies.

ME: Yeah, I can see that. Um...yeah. Very nice. Let's move on.

Now, I realize that those of you reading this that aren't caricature artists, or never have interviewed caricature artists, probably think I'm some kind of elitist asshole, but let me assure you that I'm not. Please understand that a typical interview portfolio for this job contains art projects, typically completed in either a high school advanced placement course or a college-level drawing class, that show a definitive understanding of facial anatomy, or at least human heads in general. A lot of kids actually give caricatures of celebrities a shot and bring them to the interview. Sure, there are going to be projects in there that show a broadness of talent; a pastel landscape drawing, or a first crack at oil painting that won a Gold Key award, or something to that effect. Point is, most of the people that we interview show us original, completed pieces. There have been many notable exceptions. Again, this isn't one of them.

She pulled out another sheet of paper. This time, I was relieved that it wasn't drawn on notebook paper, but I was again perturbed by the subject matter. It was a vertical green oval with two horizontal black ovals on top of it, drawn in crayon. I recognized it as a crude drawing of an alien head, but, in retrospect, I really didn't have to put that together myself, because she had scrawled "Alien" next to it and drew an arrow pointing to the head.

ME: alien...head.

PENNY: Yeah. I draw aliens sometimes!

ME: Really. I''ve always been kind of scared of aliens.

PENNY: I'm not!

Next, she confidently handed me a cut-out piece of paper. I unfolded it and saw that it was a pencil drawing of an elephant, again on lined notebook paper, that she had cut out with scissors.

ME: Wow, an elephant. made you cut it out?

PENNY: I don't know...the rock, I guess.

ME: The rock?

PENNY: Yeah, the big rock at the end of his trunk.

ME: Ah. right. What about it?

PENNY: Well, that used to be a baby elephant, but I cut it out so it was a rock instead. Check this one out!

ME: Oh. It's Snoopy.

It was about this point that I noticed that John had stopped typing and was staring wide-eyed at the computer screen. I looked at the drawing of Snoopy, which had been drawn off of a sticker. I know this because the sticker itself was stapled to the drawing.

Next came the Garfield drawing that I had heard so much about. The drawing of Garfield was probably the most accurate reproduction that I had seen thus far, but she had gone through the trouble of adding Jon Arbuckle, Garfield's owner, who was now portrayed with a lazy eye and a prominent hunchback. I began trying to think of questions to ask about her drawings, just so I could feel confident that I had conducted a full interview once this was over. This was probably a mistake on my part.

PENNY: Look, here's Garfield. He hates Mondays!

ME: Yeah, I...uh...I remember that about him. You also wrote it on here, "I hate Mondays." Very nice. What's next?

PENNY: Here, it's Tweety Bird.

ME: Oh, right on. Uh...why did you choose to draw this one card stock?

PENNY: (visibly excited), Oh, I'll show you in a minute! But first, look! A horse!

John Roessner had stopped moving altogether and was visibly shaking, presumably trying to try to contain inappropriate laughter. I looked at the drawing of the horse. It was a comparatively accurate pencil drawing of a horse in the sense that it had a head, a tail, and four limbs. What disturbed me about this particular piece was that she had obviously drawn and erased the horse's penis multiple times, and at varying sizes.

ME: Yep, that sure is...a horse. You like horses, don't you, John?


PENNY: Look!

Penny had pulled out a picture of a reclining Mickey Mouse, also drawn on light blue card stock to match up with Tweety. As I wondered what these two might have in common besides being a "Cartoon Characters That Adults Really Like When They're Off Their Meds" diptych, she grabbed the Tweety drawing off of the desk. As she picked it up, I noticed that it had handwriting on the back of it. She held the two drawings side by side, one in each hand, and began reading dialogue off of the back of them, moving them up and down as each one "talked."

PENNY: "Hey, Tweety, could you help me get up?" (pause) "No, Mickey, I won' get up yourself."

