Sunday, June 19, 2016

Drawing at LA Pride 2016

Last weekend I chucked my gear into the Ford and drove from Vegas to West Hollywood in order to work alongside Al Rodriguez (thanks for the gig, Al!) at the annual LA Pride event. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it exceeded any expectations I could have formed.
Even the map was clever. 

We were working digitally for Delta Airlines, and the theme was "Dream Drag" . . . so unlike the quicker 5-7 minute color digital pictures of just head and shoulders, we were to make the experience a little more interactive. I like interaction, so I was looking forward to it. We were to ask sitters if they wanted to be a drag queen or a drag king, and what their dream vacation, dream job, or even dream cocktail might be. So I had a 4-hour drive to psych myself up to produce full-body drawings with outlandish costume and unlimited setting possibilities, for a couple of 11-hour stints.

I settled into my room at the little West Hollywood apartment I'd found on air b&b and walked over to the park where we'd be set up the next day. The line was around the block already, and street vendors hawked sunglasses, little rainbow flags, and fashionable underpants--one or two of which I considered purchasing as a surprise for the Mister. Before bed I looked up a few glamazon poses and practiced a few fabulous body shots so I could more readily pull them up the next day.

Saturday came and I rolled in with my gear, found everyone, and set up. I've done a ton of digital gigs, but it still feels like a relief once everything is connected and working, in a way I never worry about when I'm just toting an easel. Then the people started sitting for us. To say the crowd was "into it" would be a huge understatement. My first subject said his dream job was to be an opera singer--and he proved it once I finished his drawing:



Other guests proved just as colorful--the imaginative responses and sense of fun were all over the place. Our client said that drawing folks in drag was the concept, but it was not to be limited to that. Anything goes! And over the weekend these folks definitely put me through my paces. I've drawn plenty of people on unicorns, and I did a few at this event; but some even wanted to BE unicorns. Or mermaids. Or satyrs. Or rainbow lions. You name it.

Some couples were celebrating recent (legal) marriages, others were planning their future nuptials or imagining a Hawaiian getaway. And one couple of Star Wars fans wanted me to draw them with their future adopted baby--"Any imaginary baby will do! An ewok even!" they said. I could not abide an ewok, so they got a baby Chewie.


Elizabethan slash? Yes please.
The nature of the event led to a lot more talking to the sitters--but only when the music from the stage wasn't thoroughly blaring. I can't even recall all the acts, but you could dance to everything. And everyone was. On my break I wandered around and got an eyeful of the crowd. You know the aesthetic some female attendees have at music festivals--very little clothing, what is worn is outlandish or brightly colored? Well the only difference was in this environment that aesthetic applied more to the male attendees than the female ones. It was a great switcheroo. If chicks wearing tiny booty shorts and string bikini tops is fine, then by golly, society should be okay with hot young men wearing similarly revealing things like studded codpieces and thongs with net tops.

I told Al that he was way overdressed. He smirked at me.

There were folks who left it "up to me" to a degree (and really, if the crowd is relaxed and having a great time--as everyone here was--it gives the artist a sense of freedom to improvise and stretch a bit, which is a great feeling!). With the conversation and details they gave me, I tried to cobble together something halfway witty. And some people just plain like to challenge me! One pair sat down and said "We'd like to be in a Shakespearean play, but with a homoerotic twist!"

He said "I spend my time being fabulous, and he
spends his time bringing me back down to earth."
They both laughed a lot at my interpretation. 
One couple wanted to be "in space" but didn't specify, so I went ahead and made one of them an alien. He didn't mind, and loved the surprise. In fact, one of the time drains on my speed was that upon completion, nearly everyone who got drawn popped up to see their caricature on screen, squealed with delight for a minute or two, posed for a selfie with it (even though they were getting a print and a download), and then enveloped me with a hug and sometimes a kiss of thanks. This was, honestly and without hyperbole, the best crowd I have ever worked for.

The first day was such a blast, and I was feeling really comfortable with what seemed like a potentially challenging gig. We called it a night at 1 a.m., grabbed some food at a Denny's down the road, and Al-Rod dropped me off at my air b&b.

Waking up the next day, I was confused as I scrolled through Facebook and saw that a couple of Orlando friends had "checked in as safe." What? Possibilities scrolled through my head: earthquake? flooding? terror strike?

Yes, terror strike. Oh man. I read through the news snippets and my heart sank. So many people, and they were people in the LGBTQ community, out to dance and have a good time and love one another--just like the people I'd been drawing all that previous day. I wondered how this would affect the mood and events today. Then, as I arrived and set up, Al told me about the suspect that police had detained the previous night on his way to LA Pride. Our handlers talked with us briefly about it too, and we found out that organizers had considered canceling Sunday but had decided to continue the festivities but with heightened security.

I'm glad they did not cancel. The show must go on.

I got a few texts from friends and family who knew I was there, asking me to keep alert and be careful. I was, on both counts.

