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.