(a good five seconds of silence)

ME: ...

JOHN: *cough COUGH...cough* w...WOW.

ME: Oh-kay!....we're good. Thanks for showing me your stuff! Lot of good stuff in there.

PENNY: So, am I hired?

I thought for a moment about how to respond. The normal thing to do would be to give an honest critique of the portfolio, tell the interviewee why you don't think they're quite cut out for drawing strangers for money, and tell them what they need to work on. That's what you do when you're interviewing someone and you think that, if they work on a couple of things and come back, they have a shot at getting hired. Penny here was a notable exception, because she, for whatever reason, seemed to have an emotional maturity level way, way, WAAAAY below what would be normal for her age. I could see that being honest would likely result in seriously hurting her feelings and, possibly, severely damaging her self-image.

Plus, I didn't want her going to the park to complain that we didn't hire her, resulting in an angry inquiry as to why we would interview a barely functioning adult to perform an extremely specialized job involving relatively high and complex levels of customer service. What would happen to Penny the first time she drew a $30 sketch of a couple as Garfield and Jon of Notre Dame? People are only nice to a point, and typically that point falls well short of shelling out $30 bucks for a drawing that doesn't look like them. Amusement park patrons would uncaringly devour her, whether the park understood that or not. So I did what I thought was the right thing: the wrong thing. I lied through my teeth.

ME: Uh, actually, we're pretty...uh...full in Caricatures right now.


ME: Yeah...yeah, we did. I'm going to keep your resume on file here, and if a spot opens up, we'll call you.

PENNY: Okay! I really want to work here!

ME: I know...well, do you want me to walk you back out to Secu--

PENNY: No! I'm going to go on the water slides! And the Vortex!

ME: Okay. Thanks for coming in, it was really nice meeting you!

PENNY: Yeah. Bye!

I shut the office door. I looked at John, whose face was completely flushed. He looked back at me. I opened the door, looked out, and shut it again to confirm that she was gone.

JOHN: *GUH!!!* (gasp) keep a straight face that whole time?

ME: God, I don't know. That was completely retar...oh. I...I mean, ridiculous.

JOHN: Nice.

ME: Oh. Oh, I a total asshole?

JOHN: *cough* I don't think so. Do you think that she would have been able to do the job?

ME: Of course not.

JOHN: Then you have nothing to worry about.

ME: Yeah...I guess so.

And so ended the worst interview I have ever conducted, and certainly one of the most awkward scenarios that I was privy to while I still worked full-time in the parks. And that's saying something. I, of course, wind-sprinted over to Portraits, Roessner in tow, to yell at Lisa for what I had assumed was a mean practical joke of some sort. Lisa thought the whole thing was pretty funny, but amidst her laughter, she told me that honestly thought that this girl was on the level. "Stop yelling at me! God, she said that her teacher told her that she should draw here. How the hell was I supposed to know?"

Obviously, I still feel pretty awful about the whole experience, but I still can't put my finger on why. Some things just stick with you, I guess. I'd like to think that Penny promptly forgot about coming in for an interview minutes later while she was enjoying the mind-numbing speed of the Vortex. I can only hope.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why My Generation Should Be a Lot More Screwed Up Than It Is.

Some friends of mine had a '90s-themed party last weekend that I couldn't attend because I was working. I did see some pictures, and while the costumes were painfully accurate, I can't say that I see all that many radical differences between the '90s and the '00s. Maybe that's the most surefire sign that I'm getting older in my relatively young adulthood, and, as you're reading this, you might be thinking about what a ridiculous, f$%&ed-up thing that is to say, considering all the massive cultural changes that have taken place. I have my reasons.

I was born in 1978, meaning that while my more socially formative years took place in the '90s, my early development took place in the '80s. Sure, maybe denim shirts and high-waisted shorts seem dated now, but come on. I grew up thinking everyone wore leotards and Hawaiian shirts to high school, and my biggest heroes were two rednecks with a confederate flag airbrushed on their car and Mr. T.

