WARNING: This post was written as I finished up a long, miserable fair in Miami. And I'm in an airport now with a screaming baby fifteen feet from me. If you seek well-researched facts and clever insight, you might want to check back next week. If sarcasm, curse words, and wholly innapropriate violent thoughts toward babies are what you're after, read on, my friend!
Babies are the caricature artist's natural enemy. And with good reason. They are little whiny bags of pee, poo, slobber, and vomit packaged up into a set of features that ranges from looking like a swollen pink raisin to an average potato. Yet these little masterminds manage to stupefy their parents into binkie-washing, diaper-changing cult members who worship the small deity in all its glorious perfection.
The first annoyance is always that tired, predictable question. "Do you charge for babies?" Do we charge for babies. Fuck yes we charge for babies. They are terrible models and require more sitting time and are prone to erupting like volcanoes mid-caricature. We should charge more for babies. One of my mentors in the business always said that he wanted to put up a sign saying babies were by appointment only, in the morning before business picked up. And not only would they cost money, but there would be an extra surcharge!
New parents have been lulled into a sense of entitlement after seeing their infant ride free on airplanes, eat free at Stuckey's, and not have to buy a ticket for the movies. So, they reason, no artist would expect payment after spending fifteen minutes drawing their darling sweetie precious angel!! It must be free for babies! It SHOULD be free for babies! Hell, the artist should pay THEM for the privelige of gazing upon this miracle of life they recently pushed out of their vagina!
At family-heavy fairs this gets tiresome. One dad read the sign, "Twelve dollars per person," and immediately held up his ten-month-old son and said "Are you telling me you consider my baby a person?!" as if personhood would be a grave insult to his youngster. I wanted to suggest to him: "I don't know, sir, why don't you try aborting him and see if you get prosecuted?" But, y'know, tact customer service, blah blah blah.
At a fair once, a coworker of mine was approached by a mother who was rather insistent that her baby should be free or at least half price. This was the last day of the fair and he was tired, annoyed, and in the middle of drawing a couple as this woman tried to argue him down from the side of his art desk. He said dryly, "Babies do not sit still or look in one direction. Now, if you cut the baby's head off and stick it on a pike in front of me so it remains absolutely still, I will draw it half price." She stormed off, and the couple he was drawing giggled nervously.
Okay, so let's say you manage to explain to the parents that it will cost money, and despite their chronic sleep deprivation they understand you. Once they start heading into the chair, you have a list of things to consider:
1. Baby sleeping right now? Nope, can't do it. I used to let the parents wake the kid up, but no more. I have seen parents not-so-gently SHAKE their baby awake and (big surprise) the kid is then a little ball of screaming--probably brain-damaged--rage that will not make for a good drawing. I have them walk around until the kid wakes up on its own. Sometimes--very rarely--I will draw the baby sleeping. You pretty much have no choice if it's a newborn--those things are only awake like an hour a day. Why the hell anyone brings a four-day-old to a State Fair, I'll never understand, but they do.
2. If the frazzled parents pull out a phone and say "she'll never sit still, but I have a photo!" proceed at your own risk. New parents have an average of 8,000 photos of their darling little dictator on that smart phone. And they will page through and show you Every. Single. One. It can get awkward as you just sit waiting, and waiting, and possibly missing out on other business. I have sent parents away and told them to choose a good photo while they grab a cup of coffee or lunch, then I try to give them a quick tutorial on what makes a good reference photo: angle, clarity, expression, and so on. Plus babies change so quickly that the photos they took a month ago won't look like the kid anymore.
3. Make the parent sit and hold the baby on their lap. Maybe I just work in the dumber parts of the country, but it always amazes me how many parents will immediately try to plop a kid on the bench by itself before the kid is even old enough to hold its head up well. They say "I'll set him here because I don't want to be in the drawing, just do him." No! Bad parent! Hold your damn baby! I do not have the insurance to cover any injuries your baby suffers due to your stupidity! Argh.
4. Once seated, are the parents taking out food, sippy cups, toys, smart phones, video monitors, bubble guns, a brass band, and other weapons of mass distraction? STOP THEM. Preferably before the kid sees the food and/or iPhone screen. YOU need to be the most interesting thing for the kid to look at. Once all the bells and whistles come out, you have very little chance of that. And if the kid SEES the goodies and then sees them get taken away, bang--you get a little crying ball of rage. Bad enough we have to keep the teens from texting while we draw them--with babies it's impossible, they look where they look.
