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Interesting NY Times article interviewing one of the Chinese caricature ‘bosses’ in Times Square.

Times Square Artists

My thoughts: Retail caricatures may be free speech but should not be exempt from vendor licensing or paying local sales taxes. Let alone by undocumented immigrants. Reading between the lines of this article, seeing them first hand and knowing how things work for NYC artists who have tried to set up in Times Square, I can tell you – something fishy is going on…

If you try to set up and are NOT Chinese the cops will actually chase you away. The artwork in their displays are snagged from the internet and are done by caricature illustrator friends of mine who are fellow ISCA members (yes, we have a large group and it’s fun sometimes when the someone from our group snaps a photo of their signs and we all know who’s work is on the sign. One of the artists even cheekily confronted one of the Chinese artists when they saw their own illustration on a sign. …no speaka engrish! Lol)

I hear about these artists almost everywhere I’ve been. They sell a caricature for $5-$10 or more, (some good some bad. Honestly some do good work) but then a lady comes over and tries to sell you a matte, plastic sleeve or frame for $20 or something. She’s pretty aggressive! Again, I have seen her in action.

My advise if you are in NYC and want to get some artwork done? Go to Central Park and get one from one of the artists there. They are as good or better artists than the Chinese artists, probably American, probably from NYC and you will probably have a much better experience. I know some of those artists and if they have signs depicting caricatures, they use their own work. They probably have a sketchbook, some business cards, a website and some fine art they can show you as well, and they might even be able to draw your guests at your nieces birthday party!

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A Guy Walks Into a Bar…

Wasting away again in Margaritaville…

So the next week I went down to Margaritaville for the first time to meet Mr. Hock’s sons Bob and Jimmy who owned the place. It was one of the better known bars in the south side and it had a lot of regulars. If ever there was a bar that was like Cheers in Pittsburgh, it is my opinion that Margaritaville was it. As bad an artist as I was at the time, they were happy to have me and the regulars were extremely friendly and generous when I started working there. The bartenders were super nice too. It was a great fit for me and there were lots of other bars nearby that I ended up drawing in as well. And so as it happened, I was going to end up drawing at Margaritaville pretty much every night for the next 5+ years.

Michelle, the kinda sexy/salty bartender in the front used to give me shit every night about this or that but I gave it right back and it was very well received. Little did I know that this prepared me for the countless hecklings I got over the years from customers… Dena, the gorgeous bartender in the front used to stand behind me while I drew and make faces at the people I was drawing. She thought the faces I made were funny so she would imitate me. She was funny and cute and I think everyone in the bar had a crush on her… She was married to a cop and all of his friends used to stop in and get caricatures too while they were there. When I was a bike messenger I would see some of them downtown while I was riding and it was pretty cool to actually stop and talk to them at lunch sometimes, which made most of my bike messenger buddies suspicious, lol.

One of the police officers was a motorcycle cop who lived in East Liberty. I remember him well. Nice guy (for a motorcycle cop anyways, it takes a certain type of sociopath to become a motorcycle cop IMO but he was pretty cool.) He had wanted a drawing as soon as I walked in the door one night and while I was drawing him, he got a call on his cell phone from someone in his precinct telling him that there was something going on at his house. There was a breakin at his house and his daughter was there alone. He left immediately and as it turns out he was being set up by one of the gangs in his district. He was a victim of some gang member initiation with the intent to kill a police officer. He was shot 16 times. I’ll never forget that. Very sad.

One of the other bartenders used to live in Key West and he told me all kinds of stories about the places he used to go down there. Sounded like a fun place!  He was a fun guy who loved a few bands that would come to the Ville on the weekends. His favorite was Brownie Mary. There were a lot of bands that would come there. Mark Eddie was a comedian who I have seen on TV since. He used to do a song called Marajuanaville that was hilarious and he added another verse to the Eric Clapton song, You Look Wonderful Tonight where the last verse ends in audible gurgling sounds. Use your imagination, lol! There was a light skinned black girl named Wendy who looked a lot like the singer Brandi. She called herself Honey Brown and her voice sounded so damned sweet and smooth. Like maple syrup. I saw a lot of blues bands too and heard Mustang Sally well past the legal limit. I completely wrecked my hearing and I am seriously going deaf! It may not be common knowledge, but Pittsburgh has quite a reputation for great blues.