All things considered, I can't believe that my generation isn't more screwed up than it already is, just based on what we were watching when the logic centers of brains were developing. At this point, I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop because we all simultaneously lose our minds, the delayed result of the mental conditioning we were subject to. Don't think my fears have any basis in reality? Well, here's this.


1. Spastic dancing will never make you look like a complete idiot.

I don't know what it was about dancing in the '80s, but flailing around wildly was so cool and deviant that it was banned in entire towns. What the hell happened in the '70s that dancing became so risqué? Apparently, everyone hanging out doing 8-balls at discos was Amish. I wasn't in high school in the '80s, but when I was in third grade, I heard that some freshman had a seizure, and they gave him a Trans Am and elected him senior class president based on it.

2. Technology evolves at breakneck speeds, and computers are capable of anything.

Sure, it's one thing when a scientist devotes his entire life to building a time machine out of an obscure hatchback sportscar, and in the event that you accidentally discover artificial intelligence, there's a 50/50 shot that it'll go rogue on you and kill your whole family. That's almost plausible. But Weird Science? Two high school kids created Kelly LeBrock out of thin air using an Apple IIe. Of course, this is also the same decade when MacGyver was on, and I'm pretty sure there was an episode where he built a particle collider out of a Pogo Ball® and a couple of ketchup packets.

3. Every hero needs a useless sidekick, who occasionally presents him/her/itself as a dangerous liability.

He-Man has Orko, and the Super-Friends have Marvin, Wendy, and a dog with a cape (or Zan, Jayna, and that blue monkey thing, depending on the episode). The Transformers hang out with a ten-year old kid with no discernible talents. The Thundercats...oh, sweet Jesus, the Thundercats.

Scenario: You and your friends are all anthropomorphic talking cat people. You already have two preadolescent talking cat children that do little else than fly around on hoverboards and get kidnapped. For the love of God, why would you keep Snarf around? Snarf isn't even a person-shaped cat. He's a cat-shaped cat. Not only that, he doesn't really talk, he just whines loudly and incessantly. I realize that sidekicks are good for merchandising, and that 80's cartoons were little more than 30 minute commercials for action figures. But really? Snarf?

Marketing Guy #1: "All right, we've got Lion-O, Tygra, Panthro, Cheetara, and a couple of kids. Lemme double check the universal 1980's marketing formula male protagonist, check. Girl on the team, check. Couple of relatable kid sidekicks...wait, we need a minority."

Marketing Guy #2: "Panthro's black...well, kind of. He's grayish. But the voice actor is black."

Marketing Guy #1: "Awesome. We're all set. Let's make some money."

Ronnie the Intern: "Wait! Wait, I have an idea! What...what about...a cat who kind of looks a fat lizard?"

Marketing Guy #2: "Wh...what? Why?"

Marketing Guy #1: "Ronnie, come on. Why would we need--(sigh). Fine. What does he do?"

Ronnie the Intern: "Um...he...uh...he says his own name over and over!"

Marketing Guy #1: "..."

Marketing Guy #2: "Jesus."

Ronnie the Intern: "My dad owns LJN!"

Marketing Guy #1: "Yeah, we know, Ronnie. Your dad also said that you're not supposed to take your helmet off, even--check that, especially--during creative meetings. You know what? Fine. Ronnie's goddamn fat-ass whining lizard-cat-thing is in."

Ronnie the Intern: "Yaaaaaay!!!" (bangs head on table)

4. Antagonists are always blonde jocks with money.

5. Nerds are only a two-minute montage sequence away from complete social dominance.

Sorry, you're a nerd. BUT can immediately redeem yourself by taking your glasses off, blasting yourself with a can of hairspray, and ripping the sleeves off your shirt.* Don't worry, everyone will accept this newfound coolness immediately and unquestioningly, except for that blonde jock and his sycophant sidekick toadie bastard friend in the corner, who have, by now, rapidly tumbled all the way down the popularity ladder as a result of their inexplicable hatred of you.

