Back in My Day . . .
When I began in this business there were no smartphones and no email. Hard to imagine that, especially if you're a twenty-something who has never been without these conveniences. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, email was a nascent form of communication limited to a few of the tech-savvy kids in college who posted to computer-engineer-populated message boards using a bunch of programmer-type symbols I didn't understand. AOL and Myspace hadn't shown up yet, and I regularly used an arcane little device called "a fax machine" at my first office job.
|Polaroids were pretty expensive, so they were|
used for really special occasions--like if your
super awesome kid was named J.T. McWilliams
Elementary School's "Jet of the Week."
When I started doing retail caricatures, drawing from photos was certainly a source of the booth income. It was usually a parent with a wallet-sized photo of their kid, from that school year, and so it was always a decent photo to work from (professionally shot, good lighting, and with luck a decent smile on the kid's face too). Sometimes people would bring in badly-lit candid shots or older photos, but generally the process went smoothly in person. If someone wanted to mail in a photo though, that got a little complicated. Phone numbers and addresses were exchanged, they mailed in photos and payment (like through the US Postal Service), I drew the person, and then I mailed the photos and art out to them. It took a while.
Living in the Future!
The process of drawing from photos has been streamlined beyond all my expectations. It still shocks me that I can get an email query, download the photo from 3G or wifi from wherever I happen to be, look at it on my perfect little iPhone screen, draw from it, snap a photo of the caricature with that same phone, text it to the client for their approval, then click on my Paypal app and zip them a bill, which they pay using their phone. Then I pop the caricature in the mail (if they want a hard copy) or email them the high-resolution version (if it was a digital order).
Working on mail-order commissions (or, rather, email-order commissions) is a lot easier in terms of turnaround. If the photos the client sends your aren't going to work, you can communicate that and often have better photos within a few minutes. If you aren't sure you're going in the right direction with a drawing, you can email or text them a sketch and hear their feedback within minutes. When doing commissions at the booth, I can just snap a photo of the art on the drawing table and send it off for the client to preview. Some artists water-mark their final caricatures until the client coughs up the payment--and even that process is easily done now on smartphone apps. (I have skipped that step often by simply photographing the art with my hand somewhere in the frame, holding a pencil or something. It shows scale AND makes that photograph unusable as final art--unless that person doesn't mind having my big ol' hand in the image they print and frame, ha ha!). But, luckily, most folks are fairly trustworthy and well-meaning. Out of literally hundreds of photo orders, only once has anyone bilked me out of payment. That's a pretty decent track record.
But again, with this convenience comes some brand new inconvenience. First and foremost, I wish all customers understood pixels, resolution, and how photos work on the internet.
|You say she's on the top, second from the right? . . . okay, zooming in . . . well, she's a lovely looking eighteen pixels.|
So, sometimes instead of one really good photo, people email you a low-resolution photo that won't do you much good. or worse, a TON of low-resolution photos that won't do you much good. I have started giving really clear instructions when people ask if I can draw from photos. This is because without VERY CLEAR instructions, people can go really off the deep end. I tell them to not choose a photo based on how beautiful the person looks in it--rather, choose the one you would give to the police to put on the news if that person went missing. Pick the photo that looks most like the person, because plenty of photos lie. And for god sakes limit yourself. One couple sent me nearly a hundred photos of themselves, spanning several vacations and (from what I saw), at least five hairstyles between the two of them. I stopped opening the files after I saw the sheer number that had come in and told them they must pick three, ONLY three, and out of those three, tell me which photo is their favorite. Some clients have just sent me their Facebook page address and said "look through all of these [eight-thousand photos?] and pick whatever you need!" This task would literally take me longer than the drawing and painting process--not to mention, I have no idea which photos are great and which are awful at representing the person's likeness. Some photos just plain don't look like the subject. And there's one kind of photo that never seems to look much like the subject.
But First, Let Me Take A . . .
|Purse those lips, ladies, because duckface is SEXY!|
Check out this quilt of selfies I put together from a Google search. They illustrate a common nitpick I have with this type of photo reference. First, you can see the warping effect I was complaining about. Next, look at the guys on the left and compare them to the ladies on the right. Now, I'm generalizing here, so this doesn't apply 100% of the time but it sure seems to happen a lot . . . guys often seem oblivious to this warping effect of close-range selfie photos, but ladies seem to know instinctively how to use it to their advantage (and to a caricature artist's disadvantage). Notice how the guys look oddly bloated and seem to have bigger noses, and it looks like their ears have been pinned back a bit? The gals, on the other hand, are angling the camera so that the warp makes them look more elfin, babyish, and coy. Forehead and eyes are bigger, while the rest of them is smaller, and they cock their heads to look "glamorous." Some might even pull a duckface. Don't even get me started on duckface.
Vanity-Driven Photography Innovation and Other Mistakes
|Hold those collars, ladies! Collar-holding is SEXY!!|
|Who wouldn't want to be "Perfect" all 365 days a year?|
|Enjoy seeing this later in your nightmares, folks.|
How Much Is Too Much?
I'm kind of glad I didn't grow up with today's access to photography. My school memories are in two photo albums, that's it. You can look at the entire extant record of my childhood in about ten minutes. But are we now becoming a population of visual hoarders (of this, I too am guilty), who rack up terabytes of photographic data but never seem to have the time to look at those photos or sort them into any useable form? Facing a pile of old CDs or an iPhoto library that's topping 10,000 images is scary. Scrapbooking becomes a painful process of whittling things down to "that perfect" shot.
But should we really be aiming for perfection? Life is more fun if you pay some attention to the imperfect shots. Because life is imperfect. Old photos of our great-great-grandparents are so much more interesting to look at than hyper-polished pouty-lipped fake-smile-tweaked selfies. Those folks who were photographed in the 1800s and early 1900s looked like they were more than their image. They were doing stuff, living life, and the camera just got in their way for a moment. Nowadays it seems kids are posing constantly rather than DOING stuff, and they are annoyed when life gets in the way of the camera phone.
of F. Andrew Taylor by Yasmin Tajik, 2014.
Now I'm off to sort through some photos so I can draw some folks. See you next Tuesday!