It helps to flirt a lot when drawing caricatures in a bar and so it is also a pretty good way to meet the ladies as it turns out! I dated pretty frequently but the lifestyle of working in a bar and drinking lots of beer every night kinda ran it’s predictable course with all of the nice girls I brought home. The couple of relationships that held in there were lots of fun but probably not the kind you discuss in polite company and very few that you’d bring home to meet Mom… As anyone knows, flirting goes both ways and I got flashed and groped and treated like a piece of meat pretty often …and I loved every minute of it!

I noticed after a few weeks that there were some regular girls who came around a lot too and they always got a caricature. So often that after a few weeks I would just draw them for fun. We hung out after the bar closed sometimes and even though we just saw each other when I was working I considered them to be my good friends. I worked about every night of the week sometimes so it was like I saw them every day. I remember using peanut butter to get gum out of one the girl’s hair one night after she looked at the wrong girl’s boyfriend. Lol! I hung out with the kitchen staff and saw all of the shenanigan’s that happens behind the scenes at a restaurant. Used to play pool with a few of the regular guys too. Though guys my age that went to bars back then were kinda suspected of being douches and for the most part those suspicions were accurate. Lol!

Bob and Jimmy had a lot of friends who would come to the bar and visit. They were big into the Jimmy Buffet stuff so I learned a LOT of Jimmy Buffet music and about the “Parrot Head” lifestyle. The jukebox was full of it. They had a lot of oldies and classic rock. Very cool for the time. I used to put at least $10 a night into that jukebox when I was working.

Other than the times when I was working a day job like bike messengering, I used to drink till drunk every night as well. Not the thing I’m proudest of but I was having fun and making money, which was the most important thing in the world at the time… My drawings got better after a couple of beers. Everybody that knew how I normally drew commented on it actually. Which of course, firmly reinforced my bad habit. After a few though, things went downhill fast. I still somehow ended up closing the bar down about every night and working till the chairs were on the bar. I learned (and then promptly forgot) a lot about a lot of things, people, drawing, caricature in general, girls, guys, music, beer, etc… I realized at some point that it wasn’t the quality of my drawings that people tipped me for, it was the fact that I was doing them and that they were in the pictures I drew. This further reinforced my laziness and other bad habits, I would probably even have admitted this at the time. I was indifferent. Going through the motions… Stuck in a rut. 

For a time, I lived on a street where many of my friends had migrated. It wasn’t much but when I came home from work at 3am my roommate was always up to something fun and there were always at least several people hanging out playing pool, foosball, video games and music in my house or one of the houses next door where my friends lived and we partied all night till the sun came up just about every day. I shot the shit and got into the culture and even had spending money for the first time in a long time. I was popular and having the time of my life and I was receiving the social education that I had not gotten in high school. Which also reinforced that habit.

As is common with many people, my habits changed when I turned 21, then they changed again when most of my friends could get into bars. Maybe not as common, my habits changed again when a few of those friends moved on to new habits and I didn’t. I saw where that was going and I grew up a little. Instead of going to parties, we threw them. We had the parties that people wanted to go to. Small parties where everybody knew everybody. We were the big kids now. We were choosy, safe and kept out of trouble.

I’m not under the impression that this is necessarily a bad thing or uncommon at my age at the time, but it’s not what I had intended to do with my life after graduating from college. It was the lifestyle of several of the bartenders, musicians, doormen, waitresses and even many of the people who tipped me in the bars I worked at every day, true, but I freely admit that it was my goal at the time to take it to the extreme… Because I was young and I could and that’s what I though was cool. 

I realize that it was irresponsible and not good for me or anyone else. I wasted a few good years living like this. I was hard working and functional. I kept out of trouble, had a good time and lots of friends. Even a real girlfriend once in a while… I’m not proud of it, but I did learn from it and I moved on… I have even vacillated on whether or not to mention it here at all, but as it does come up a time or two and alcohol is such an integral part of my story it is worth mentioning. So there you go.