* - Bonus cool points are awarded if you're wearing a headband, and/or are covered in glitter.

6. Analog strap-on keyboards are the music of the future.

Because nothing matches asymmetrical plastic sunglasses and red leather pants better than a piano stuck to your chest.

7. Doppelgangers of you, of alien, robot, or mystical origin, look, sound, and act exactly like you down to the finest detail, except that they're either evil or socially retarded.

8. Any altercation can be resolved quickly and peacefully with breakdancing.

This especially includes any situation involving gang fights, orphans, fundraisers, or gangs hosting orphanage fundraisers. You'll be able to tell the difference between each gang because their colors are always bright pastels.

9. Leg warmers are useful for...something.

And, last but not least...

10. The leading cause of social alienation and missing persons is post-traumatic global amnesia, a result of sustaining a massive head injury.

But not to worry. This is always invariably cured, with no side effects, as a result of another massive head injury.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

THE BABY SKETCH CHRONICLES, PART II: The Happiest Baby in the World, or How I Learned the Art of the Matador.

It was a perfect, temperate morning in the summer of 1997, and I was a couple hours into my shift at the Caricatures main stand at Geauga Lake. Despite my predilection for working outdoors in the summer for most of my life, I don't do well in high temperatures or direct sunlight, being both Irish and kind of hairy for a blonde guy. Regardless, I always appreciated the days when the heat and humidity kind of evened out, because it meant less discomfort for me. It was bad enough that Kaman's Art Shoppes uniform shirts back then were hot pink, but sweating through both my undershirt and my pretty fuchsia polo was just insult to injury.

My bitterness in the workplace had, at that point, finally subsided; about a month and a half earlier, I had been forced by my manager to get a haircut, lest I be demoted from my Lead Artist position and given a 1% pay cut off my commission. My hair had been about down to my shoulders at that point, and, admittedly, was getting kind of out of hand anyway, but since the decision to chop it hadn't been mine, I was pretty pissed for a while. Regardless, my hair was now about as short as it is currently, and my whiny, anti-fascistic streak of anger was over. I was idly staring into the midway wondering how many people at college wouldn't recognize me when I went back for sophomore year, when a young woman entered my field of vision, after unsuccessfully trying to get my attention a couple of times.

She seemed a little annoyed for a second, but she seemed to understand when I apologized for zoning out. She asked about pricing for a drawing of her baby, who was in a stroller in front of her, about four or five months old, wide-eyed, and staring at me. I read the prices off the sign, and was silently deciding in my head whether or not I felt like drawing her baby; I was fairly used to drawing babies at this point, but it was kind of a pain in the ass. I hadn't really been busy that day, and I decided to give it a shot.

I sat down at my easel and quickly realized that this baby, still staring at me, couldn't stop smiling. This made my job a lot easier, because while it's difficult to make a non-smiling baby smile, it's even more difficult to get them to look straight at you. This kid was totally helping me out, so I started talking to him, to which he responded by laughing at everything I said. I smiled at him, he smiled back. I laughed at him, he laughed back at me.

Now, those of you reading this that know me probably also know that, in situations where I get nervous, even slightly, such as when I draw strangers with a permanent, non-eraseable marker, I tend to use humor as a defense reflex. This hasn't always worked out for me in the past; as a matter of fact, many people that I've drawn have sat through the majority of their sketch in awkward silence after I bombed by making some obscure Star Wars reference, or started talking about drawing mullets while someone with a mullet has been behind me watching me draw half the sketch, or actually drawing someone with a mullet and talking about anything other than NASCAR, Skynrd, or Stone Cold Steve Austin. So, to recap, this baby in front of me was:

a) Looking straight at me,

b) Smiling, and

c) Laughing at my stupid jokes, even when he obviously lacked the cognitive capacity to understand them.