The crowds filed in after the parade, and the show definitely went on. The previous night's massacre was mentioned several times from the stage, as emcees asked for a moment of silence, and then moments of noise, in solidarity with Orlando.

I drew quite a few more nice people, and yes, some of them wanted to go with the theme of "dream drag" and reveled in letting me drape them in a different persona, sometimes replete with giant ta-tas.

A few trans women sat for me on Sunday (at least, a few that I could tell were transitioning--there may have been others that I simply assumed were cis). I had been in the habit of asking people at the start if they wanted to go with the theme of a drag queen or drag king, which I did tentatively at this point, knowing that the conflation of "drag" and "transvestitism" and "transsexual" was a point of contention among trans people. But this elegant trans woman took the reins and replied immediately "No drag for me, thanks, I was in drag for over 50 years, I'm done trying to dress up and pretend I'm a man!" She went on to chat with me about how long she'd been transitioned, and how she was lucky it only cost her one family. Her family-family all abandoned her, she said, but her work family was very accepting. It was both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring how casually she revealed this, and how she counted herself lucky to have only lost her blood-related family. She had a striking look to her face that went well with her strong presence, and I told her she had a mix of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close in her features, which was meant (and taken) as a compliment.

Speaking of Martians, the best kind of
drag queen is a KILLER DRAG QUEEN
FROM OUTER SPACE!
Another woman who had just begun her transition seemed to carry herself with a bit less confidence, a bit more guarded. She was plump and her body language reminded me of the self-conscious ball of nerves I was back in middle and high school--sitting so as to hide as much of yourself as you can. She wore a jean skirt, simple sandals (in a large size) and a sweatshirt with little cats on it: also clothes I'd likely have worn in high school. I asked what she felt like having in her picture--a dream vacation, a dream job, a fantasy? She said "Just draw me as a normal woman--that is my dream. Just to be a normal woman." Okay, that made me tear up just a little but I pushed through. She asked me to please not draw her freckles (she was covered in them) . . . I responded that it was up to her, but added that I liked drawing freckles, they have always seemed a cute, feminine feature to me. (I wasn't trying to flatter, that was the truth--my little sister has about a million freckles, and I guess they always seemed girly to me). "Oh, well if you can make them look feminine, put them in," she relented with a shy smile. She said she was lonely, as the only trans woman in her small town she felt like everyone there looked at her like she was from Mars--but attending Pride was a wonderful, accepting experience for her. It's for individuals like her that the show must go on.

And you know, that little blip about the freckles was the ONLY time the whole weekend that someone was self-conscious or told me to edit them. There was no vanity or wish to be falsely improved going on here--which, in this business, you tend to see multiple times a day. Which, again, tends to free up my mindset and allows the cartoons to flow better. I don't ascribe that to be a defining factor in the LGBTQ community: lord knows I've drawn plenty of gay people who were also vain and self-conscious. Just, here, with the festive, inclusive, welcoming feeling going on around us, it was like no one needed to put on any fake notions of trying to appear anything but themselves. It was just good fun.

My day stretched into night, and I drew folks surfing, sunbathing, and enjoying the California sun. I drew folks shooting ray guns, playing ukeleles, and climbing the Eifel Tower. It was certainly not a boring event in any way!



The Vice Mayor sat for a drawing and said he liked airplanes and air travel (a rare thing to like these days--but like a good politician he may have been inspired to choose that based on our sponsor).


 Speaking of our sponsor: our crowd-handlers were all Delta airline attendants. Not temps or model types dressed as attendants, but actual trained flight attendants. And if you ever have a crowd to handle, flight attendants are the people you want on your side. These folks were friendly yet firm, and expert at guiding people through the process and lining up who was next. And at the minute of the last hour of the final day, a please-just-one-more was buzzing around, in the form of a very drunk and incredibly persistent young lady. One of the handlers leaned down to whisper in my ear, and I wearily cringed: many clients and crowd-handlers will, in this situation, simply ask the artist to please make an exception and just draw the insistent person. I was expecting this was about to be requested. But NOPE: the flight attendant whispered "Ummmm, this woman has been told NO several times by me and others and is still insisting on a drawing although the line has been cut off. Please DO NOT draw her, we cannot reward this type of behavior." WOOOO!! YESSSS! Go flight attendant! Way to have my back and assert that the (drunken, unreasonable) customer isn't always right! They ended up having to walk her off the premises and mention that security would be called if she did not comply. And one of the male flight attendants, in a vocal twang that clearly communicated he was part of the LGBTQ community, said "She was even trying to ply me with sexual favors, saying she'd 'do anything I wanted' if I let her cut in line--I was like, girl, do you know where you are?" Yeah, that poor thing was definitely barking up the wrong tree.

All in all, a peaceful end to the night. My gratitude to the Santa Monica police department for keeping away a potential monster that could have made things end very differently at LA Pride. 

The West Hollywood Cheerleaders and I wish you a fond farewell--thanks for reading all my words, y'all!


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