At some point in the first couple of years I worked in the south side I started getting the idea that if I really applied myself and tried to do better drawings I could do caricatures in bars for a living and make an actual business out of what I was doing. More about that next time! 😉

Copyright Adam Pate, 2013 All rights reserved.

A Guy Walks Into a Bar… Continued

POOLS AND STREAMS

There are many different kinds of places where it is possible to do caricatures and busk other forms of novelties for tips, but the movement of the crowd almost always breaks down into 2 basic designs, -what I like to call streams and pools. A stream is a “kinetic” location where there is movement, like a busy sidewalk or a hallway of some kind when people are passing by. It is harder to approach people in a stream (from my experience) as they are moving and sometimes have their minds set on a destination, meaning you have to be eye catching or cat call to people, but it does not mean it’s impossible. It is possible sometimes to move with the crowd, get somebody interested and then stand in the flow of traffic. This is an opportunity to create what I call a “hot spot” if people slow down long enough to watch you work. (More on hot spots later.)

The most successful I have been in a stream situation is at a festival or a carnival area where I have been paid by the venue to stroll and busk for entertainment (and of course accept tips). The reason for this success I attributed to the fact that people weren’t really GOING anywhere. They were just wandering aimlessly from vender to vendor or maybe to a bathroom or beer tent. It was a captive audience of sorts. As a successful PUBLIC PROPERTY example: I have done this on Bourbon and Royal in New Orleans during Halloween (and seen other novelty artists doing so as well) and it was very well received it was also not as kinetic as some crowds (streams) as there were a lot of guests standing around looking at boobies or drinking beer because that’s what they were there for. This is ideal.

A Pool is a “stagnant” area where people are just sitting, standing or generally milling around and there is little or no reason for them to move anywhere. Cocktail parties, dinners, concerts, dance floors, food court areas, bars and nightclubs are pools. These work best because it is easy to approach people and they are more likely to be interested in some entertainment to keep the conversation lively. (For this same reason, sports bars with lots of TV’s, games like pool, golf, darts, etc… and game bars like Dave and Busters or Chuckie Cheeze aren’t as good because there’s so much going on and that’s what people are there for) It’s easy to just approach the group or individual and ask if they would like a drawing or whathaveyou in this environment. 

When scouting a private property busking location keep this in mind. Also keep in mind that if you have gone through the crowd in one location and there are no new faces, it is helpful to have a couple of alternative locations within short walking distance that you can move to and make a small route of places to visit. This will keep you busy for as long as you feel like busking especially if there is a variety of different types of establishments. If there are 2 irish bars next to one another they will probably have the same clientele and busy times, however if there is a sports bar, an upper class wine bar and a dance club on the same street they will each have a different crowd and be busy at different times of the night.

People will likely visit several establishments (bar hopping) throughout the evening, which means you have discovered your own private gigantic pool to fish from and the current of movement from place to place keeps the location lively!

A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR… CONTINUED. EASILY ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE NIGHTS OF MY LIFE.

SIDNEY STREET, SOUTH SIDE OF PITTSBURGH, FEBRUARY 14, 1994.

Marks the first time I had ever drawn caricatures for tips in a bar. Nobody else wanted the job when it came across the AIP freelance program advisor’s desk. Every other artist had passed it up. I needed the money.

They sent her a password, which she forwarded to me. 8PM, I believe it was Valentines Day. Word was it was a dilapidated speakeasy from the 20’s that someone had restored and they wanted to keep that image going. It was rumored that it was Al Capone’s hang out when he did business with the Pittsburgh Mafia. Oh yes! There is mafia everywhere in Pittsburgh… Lots of Irish and Italians…  There’s a catholic church or a pub on every block and every cop and fireman talked like he was from Brooklyn or Boston.