These three factors meant that this baby in front of me was, on all three counts, a better customer than most of the adults that I had ever drawn at Geauga Lake. So, this kid was my new best friend. I finished drawing him, and started coloring in his sketch. He was still the happiest little guy ever. I finished coloring. Still ecstatic. I signed the sketch and tore it off the drawing board. Pumped to be there. I held up the sketch in front of him, feigning that I was seeking his approval to make his mom laugh, which she did. Everything was going to plan. And that's when he opened his mouth, and, I swear to God, launched a four-foot long stream of vomit straight at the sketch I had just finished drawing of him.

Understand that I had just recently finished my freshman year in college, so it wasn't like I was any stranger to people throwing up in front of me. Maybe it was living in Porter Hall, experimenting with so many of my fellow borderline alcoholics, or maybe it was more of a universal thing at Miami, or just college in general. Regardless, I had become so used to it, that anybody vacating the contents of their stomach in my presence might as well have been coughing or scratching their nose. I had seen yack in pretty much every color in the spectrum, including curacao blue, Guinness black and wine cooler pink. So I was completely jaded to vomit at this point. I was, however, still vastly unprepared for this.

Things slowed down to Matrix-esque bullet-time. I remember that my first thought wasn't so much the fact that the kid was hurling, in the most literal sense, but that such a disproportionate amount of liquid was coming out of him. I swear that this kid must have had a hollow leg or something, because, while I was used to seeing puke, I wasn't accustomed to seeing a human being forcibly eject a third of their body mass out of their mouth. Amazed, my next assessment regarded the trajectory of said spew, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was headed straight for my sketch.

Instinctively, I yanked my drawing up and out of the path of the incoming barrage of churl, the weight displacement of my arms nearly causing a total loss of balance in my chair. The stream hit the ground behind me in a series of successive thuds. I quickly regained my composure and looked at the sketch to see if I still had a sellable, barf-free product in my hands. I did, and, almost impressed with my own reflexes, looked back at the baby, who promptly laughed again and smiled at me as if nothing happened.

The mother apologized, clearly embarrassed by her son's involuntary bodily outburst. I laughed, and assured her that it was no big deal, sold her the sketch, and hurriedly called Park Services to clean up the pool of upchuck, which had slowly started making its way across the cement in front of the front of the stand, which was on a slight hill. As I absent-mindedly watched the poor kid from Ecology pour pink flaky powder on the fluidic projectile that almost claimed my sale, Clay, the supervisor of the Guess Your Weight stand, walked across the midway.

"Dude, that was awesome!"

"What? Oh, uh...yeah. That was pretty f#$%ed up. He almost got my sketch."

"I know, I saw it happen. You pulled it up some kind of f$%&ing bullfighter or something. A matador. Ha ha."

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I did. Heh. Vomit matador. I don't think that one'll stick, man. God, I hope not, anyway."

And, despite minimal effort to keep it going, "Vomit Matador", or "El Matador Vomitos," was, thankfully, a nickname that didn't stick. I will say that I think of that happy, happy kid every time I draw a baby under a year old. And even when they scream, cry, wiggle around, or are otherwise difficult, I try to remember that it could always be worse; at least they aren't slinging Gerber's® and stomach acid at me.

I will also say that, to this day, I've never received a more blatantly honest, if not constructive, critique of my artwork.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to Succeed in Drawing Babies Without Really Trying.

This weekend, I was drawing at Cincy's Growing Family Expo, which was probably good for me, considering I haven't drawn a whole lot in the past couple of months and I need to warm up for after-prom season. Since it was a family-oriented expo, I pretty much drew three or four adults and about fifty children under the age of three.

