Monday, January 13, 2014

A Modest Proposal

I just wanted to share a blast from my past this week. A few weeks ago Robert and I were working a Bat Mitzvah . . . those are typically loud, rushed, and full of unruly tweens pumped up with sugar and delusions of adulthood. The kids at this one were actually pretty well behaved, and the Bat Mitzvah girl seemed mature beyond her years.

Then a couple walked up and asked "Are you Celestia?" I answered in the affirmative, but couldn't quite place them. They looked familiar . . . but a side-effect to this job is that everyone starts looking just a little familiar.

"I'm sorry, but I can't remember how I know you . . . Do I know you?" I stammered.

"Kind of," said the woman. "You were actually instrumental in us getting married."

Well that struck me. It took a moment but then she mentioned the restaurant, and it all came back. I was hired by an agency back in early 2011 to work a very unusual job: they offered me one hour of my party rate to drive to a restaurant, pretend I worked there every night, but draw just one picture. It was the dreaded proposal picture! Eeeeeeeek! I say "dreaded" because every caricature artist is both honored and scared shitless when one of these comes up. I've drawn maybe six or seven in my time working as a caricaturist, and each and every time the same fears run through my head:

She might say no.
She might say no and then hit me with her purse for drawing her nose too big.
She might say yes but be lackluster about it, making the guy feel like hiring an artist was a stupid idea.
She might be completely weirded out by her caricature and forget to even answer.
They might not like the picture and then be mad that I ruined their special day.
Um, yeah. There are ways to screw up a marriage proposal. 

They are likely 100% unfounded fears, yes, and none of the above has EVER happened. In fact, each and every time has worked out perfectly, with the proposal recipient squealing with joy, saying yes, a tender kiss being exchanged, photos taken, and the couple thanking me. But that doesn't prevent the fears from setting in when I find out I need to do one of these. It's a high-stakes game instead of a lark--and we caricature artists are used to being a lark, some piffle of a thing to do at a carnival for fifteen bucks. We are unaccustomed to pressure.

Most of the proposal drawings I've done were semi-live. Meaning that the fella would come by the stand and tell me on the sly that he was bringing his intended by in a few minutes, or after lunch or something, and he has been wanting to propose and he has this great idea and could I please draw him proposing, then when I turn the picture around he'd whip out his ring. Exciting!

Lately, I've taken a few precautions due to one or two close calls with idiots walking behind me as I drew and almost spilling the beans or asking douchebag questions like "Oy! Hey! Did she say yes?" before the big reveal. I make like I'm testing out my pencil on the scratch sheet but actually write a big all-caps warning "DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE SURPRISE!" This might tempt the douchebags, but it also draws in regular people, who gather around and tend to keep the jerks in check. I've seen people shush other people and keep the order as they wait for the picture to be finished. Yay for people!

When it's turned around, there's always the couple seconds of processing--which seems like an eternity if you're already in on the secret. I can almost see the saccadic movements of her eyes as she looks to her nose, her boobs, her everything in the caricature . . . then what's this, a word bubble? What does that say . . . Oh my gosh! She looks at him, sometimes asking "Is this for real?" and he (if he's quick) already has a ring out and is on one knee.
This guy was afraid he'd drop the ring while on
a helicopter, so I ended up being his back-up plan!

And then there's kissing and stuff. And over the past few years, there's eager folks texting or emailing their cell phone pictures of the proposal to the happy couple.

One nervous guy in Florida sought me out while his girl was in the ladies room, and told me nervously how he'd taken her on a ride earlier on the open-air helicopter across the fairgrounds and intended to propose then, but he completely chickened out because he was terrified he'd drop the ring and it would be lost forever out the helicopter door.

One other fellow found me on the internet and hired me for an hour, with the stipulation that I mill around the front of the Bellagio and pretend to be a "street caricature artist" (oh, the indignity). Plus I was doubly nervous that authorities might take issue with anyone sketching for money--be it city authorities or Bellagio authorities (Vegas resorts are known for having pretty clear ideas on what can and cannot happen on their private property, after all).

My short career as a street caricature busker.
I aim to please though, so at the appointed hour I stood around drawing a quick sketch of the front of the Bellagio fountain area, waiting for a guy to rush up and ask for a caricature, and sure enough he did. I told them sure, I don't charge but tipping is accepted (that's the standard line for street busker types--no one can legally charge, but tips are the goal). I laid down a few rushed lines on my drawing board, pretended I was drawing them, and after enough time had passed I whipped out the pre-drawn version I had done with photos and airbrushed the night before. The young lady's eyes widened for a second and she said "Wow, you colored it in so fast!" then she processed what was going on  and read the word bubble . . .