5. Position grandma (or dad, or auntie) DIRECTLY BEHIND you. I state this clearly so many times to families, yet "helpful" relatives STILL think they're doing me a favor by shaking a rattle and playing peekaboo from waaaay off in left field, or while sitting right next to the infant. Congrats, you got the baby to look anywhere but toward the artist. That's great.
Those are just the issues before you even put pen to paper. Moving on . . .
Babies also have the nerve to not look like real human beings yet. Due to the sheer amount of evil their brains contain, their craniums are disproportionately large, like aliens. I think it was Joe Bluhm who I once heard telling a group of artists that thinking of babies as humans is where most artists start to go wrong.
You CANNOT think of them as people. And, if you have spent most of your life learning to draw grown human people, with those half-third-third facial proportions, you might find your drawings of babies looking weird, sitting in that uncanny valley between squishy baby features and adult proportions. I drew so many awful baby pictures my first year in this business, it's embarrassing to recall. Even now, muscle memory sometimes takes over, or you take a misstep while attempting to exaggerate, and whifff! Likeness gone. I don't care HOW big that baby's chin is compared to other babies, it will not work as a stretch. Don't do it!
I drew with someone years ago who didn't seem able to make a drawing that looked under five or six years old. It was a chin thing. Still, you'd be surprised how many bad baby likenesses this artist sold with a cheerful "Aw, don't worry, he'll grow into it!" Ouch.
Along with chins, noses and ears also get into dangerous territory if you try to enlarge them. The kid may have an awesome schnazz, or great big satellite dishes, but those features can age a face--not saying you shouldn't ever do it, just tread lightly and be aware those ingredients really de-baby your baby picture. Not surprisingly, I consider the baby dinosaur from that old sitcom DINOSAURS to be the ultimate baby caricature. What nose? What ears?
Face bones and features are just the half of it. Copious amounts of face-fat are fun to draw, but with a slight harshness of line you go from "Awwwww how cute" to "Holy fucking shit that looks like the Ghoulie that popped out of the toilet in that one scene!" Look at how old people's fat rests and how baby fat rests. Adult fat hangs on the face like saddlebags. Baby fat is more like rising bread dough, so you have to pay close attention to render it that way.
Unless of course you're just feeling mean and doodling ugly babies for fun.
The one on the right is Benjamin's. And the funniest thing about that creepy, vacant-eyed demon baby is that he sold it. Not to a parent, mind you--that's a made-up practice baby drawing--but to an unsuspecting couple. After he finished their caricature he flipped it around to show them and, in the process, showed himself (and me) that he'd accidentally used the back side of that baby picture. "Free protector for that couple?" I asked quietly. You betcha. He sealed it up and (if they never take it out of the cardboard protector) they may never ever find out that monstrosity is right behind them. Shudder.
Anyway, babies--those high-maintenence little shits--also often require a super-fine marker (or pencil or whatever you use) to draw their hair. A line of regular thickness, just sporadically applied, will NOT look like downy baby hair. It will look like a cancer patient or Sloth from The Goonies. And smiles? Babies' mouths are weirdly shaped because they're made to just suckle and vomit, pretty much. That lower lip is usually huge and the divot in the middle is pronounced. Hey, at least any smile a baby gives you will be genuine--but boy will it be fleeting. And moving. Sometimes it'll be bouncing up and down as the parent horsey-rides the kid on their knee to entertain them (making you seasick in the process). Drawing babies will force you to hone your "photographic memory" skills. Get the shape of that smile in your brain quick, because it may only be there for an instant.
Further, babies require that you keep working hard even after you have the face done. Because if you slap down a typical body, just miniaturized, it will make the kid look five or six years old.
That about covers all my thoughts on babies. But just in case any of you still suspect I harbor a secret maternal instinct and some small part of me LOVES those little parasitic excrement cannons, here's a comic. Emily Anthony and I drew this up last year after working the Texas State Fair. The opening panel was actually censored in Exaggerated Features due to it's graphic nature! Ha! Yep, babies are gross.