When I was training the kids at King's Island, I said that it was easier to have a stock generic baby sketch readily available as part of your arsenal, because babies all have similar facial proportions. But, if you were comfortable enough with your sketch, babies deserved the same treatment and proportion analysis that anyone else does. Understand that saying this to rookies was completely hypocritical on my part. I had a really hard time drawing babies for the first two or three summers when I drew in high school, usually to the point of just refusing to draw them, citing that, "Uhh...their facial features haven't really developed enough yet." There are several reasons for this:

1) I could never get the eyes right. Since I had trouble enough drawing eyes on adults, I had a habit of drawing babies with fully dilated pupils. And nobody thinks that it's cute when babies drop acid, even if you think that's relatively appropriate when dancing in a field with Barney the Dinosaur and the Teletubbies.

2) I had a hard time getting babies to look at me, and this was back before I had learned to do quick studies of the face before I started drawing, so it took me forever if a baby fell asleep while I was drawing them, because I wouldn't have any reference for the eyes. This was also back before people regularly carried cellphones on them, which now apparently have enough storage space for a couple thousand baby pictures.

3) One of the first times I tried to draw a baby when I was fifteen, it was almost emotionally scarring. The following is an account of that story.

A lot of my friends are caricature artists, and a lot of them were completely confident in their abilities, right off of the bat as rookies. Each had their own specific reason; it could have been obviously superior drawing talent, or rampant egotism, or, in a few cases, complete ignorance of what caricatures are supposed to be. I've also known caricature artists that were completely nervous wrecks starting out. A lot of these kids were hired a little too early, at fifteen or sixteen, and the fact that they lack any formal art training makes the learning curve a little too steep, which can stress them out pretty quickly; this is one of the reasons that, as a manager, I very rarely hired fifteen-year-olds to be caricature artists. Most of these kids are very timid, get burned out really easily, and end up quitting. Some of them work through their own personal anguish, focus on a more gradual learning process, and finally get to a point where they can finally keep their inherent resentment of their own drawing style down to a dull roar. This is the category that I fall into.

When I was fifteen, for my first couple of months as a caricature artist at Geauga Lake, I was pretty much completely unnerved by the first time I had to draw anything when money or strangers were involved, even if it was something that had been covered in training. So, I had trouble drawing freckles for the first time, or drawing Asian eyelids for the first time, or coloring in a black person for the first time, or coloring in a really pale white person for the first time. You get the picture. Fortunately, my shaking hand would eventually stop shaking, and I'd get through the sketch of that specific aspect I hadn't drawn yet, and after that, I would feel better about it, like I had conquered it. In my paranoia of screwing anything up that I hadn't already drawn, I was pretty much keeping a mental checklist as I watched people walk by. Around mid-season, my mental checklist looked a lot like this:

x  Black person with cornrows and a hat tilted to the side
x  Black person with gold teeth that have words "East Side" carved into them
x  Overweight white soccer mom with giant Jersey hair and dangly earrings
o  Japanese tourist kid with weird stereotypical Bruce Lee shag haircut
o  Young Republican-looking kid with newscaster hair and braces connected by rubber bands
x  Redneck with mullet/lines shaved into side of head/confederate flag on trucker hat

...and so on and so forth.

I had drawn a couple of babies up to that point, so when someone (Young brunette mom with glasses and fanny pack, with Marlboro Light 100 Grandma in tow) asked me to draw her baby, I didn't even look into the stroller when I said "yes." I had drawn a baby before, so in my mind, I was all set. So I sat down in my chair and looked at my subject.

Now, I realize that this might start some arguments, but I don't think brand new babies are all that cute. Two-month old babies are cute. Six month old babies are cute. Toddlers are cute. Brand new babies are not cute. Brand new babies look like swollen, wincing, puckered strawberry-human hybrids, and, if you're reading this and you aren't a caricature artist, then let me be the first to tell you that they are f$%&ing impossible to draw with any accuracy, without making them look like old men who just finished twelve rounds of a heavyweight boxing match.

