Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ebola Shmebola, Texas is Texas

Well, looks like my initial fears about fair attendance dropping never came to pass. Here we are a week and a half later and we once again have record-breaking crowds. Even the weeknights have all pushed our stamina. 

I'm typing this out on the morning of the Red River Rivalry, the Texas-OU game that marks the busiest day of the state fair. Not necessarily OUR busiest day, as football fans are not caricature buyers, esoecially before the game--they just want beer, fried food, and noisemakers. We had to open at an ungodly 8am today after a pounding thunderstorm kept us all up half the night. Only to sit, shivering, as we are serenaded by chants of "Texas . . . Sucks!" and "O.U. CAN LICK MY BALLS!" Plus random screaming and WOOOOOOO!!!!

Here they are, streaming into the Cotton Bowl like a herd of red- and orange-shirted zombies. 

But it'll get busy soon enough. I did just draw two drunk 50-year-old women at 8:45 am. Their husbands came by and showed off the T-shirt they'd bought that stated "I came to Dallas for the Texas-OU game and all I got was EBOLA."

Yeah, Texas is the honey badger of states. Not much rattles them here. In fact, this guy I drew last week is a career serviceman, and he said he was leaving soon to go help build three hospitals in Liberia. 

Talk about bravery and doing good work. Made me wish I had drawn his eyes less crooked. 

I'm writing later now, finishing this post while on the plane home. Just remembering how god-awful crowded it got that day of the OU-Texas game gives me anxiety. Here's a glimpse of the crowd pressed up on our booth--they were shoulder-to-shoulder pretty much everywhere, moving slowly except for random impatient darters (who often tried cutting RIGHT THROUGH our booth!). Ugh. 

Yeah, that's Emily Anthony trying to make her way back from a bathroom break. It was very insane right after the game let out. 

And Oklahoma won, which allowed me to use this nifty gag when I got a "mixed fan" couple:

The parade of "regulars" has increased, seems like. I have a few special folks I remember well from year to year, including one young lady who has been drawn by me seven years running--and what an awesome metamorphosis. From a doughy, shy, anime-loving tween this girl has blossomed into an athletic, tall, well-spoken young adult who fights in real boxing matches! This year she asked me to draw her fighting the Russian from Rocky IV, and to stick her coach in there. Normally none of us would EVER add so many bells & whistles to a non-studio caricature, but seven years of kindness and good tips can earn special dispensation!

Her family has been drawn a few times as well; a few years back I drew them as Ariel, Ursula, and King Triton. This year her dad wanted to be a demon (to make fun of how scared he gets at horror movies, they said). It's always fun "demonizing" someone in the chair!

Then, weirdly, within a day or two of drawing the boxing Russian from Rocky IV, I found myself drawing ANOTHER opponent of Rocky's, thanks to this guy's t-shirt:

Another longtime regular (also in the "7 timers" club) asked for a Firefly theme, which I was happy to deliver. 

On the whole though, we just seemed to draw a ton of people who had made it a State Fair tradition, or who had relatives and/or friends that were caricatured and so they were inspired to get in on the action too. 

I got to draw cute lesbians, Dads with their football-loving sons, and big Latino families (who tried sticking the baby in for free). Dallas has variety! 

I also drew folks with sombreros, folks with mohawks or flowery headbands, and a fellow complaining about all the wine his wife and her BFF had just bought. 

And the BABIES... Holy hell, the babies were everywhere. I tried paying closer attention, but gosh it's tricky--they all have such similarities it feels like you're drawing them all the same! Still, there were all colors and varieties, including two adorable infants that projectile vomited in our booth as they sat. 

All in all, from the numbers Emily crunched, we each drew nearly a thousand faces over the course of the fair. And it was really unusually lucky for me: out of that thousand-or-so drawings, I didn't get a single reject or mess up a paint job and have to restart due to damage! That's not typical, believe me. 

At 24 days, the State Fair of Texas is the longest one there is. It breaks people. There are days you push yourself beyond what volume you thought you could handle. I had a moment this year, after 12+ hours pretty much nonstop, where I lost my bearings and, for a fleeting second, I had no idea what I was looking at on the paper. Was that line I just drew the upper lip? Or an eyebrow? Where was I? What am I doing???! Then my face-blindness cleared and I plodded on. But mental fatigue is real, and it's your constant enemy at a fair. Plus there's physical fatigue, just as annoying.

Rob, my other half, came out this year to replace one of the artists who (after 15 years of mental and physical fatigue) needed to skip Texas. He did great! People really dug his extra-spicy stretches, and he posted some awesome shots of his chairwork. 

