Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just got back from the State Fair of Texas!

Well, I'm starting this blog with a promise. I will have a post every Tuesday. Most of the time it will be about caricatures, or cartoon art, or something related to this crazy field I'm lucky enough to work in. But I can't promise some other unrelated musings won't pop in.

As I sit here, catching up on Walking Dead via Netflix, I am decompressing from a 24-day stint at the State Fair of Texas. And it took everything out of me. I joke around with soldiers that working a fair is kind of like a tour-of-duty, without all that bothersome business of getting shot at. And I'm not really serious, of course, but you do get into a weird mindset. A coworker called it almost Stockholm-syndrome-like . . . you want the fair to be over, but then once it is, you see the little community you've lived in for the past couple weeks, or (in the case of Texas) the past month, just up and disappear. Transient, all of it. I'm home now, but still feel groggy, like I'm coming out of stasis.

The adrenalyne level the last weekend of a fair is always frenetic. In this case, with Texas being rainy 3 out of the 4 weekends of the fair, that last weekend was packed beyond reason. And our earning potential was really just dependent on how many we could crank out. I've never wanted to be a caricature stamp-machine churning out 30-second cute blah drawings with a fake smile on my face, but I have at least pushed myself to a few new levels of speed with each day like that (and believe me, they are few and far between in this business; no one gets nonstop customers EVERY day at work). I may not be in the big leagues of guys who can do $1800 in a day without breaking a sweat, but I'm edging into that territory. That last Sunday I cranked out 54 color faces and several black and white faces. And toward the last hour, I heard a kid in line yell out "Eleven minutes for a color double!" after I finished the couple I was working on. Airbrushing caricatures in a retail environment is a different game than whipping out party caricatures, so I kind of surprised myself at how many I squeezed in that last weekend.

But wow, I sound like I'm just bragging. But before I end the bragging, um, let me throw in a couple photos (the only pics I took during that last day at the fair, as once it gets crazy busy I kind of leave the phone in my pocket).

My point is that you really do get into a "zone" of sorts on days like that, and as the tally sheet clicks along, you draw and draw and draw and draw. Moments of "ugh, I can't draw another one," or "ugh, I hope that screaming baby doesn't end up in my chair" go through your head, but you push them aside and just focus on the most important things: Can I make it through a few more without a pee break? Still have some beverage in my cup? Mosquitoes biting or can I go a few more without slathering on some repellant? Oh yeah . . . and What does the person in front of me look like? Hi there, person, let's have a quasi-meaningful exchange of pleasantries as I draw a funny picture of you and then you pay me! Done! Next person . . . and on it goes. You mind shuts off some of its sectors, focusing energy on just what you need to get the job done. You know this is your chance, your perfect storm, to haul in as many fish as you can to last you the winter, so to speak. Whatever you can earn and bring back will have to pay your bills for a while.

You develop a quick bond with your coworkers and campermates. We are lucky enough to all get along well, and I've been working with the same crew in Texas for six years now. Two guys and two girls, all interacting like we're quite familiar with one another, it's funny how people assume we are two married couples (which ones are married to which just depends on who's sitting near whom).

With 24 days in a row of 12-hour workdays (sometimes longer), it's amazing how you cherish your off-time. The precious couple hours after we shut down and walk back to the camper feel wonderful. Remember that feeling you got when the recess bell rang and you jumped up from your desk to head to the playground? Yeah, it feels like that. Except you're old and tired and instead of a playground you look forward to pizza delivery and a shower and hitting your bunk. Chit-chatting with your fellow artists on the walk back, texting your family, checking the internet. Precious, wonderful sleep, albeit on a stiff travel mattress in a camper that always seems too cold at night. You dream, but it's often fleeting little dreams about drawing people, lines and lines of people who are fussing about having to wait. Then you wake up and again it goes the next day, and the next.

Until you're finally on a plane and touch down back home. Wonderful, familiar-yet-strangely-new home, where you feel kind of weird acclimating to that regular life you left behind. So you watch some Walking Dead and snuggle with your husband (the real one, not one of the coworkers that folks just assumed was your husband) and type out a blog post.


  1. You could have said 'co-workers/camper-mates/Texas-husbands' ;-)

  2. Yeah Emily I could have, if I'd wanted to sound like a strumpet, a tart, a woman of loose morals! ;-)

  3. Great post. I love reading your writing.