And this baby was brand new. I mean, brand new. After laughing nervously, I asked the mother how old the baby was, and while her answer was two and a half weeks, I was admittedly surprised that this kid wasn't born in the parking lot a few hours earlier. Also, I have to say, if your baby is only two weeks old, what the f$%& are you thinking bringing him/her/it to a crowded amusement park? What, you couldn't find a quieter activity, like hitting up a sports bar or a monster truck rally? I don't know much about babies, but something tells me that bringing them to a place where sugar-buzzed kids are darting in and out of foot traffic, drunks are stumbling around yelling about getting kicked off of the Tilt-A-Whirl, and security is running after a crew of gangbangers that just looted the Balloon Dart game isn't a good idea.

Woman with Fanny Pack: Hi there! I'd like a character picture.

Me: Sure. What kind of sketch would you like?

Woman with Fanny Pack: I want....I want a full face and body. Color. Of my baby.
Me: Okay...uh...where's your baby?

Woman with Fanny Pack: Oh, she hasn't been born yet. Can't you tell that I'm still pregnant?
Me: Oh...ha apologies. Working across from the Budweiser stand, I see so many massive beer guts. Welp, have a seat and put your legs in these stirrups. Now, what did you say Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s number was?

I just kind of stared at the baby in the stroller for a couple of minutes while trying to come up with a game plan. The baby was trying to open his eyes wide enough to see something, but they were still too swollen. Finally, I just started drawing, and for the first time, I truly felt like I was driving blindfolded. This sketch was a goddamn disaster from the start. The head shape started out lumpy. I didn't draw the head with enough a high enough cranium, and, while it was fairly accurate shape-wise, it looked asymmetrical and dented, probably because the kid's skull hadn't solidified into shape yet. The eyes were narrow enough that, when I drew pupils on them, in my usual dilated fashion, they looked like slit pupils, like cat eyes. The nose was too high on the face, and the mouth was basically a crooked line, because the kid couldn't smile yet. I finished the sketch, sighed, tore it off, and finally turned around to face the mother.

She looked at the picture, looked at me, and looked at the picture again. "I'm not buying that. Do you really think that looks like my baby?"

I looked at my drawing, feline alien abomination it was, and looked at her baby. It actually did kind of bear a resemblance. "Well, uh...yeah, kind of. It''s a caricature. It's supposed to be--"

"That is not my baby. Why doesn't your picture look like that baby?" She pointed at a demo sketch on the wall. It was a Dino Casterline baby sketch, and, of course, an impossibly good one, as all Dino sketches are.

"Uh...I think that baby is, like, eight months old. Your baby is--"

"That is not my baby, and I ain't paying for it." She grabbed her stroller, her baby, and her mother and stormed off, disappearing into the crowd. I looked down at the ground for a little while. I was no stranger to rejection as a rookie caricature artist, and my rejected sketches were admittedly pretty bad, but it still bummed me out every time it happened, mostly because I was so slow and a reject meant that I wasted ten or fifteen minutes on nothing.

"Excuse me." A raspy voice to my left caught my attention. Marlboro Light 100 Grandma had returned. "I'll buy it."

"'am, I appreciate it, but you really don't have to. It's not a very good sketch."

"Well, she asked you to draw her baby and you did. I tole her that he was prolly too young fer it. His eyes ain't even open yet." She smiled. Her cigarette seemed like it was stuck to the side of her lower lip.


"Just put it in a bag and give it to me, honey. Here ya go." She handed me six dollars, the going rate for a black-and-white face sketch back then. I put Zargos, Pride of the Cat Children in a plastic bag and gave it to her.

"Thanks, ma'am."

"Don't worry about it," she hacked. She winked at me and walked away. I smiled at her, thought about how nice she was, and then promptly decided that I didn't want to draw babies anymore because of the pressure. And so I wouldn't draw kids less than two years old for two or three years after that. Of course, I was drawing them again before I was in college, when I almost decided to stop drawing babies again for entirely different reasons.