His stamina was quite impressive considering he's not a regular on the fair circuit--but by the last week he was hurting. I mean literally, his tendons were giving out. On all our advice, he tried switching to markers. They require less pressure and so put less strain on your muscles. He kinda HATED those chunky-nibbed crayolas I have come to love, though. I started doing caricatures with marker some twenty years ago, whereas Rob has always been a graphite guy. Ink requires you to glide the marker around the paper like an elegant little ice skater, so you get a nice line quality and variation. To get decent line quality with graphite, you chug and push and scratch like you're ploughing a field. Rob's more a plougher than a skater, I guess. He didn't post any drawings from the one day he tried markers, ha ha!

One other nice thing about having my hubby with me in Texas was that (for the first time since 2008), I got to spend my anniversary with my spouse! And it was a biggie! 

We were able to ride the rotating observation tower, take a cutesy anniversary photo, and have a romantic corny dog dinner (not all on the same day, but we worked it all in eventually). Ah, it's good to know I married a person who can handle carny life. 

Speaking of love and marriage, we had not one but TWO marriage proposals at the booth! And they both ended up going to Vlad. The first one went beautifully, with the girl gasping in surprise as her beau dropped to one knee, and all her family and friends watched, taking photos, and she gushed YES! and hugged him and he put the ring on her finger. 
Even Vlad said "Awwwwwwwwww." 

The second proposal didn't go so great. It was a much more crowded night, and instead of the intended's family and friends, it was a lot of strangers packed in and watching. Older couple this time, maybe forties. Vlad said he could tell just by looking that this lady was not going to appreciate the public display she was about to be a part of. By the time you're fortyish, personality traits almost get burned into the face (for better or worse). As George Bernard Shaw said, by fifty every man gets the face he deserves. 

Sure enough, he turned the picture around, she smiled for a milisecond, then gasped (but not in a good way), blanched, and ran off. The crowd wanted to know what her answer was, but she hadn't said anything at all. Just a look of terror mixed with anger that she shot at her boyfriend, who didn't even have time to get the ring out. Poor guy. He went after her, then came back, paid for the picture and assured everyone she was just shy and embarrassed. It raised the awkward level around our booth a few notches for a while--but now I finally can say I witnessed a caricature proposal that DIDN'T go so well. At least the blame wasn't on Vlad's drawing, it was spectacular and soft and adorable (I was going to snap a photo after the reveal but never got a chance). 

My coworker Emily Anthony (who normally works in the Philly area) got an unexpected surprise as well--her fiancĂ© John showed up in disguise, revisiting an epic prank he pulled several years back. This time he showed up at the fair with facepaint, 44-DD pumpkin boobs under a flowy dress, and a headscarf that hid his other features. 

We all gave "her" the brush off, saying we were all done for the night (we were), but "she" kept being creepy and annoying until it dawned on Emily who exactly was behind the facepaint and disguise. 

There were a few REAL douchebags that didn't turn out to be our friends in disguise. There always are at a big fair. There was the guy who got huffy with me because he asked how much for three and I told him the price was per person; he angrily pointed out that the sign didn't say anything about how much THREE people would be. Then there was the lady who found out there was a line and she couldn't just waltz in from the side and get her kid drawn instantly. When I motioned to the dozen or so people lined up, she snarled "So basically ALL THOSE people get to CUT IN FRONNA ME?!" and walked off with a head wag of attitude. Yeah lady, all those people are cutting in front of YOU, that's what's happening. Sure. And then there was the drunken group of football fans who sat their Pakistani friend down for a picture and kept wanting me to draw a turban "or something terrorist" on the drawing. I asked "Do you want a turban? This is your caricature." He said no, absolutely not. Then one nitwit girl in his group demanded I draw a plane crashing into the twin towers behind him, because that would be hilarious and she promised she'd tip me. I had a tip for the Pakistani guy: get better friends, dude. 

And there were a few moments where we got to run off and actually SEE things. I fed a cow. Emily and I got our annual Big Tex photo, and the creative arts building had numerous cooking and baking contests that we smelled whenever we headed in for a bathroom break. 

As part of the oddities we see each year, there is also a pun-based "glue a shoe" contest that is on display inside. This year's winners included Vladimir Bootin, Mount Rushoemore, a Ferris Heel, a shoeing machinr, and Aladdin singing "I can shoe you the world."

But amid all the glued shoes, the babies, the crushing crowds, the general douchebaggery, and the awesome regulars and fans of funny faces, I also got to say hello and spend a little time with the Dallas ISCA folk. Chris Galvin, Miguel Aguilar, Art Nations, and the fantabulous Lorin Bernsen all came by to say hello--we even got a glimpse of Martha Watson one day! Lorin was kind enough to work a couple shifts at our spot, and it's ALWAYS nice to look over the shoulder of a different artist, especially one as skilled as Lorin. 

Hope to see you all next year, too! But this time with no Ebola, please.