Thursday, February 5, 2009

One from Jan. 2009

Here is one I just completed for a good friend. His young son wanted to be drawn driving a tractor. Copic and Prismacolor Art-Stix:


By the way, the reason you never see photos of the subjects when they are kids, is for reasons of privacy.

Three party gigs

It was a bit of a letdown after the 2006 NCN convention, because I would have loved to draw people every day.

The first opportunity came in January, 2007, at a party for the daughter of a colleague at the school where I teach Photoshop for a living. This was the best of the lot, and was drawn with the Copic:



Not too long after that my friend Carl Davis got a gig at Clearwater Beach and needed an extra artist. For this I went back to the Markette. The girl's dad was there and she was a sweet little girl. This is not really caricature but my personality comes out in these kind of drawings:



Not too long after this, Carl called me again with another party at Clearwater Beach. This was a Hawaiian theme and about everybody there was sunburned. That evening I went back to the Copic, and this was my favorite of the night:


Cartoonin’ with the Copic

The Copic marker is a brush-tip marker, and behaves much differently than the Dixon Markette. You can find the Copic Sketch at most any art store, or right from their website:

www.copicmarker.com

They are refillable and you can even change out the brush nibs when they wear out.

At Busch Gardens, we had the choice of Copic or Markette. I had tried the Copic, but could not control it, so eventually gave up and stayed with the Markette. But about this time I wanted to give it another shot to see if I could get better results in the long run. So after returning from Orlando, I purchased some Copics, determined to give it another shot. After a few days, things started to improve somewhat, and then I started getting into the sensation of working that brush tip across the paper. Because the tip is flexible, you get a “buffer” that smooths out any small erratic motions, so the results are smooth lines that you can get to swirl around with lots of variable-width flavor.

There is a popular book called “Facial Expressions” by Mark Simon. He was a guest speaker at the NCN convention After the book came a lot of caricaturists in the NCN would use it for practice, and post their results on the forum.

I was not about to humiliate myself with the Copic in front of a live audience, so practiced at home with Mark Simon’s awesome book.

Here are a couple slightly exaggerated drawings from the book. These were all drawn on 8.5 x 11 printer paper. The page numbers of the reference photos are visible.



2006 NCN Convention, Orlando

After spending so much time on the NCN forum, it was pretty cool to meet many of the people that I’ve come to know through their posts on there. In particular, I finally got to meet my friend Elgin Bolling, also known as The Subway Surfer. He flew down from New York City for this. We had been chatting on the phone about the art of caricature for over a year by now.

I had a lot of fun overall, but metting Elgin and his friends Kenly Dillard and Alison Gelbman was definitely one of the highlights. After the opening festivites, we all went out to dinner across the street. I shared a hotel room with fellow caricaturist from Busch Gardens, Carl Davis. Although there was no need for a hotel room a we were never there. There was too much to miss.

You get in a creative zone from so much inspiration, socializing and sleep deprivation. The main conference room was busy with activity all day and all night, not to mention the many seminars, all focusing on different aspects of caricature.

Here's a picture of Elgin and me at the banquet, along with some drawings of Elgin, Sayuri, George, Paul, Freddie, Bob, and Michael, in that order. These were all drawn on the same paper, Dixon Markette and Prismcolor Art-Stix that we used at Busch Gardens:








Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Firing Squad

At Busch Gardens, Dion introduced to the National Caricaturists Network, or "NCN." I was looking forward to attending their upcoming convention in Orlando. The NCN has an online forum where I used to post stuff from Busch Gardens. This was before blogs got really popular, so this was where you went to see the work of your peers.

One section of the forum was called the "Firing Squad." Members post pics of themselves, then you draw them and post the results. These two are of Andrea and Marco, respectively. Both were drawn with the Dixon Markette in 2006.

I'm obsessed with getting a nice quality of line, variable-width and tapered curves. There is a certain aesthetic to a line, which is why I prefer this sort of cartooning over hyper-realism, where every detail down to the last pore is depicted. (At one point I had gotten all into 3D software like XSI and ZBrush, with the intent of unleashing hyper-realistic caricature, but after investing a lot of money, time and effort, I had a mid-life crisis: Gimme back my markers and crayons!)

Anyway, the Firing Squad is a chance to experiment with different styles and get some feedback from other members of the NCN. It's also a challenge to draw from photographs. It's much easier (and more fun) to draw a caricature when the subject is sitting right there in front of you.