I was a naïve kid from Ohio who was too dumb or too brave (not sure which to this day…) to go to a place like this and draw caricatures of this bar’s patrons for tips.  I usually got paid by the hour but they didn’t offer to pay an hourly wage. They wanted to see if they could get someone to come for free. An exposure gig. I admit it. It was probably a mistake to take it, but I thought it sounded fun and anything that involved free beers was OK with me.

My girlfriend at the time was a little worried. She thought it was a bad idea too, but then again, what (non-drinking) girlfriend is fond of her (drinking!) boyfriend going to the bar without her on Valentines Day?

East Carson Street, on the South Side of Pittsburgh has more bars per square mile than any other place on the planet, or at least it did at the time of this story. Most of them were dive bars where locals hang out. Many of them have a theme, be it sports or ethnicity, a cartoon character, music venue, etc… Most have names, most close at 2am. Some don’t. For those surly patrons who like to sip cocktails and shoot the shit till the wee hours of the morning, there are the after hours bars. Some have food. Most close at 4AM. Again, some don’t. Some don’t even have a name, and there are just a select few where you might just get rolled if you don’t don’t  “know a guy”. This was one was the latter. The mafia theme wasn’t a gimmick. This became very apparent soon after I arrived.

The door to the club was set about 30 feet off of the street, down a bricked in alley. There was a small door with a small frosted window with a simple white logo of an animal on it (for identification, but I can’t remember what it was, might have been a bird) I knocked on the door and a slit underneath the window opened up.

A heavy breathing, chubby, Italian man with a porn stache in a too-tight tuxedo peeked out of the slit, looked me over, took a sip of a tiny, watered down looking coke through a coffee stirrer and slid the slit shut. I knocked again and he told me to go away. So I knocked one last time and I told him what I was doing there and the slit came back open and he got a whole lot more interested. Apparently nobody had told him I was coming and it was supposed to be a surprise. He asked me if I knew the password and when I told it to him he opened the door.

The other side of the door was darker than the side I had been on. Dimly lit by small orange glass light fixtures that looked to be original. The hallway was green vertical pinstripes until it opened into a large, smokey, semi-circle bar area with wood paneling and a dark green cigarette burned carpet that smelled like the bowling alley my mom used to take me to when I was a kid and she was on the company league. The room was brightly lit with florescent lights embedded in a mirrored drop ceiling and it also had mirrors above the paneled chair rail all around the room. A few vintage neon bar signs hung behind the bar and there were a few pictures of famous Italians like Dino, Frank, Al Capone and Louis Prima. The picture of Sophia Loren looked like a more recent addition.  “This shit was legit”, is what I remember thinking at the time.

There was nobody there except for me and the bartender and some girl who was a waitress. The bartender had on a tux shirt with a red bowtie and vest and the girl was dressed up like a cigarette girl from the 20’s. I pulled out a cigarette and she lit it for me. I was immediately impressed. “Every time a woman has to light her own cigarette she loses 20% of her sex appeal”, She said. “Just something you might want to remember”.

The bartender was very interested in what I did and he wanted to see what I could do right away. He explained to me that his boss, who wasn’t there but would probably come by later had probably arranged for me to come.

Rather than bringing an easel I had given some thought to how to best present myself while walking around in a strange bar. I assumed I would get bumped alot so I figured the least amount of stuff I could get away with bringing along the better. I had prepared for the job by purchasing a few of the expensive 100 page 11×14 sketchpads from the AIP store that had archival paper and I had some of the plastic Faber Castell Design 2 markers in various states of wear (which I loved but they no longer make). It took about 8 minutes for me to draw the bartender. It wasn’t my best work but it passed apparently. He was so proud of it he immediately hung it on the mirror behind the bar. I of course drew the waitress and then the chubby fat doorman with the little mustache and they both loved them and I got some free drinks and all was good.

I had on jeans, converse all stars and a (man’s) button down denim shirt that belonged to my girlfriend. I had a paisley tie as well. Even though everybody had on tuxes or some other costume they set my mind at ease that I was dressed OK. I was still pretty nervous and as there was nobody there yet, I was also bored. Not a good combo.