Then there was kissing and stuff.

But back to that Bat Mitzvah a few weeks ago. The gal had changed her hair since I'd last seen her--in 2011 at Battista's Hole in the Wall, a popular Italian eatery just off the Strip. I had to do some talking to the manager, who raised an eyebrow at my story about being hired by someone to come in and pretend to be the "house caricature artist." I had understood that the client had called ahead and arranged it so I would be allowed to do this, but the guy at the front of house was not keen on the idea. I talked him into letting me do my job provided I'd only approach their ONE table and ask if they wanted a caricature (I had thought I'd draw a few and make my way over there, just to look like I really was part of the establishment). Oh well, luckily their booth was situated so it really wasn't obvious that I'd made a bee-line right to them.
The happy couple back in early 2011 . . .

Just like at the Bellagio, I "pretended" to draw a quick one of them on my hand-held drawing board, but I really whipped out the nice airbrushed one that I'd hidden right underneath the first few sheets of paper. Again, a stare, a jaw-drop, then she looks at him, he has a ring, and then cue the "Oh my god! Yes!" and the kissing and stuff.

I also had wrangled one of the waiters into taking photos from a hidden spot, so he provided them with a few images of the event as it took place. Sorry, I don't have any of those, but y'all can imagine.

After shaking the soon-to-be groom's hand and telling the newly engaged young lady that she had a thoughtful and inventive fiance, I departed and breathed a sigh of relief that none of the imagined disasters took place and I was leaving a happy couple to plan their wedding. Phew!
And the happy couple now! (Er, this was in
December 2013) . . .

Well, now, almost three years later, that couple popped back into my caricature line of fire and was tickled to tell me they had a delightful wedding, were happily married, and wanted an update! I snapped their photo and told them I would love to blog or Facebook about the cool experience of running into them again, and they kindly obliged. Then they waited for the kids to all get drawn, as often the adults take a backseat at Mitzvahs and kid birthday parties. Luckily, I was able to draw them at the end--but dang it, my phone was out of batteries by then, so I couldn't get a picture of them with their new caricatures. Oh well, a picture's worth a thousand words, and I think I've typed out a thousand by now!


  1. saccadic? Reading your blog is always an educating experience. Great, stories, great pictures. Whaddya mean, caricature artists aren't used to pressure? Keep telling yourself that, if that's what it takes you to get through the work day, but you're not fooling anyone. I get what you mean. We tell ourselves that we're producing smiles and entertainment, not a product of a piece of art. That might even be written into our contract, in just those words. But just because we tell ourselves that, doesn't mean that clients and guests see it that way, and it's their expectations, realistic and justified or not, that create the pressure.
    We did send out an artist, once, to do a proposal caricature, and got back a complaint, after the fact, from the client. The proposal went well, but the caricature the artist produced, he said, was very poorly done. Now the client had chosen the artist in advance, and reviewed his work, and whether a piece of art is good or not is a very subjective call, but I had to agree with him. The picture looked horribly rushed, the artist obviously used a preprinted background done in a completely different style, with different materials, the likenesses were not remotely close... The client was not asking for a refund, or anything, really, but just responded to our follow up to tell us that the poor caricature detracted from, rather than added to, the experience. I got photos from him and redrew it for him, to try to make it up, but the moment had passed. Obviously. So not every artist feels that pressure to do a great job.

  2. I've done about three proposals, and each time I actually drew them live. I felt that was a more honest way to draw them and exciting for the crowd (if there is one) to see what was beginning to take place. Unfortunately, one of them took place outside in a little park, and some teenagers walking by to watch started commenting, saying 'OMG are you guys getting married?' or something. I quickly rejoindered (how's that for a fancy word? Hmm, maybe it's not even a real word) with 'Haha, people always think that when a couple looks as in love as you guys do'...luckily I had just completed the drawing and showed them before it could register...shock and tears and kisses and hugs, and the guy invited me for a drink afterwards, but I passed as that would be weird. Anyway, yes, there was pressure, but it was more of an exciting, mounting suspense thing. I wasn't worried that she'd say no or anything. The second one I did was a little weird, as the woman seemed more shocked that he was proposing and almost seemed to say 'yes' just because he went through all the effort to do it. It was a GigMasters gig, and I asked the guy to review me but he never did, and acted like it was a bother to do it, even asking me to write the review. So I'm still wondering how that one ended up...

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