Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Radiation and You: Working in the Sun

Aaaaah, summer is here. Fucking awful, hot, disgusting, dangerous, deadly summer. And with it are tons of party planners organizing picnics, pool parties, and other events that, unfortunately, invite the sun--and he can be a very annoying guest.

Don't worry, I'm not just blogging to complain. I'll share some helpful hints (well, hopefully they will help). I'm no stranger to out-of-doors caricaturing. I work fairs that sometimes end up sunny, and my first eight or nine years was spent caricaturing at Baltimore's Camden Yards during the baseball season for Rick Wright, and the sun for those day games was brutal. Rick never seemed to mind the heat--and some coworkers even speculated that he had some lizard DNA that allowed him to happily soak up the sun and draw while the rest of us sweated buckets. It was always a long, painful wait as we watched the shadow of the warehouse wall creep ever-so-slowly until it finally covered our whole booth in blessed, cool shade.

One of the less disgustingly hot days at Camden Yards (with
Emily Anthony, who still draws there more often than I can!).
There are three things that you have to contend with, as a caricaturist, when you're working in a hot, full-sun environment: your own physical discomfort (dehydration, sapped energy, being blinded by the white paper), your model's squinty-eyed scowl due to the sun, and the technical problems that a hot environment poses to your media (sweat dripping on paper or chalk, markers drying out immediately, even printers frying if it's a digital gig).

The best possible solution to all three of these problems is to avoid the sun altogether. I try not to come off as a prima donna and I use careful language like "for best results" or "for the comfort of your guests and for the artist's safety" in emails where I am specifying that I'll need to be placed in the shade. That usually does the trick. Living in Las Vegas, I have gotten to the point where I have just refused to book the event if it's in the sun during the months of July or August. Those are seriously dangerous months. Most people who have lived here for any stretch of time understand how awful the heat gets during summer, so it's not usually an issue. Still, every once in a while someone calls and seems to think it's no big deal if the hired help will be in the sun for several hours--because we're getting paid, right? Avoid clients and agents who think like that.

More often, thankfully, you are dealing with a rational, friendly person who is just trying to put together a nice outdoor event for their kid's birthday or a company outing. Sometimes an outdoor event has mist coolers, which will help you remain comfortable but also soak your paper! So you might have to set up in a hot area just to keep the paper dry. Or you're set up at a festival where, despite your best efforts, the sun will be hitting your booth for a stretch of hours. And sometimes events get shuffled around, or the agents had no idea it was in the open air with no shade structures. In other words, shit happens, and if you need to be in the sun to pay your bills, sometimes you just gotta make due.
I loved the neat beach bucket-and-shovel snack buffet
this swim party had . . . the sun, I didn't love so much.

I worked two events this past week that were in partial sun: one, at a high-school football field, had literally no structure that could provide shade, and the other, at a municipal pool, had a mixture of danger zones--some shade, but it meant setting up by showers or poolside with splashing kids, so I had to pick my danger. It's pretty humbling: normally I'm good to go, without even a pee break, for four or five hours of straight drawing. Yet I was pretty sapped of energy after finishing these quick two-hour gigs.

Sunscreen is probably a big "well duh." Use it! It will help keep you from looking like a prune in your early 40s. But test it out first--make sure you don't have a sensitivity to it. I found out I have to stick with the baby stuff for my face or I end up rubbing my eyes and blinking like I'm chopping onions. In Florida one time I had to keep explaining to people that I wasn't crying because they were so ugly and hard to draw, it was just a reaction to the sunscreen I'd picked up from the convenience mart.

Wearing a big sun hat is imperative, preferably one that breathes a little so the top of your head gets some air circulation. Staying hydrated is also key, as you will keel over before you know it if you're lacking water. So it makes you pee often? Too bad, that's better than dying, so get a couple bottles of H2O and keep them by your easel leg where you can grab them between drawings. Bring sunglasses, even if you don't want to compromise the tones you see on people's faces . . . you won't be able to see ANYTHING if you're blinded by the sun reflecting off the white paper.
They may not be fashionable, but
they work. 

My years at the ballpark taught me some other tricks too. Your neck is a giant blood circulating conduit, so a few ice cubes wrapped in a bandana and tied around your neck can do wonders. For a little while anyway. I later discovered nifty gel neckerchiefs at the sporting goods store that you could stick in ice water for a while and then enjoy coolness from for hours (it's also a lot less drippy than ice cubes). I highly recommend those to anyone who has to work outdoors for any stretch of time. You can buy them all over the place, at big box stores and online and there's even video tutorials on how to make your own if you're a crafty person.

None of these things will protect you completely. Once you start feeling the effects of sun stroke, you need to cool down. Don't "power through," just excuse yourself and take a goddamn break. Weakness or cramps, lack of sweat, nausea, headache, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat are some of the nicer symptoms of sun stroke. Some of the later symptoms you could develop are seizures or unconsciousness. No color double sale is worth that. Find an air-conditioned area or someplace shady and just rest a while. Get some cold water into yourself. If you really overdid it, you might need to call it quits for the day and feel miserable for the next FEW days!
It's not just for baby butts.

But if you're not dangerously overheated, just uncomfortable and sweaty, it will still make for some annoying problems with your paper. Sweaty hands do not glide over paper the way you're used to. Buy a little travel-size shaker of baby powder and use it on your drawing hand--I was surprised at how well this worked, it kept me drawing fast and loose even in swampy, humid, awful weather.

For outdoor gigs, I have also taken to bringing both graphite and markers. I had never had a problem with markers drying out spontaneously in humid weather, but in the dry, arid desert air I have had my markers fail me. New ones ran dry within a few strokes and it was terribly annoying. I switched to my old Caran D'ache graphite holder and it worked much better (for that outdoor gig anyway).

Hopefully this helps, and please share any other tips in the comments--I'm always looking for ways to help get cool during July and August.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice, Celestia! And yes, outdoor gigs during the Spring/Summer are a BITCH!!