First party gig

Right after leaving Busch Gardens, I got my first party gig, from word-of-mouth. It was kid's birthday party. In 1994 I had a gig in Italy drawing portraits in pencil, but this was the first time I'd ever been paid do theme-park-style caricature at a party. I know some would argue that the goal is exaggeration, but for kids, this is the kind of thing I like to do:




There are plenty of challenges here to keep me satisfied, such as line quality, and realistic color. We were trained at Busch Gardens to use Prismacolor Art-Stix, which are colored pencils in pastel form. They are a lot like crayons, but much denser and more heavily pigmented. A small sheet of foam rubber is placed under the drawing when applying color, resulting in a smooth, buttery feel. The marker used is a Dixon Markette bullet-tip. These days it's considered the industry standard.

Beginnings: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

My name is Chris Collins. On April 29, 2005, I began training in the art of retail caricature at Busch Gardens, in Tampa, Florida. Professional caricaturist and photographer Dion Socia, the head of the Kaman's caricature concession there, patiently taught myself and the other newbies the basic techniques and I owe much gratitude to him, plus the many artists in the National Caricaturist Network who have been helping me along. In particular, Tom Richmond, known by most for his work for MAD Magazine.

Tom had written a in-depth series of articles concerning the art of caricature and cartooning in general. I would post my early efforts on the NCN's forum, and Tom was gracious enough to take the time to offer critique and encouragement. Also, Joe Bluhm, who in his early 20's was already considered among the best. He visited us often as Busch Gardens, and I drove to Orlando on several occasions to watch him at work at Sea World. Joe introduced me to a lot of the other caricaturists in Orlando, like Glenn Ferguson and Keelan Parham. It was like having a backstage pass to a whole underground subculture of caricaturists. I wanted so much to be a part of it all.

My main job was teaching Photoshop at a college in Tampa. But there’s something really satisfying about drawing people’s faces from life.

I’ve dabbled in different sorts of painting over the years, after having the good fortunate in 1983 to fall under the tutelage of art professor Jack Girard, at Transylvania University, in Lexington, KY. And I have been interested in caricature since seeing the work of Mort Drucker in MAD Magazine, back in the '70's. Whenever our family went to a theme park, I just wanted to hang out and watch the caricature artists. So with that, one day in April, 2005, I went to Busch Gardens to meet the caricature artists and ask for a chance to try this out for myself. At the time I was living only a few blocks away from Busch Gardens, and it was an opportunity that I did not want to let slip by.

So the next thing you know, I have my uniform and cap and drawing supplies that Dion provided, and am working next to him with a sign posted above my easel that said, "Artist-in-Training." Was that ever an understatement. I was totally in over my head and would get a lot of self-doubt accompanied by cottonmouth. We draw with special markers and it takes practice to get a good line quality from them. As soon as I got slightly comfortable, I forced myself to draw them in a 3/4 pose whenever possible. That introduces issues of perspective. With practice, the whole experience started to become a lot of fun: You open your caricature stand with the park still closed, get your gear all set up and then hope some interesting looking adults might drop in for a drawing. Mostly though, you get kids, and so the goal then is not so much exaggeration, but to produce something more like a cartoony portrait that has some humanity in there. Here is a brief account of this adventure:


Above is the first drawing I actually sold. It was on my first full working day. When you have the "Artist-in-Training" sign above your easel, guests have the option to purchase only if they like the results. Most would just pass. I remember being very nervous at what I'd gotten myself into.

Looking back, I feel that just through careful observation, I was able to get a good likeness right from the beginning. That leaves issues of cartooning, line quality, coloring, and exaggeration, things I'm still struggling with. Sometimes you really "see" ("feel" might be a better word) the exaggeration, but when that was not happening, I could at least resort to a cartoony portrait with a good likeness.

Anyway, here, in chronological order, are some select drawings completed during my tenure at Busch Gardens. (Click thumnail for full-size image.) But first, here are a couple shots of me at work, the first with Matt Zittman (foreground), and the second with myself, Matt, and Nick Mitchell.





We would draw each other a lot. Above is one of Sean Gardner, who started about the same time I did.





Above is one I drew of my cousin Dominic, during a day off.







And finally, below, was the last caricature I sold, on my last day at Busch Gardens:


By then I had moved to Clearwater and it was such a long drive that I put in my notice at the theme park. I still do private gigs, but there is nothing like the retail environment -- it forces you to improve.