Even though I had already had 2 shots of Jaegermeister, I must have looked pretty nervous and bored too because it wasn’t long till it was suggested that I go look around the place, so I did. On the other side of the hallway from the bar there were some stairs, also covered in thick dark green carpet and there was wood paneling going up the stairs. Second floor was even smokier and there was an empty room at the top of the stairs. Literally empty. The room was very brightly lit with florescent lights. It was harsh light and it’s harshness only accentuated the emptiness. No chairs, tables, etc… In fact part of the green carpet was missing and you could see the plywood underneath. On the other side of the topless broken bannister at the top of the stairs was a dark room with poker machines and gambling tables set up. As I didn’t have any interest at all in gambling, I was again instantly bored. The club was build into a normal south side row house and was pretty small but the third floor had a small kitchen area (where later on there was free pizza I think) and another bar, where I drew the bartender, who was a surly old guy who didn’t talk much and I left the third floor soon after arriving there. The waitress and I talked until about 9:30 when we heard some voices downstairs. I must have lit at least 3 cigarettes for her.

I think it is fair to say that every single person I met that night was a character. The first people I drew were in their 50’s but had smoked so much they looked 70. The guy had a bad haircut and a bad dye job, a little mustache and a suit that looked like he bought it at a garage sale. I deducted that he was a used car salesman or something. He had a flashy smile and happy eyes though. Seemed like a very friendly guy. His girl was about 5 years younger and had big hair that was dyed black. She wore too much makeup, too much jewelry and had a few too many teeth I think. Maybe it just appeared that way at the time… I remember she had on a red wool coat with a mink collar and she smelled like a mixture of FDS, mothballs and Primo (a Georgio of Beverly Hills knock off) that about made me gag. She was nice though too and they were excited with the drawing I did of them. They showed it off to the bartender and another couple that was at the bar, (whom I drew next) and the next thing I knew I was busy drawing people for about 2 hours straight. It was about 1AM when it slowed down. Being I think a Wednesday, it was a “school night” and the crowd that got invited more than likely weren’t the “party all night” kind anymore as almost everyone was over 50 and wore sunglasses. Inside. At night.

A couple of drawings/customers that stood out were a couple early on that tipped me $20, which set the tone for the next few drawings among their circle of friends who got drawn. Then there was the cheap guy in that clique that refused to get one telling the rest of them that I was a “scam” somehow and spend the next 5 minutes fighting with his wife as I drew the next group of people.

A couple of strippers who came with each other and wanted to dance with me while I drew them. One walked away mid drawing and the other one who was all coked up or something, was hitting on me. They met up with a guy who was doing lines off the bar upstairs and he was a pretty big tipper. I saw him later downstairs. Instinctively I tried to avoid him but he kinda pinned me down when I was drawing some of his friends and he tipped me $20 each for each drawing totaling $60 and didn’t even want a drawing of himself. He told the bartender to hook me up and so I assume he was the owner of the club maybe. ?

There were of course the sloppy geriatric old school mafia dudes who wore their well built suits like Snuggys, sitting on the far side of the bar, facing the door, leaning on the bar and smoking cigars and talking quietly to themselves. They didn’t want any stinking caricatures even though the “owner” insisted they get one. The owner left so I didn’t push it and moved on.

There were a few younger folks that showed up later and kinda ‘rock starred” the crowd. They hung around for a drink, got a caricature, were pretty cool then left. They might have been with the owner or one of the hipper older guys. I don’t have any idea how they crashed the party but they were out of place for sure and they knew it and I think they wanted to get out as soon as possible.

I saw one of the strippers puke and I later heard that she fell down the stairs and had to be escorted out. Her friend left soon after.

Then there was Mr. Hock… He was an old skinny hard ass type dude with a big Italian nose and a horrible grey toupee. He wore loafers, slacks and a sweatshirt with a polo underneath almost every time I ever saw him. He had 2 sons that had a place a few blocks away and he wanted to know if I would be interested in drawing for tips there. I knew I was making pretty decent money at the club that night even though it was a weird crowd, so I told him SHIT YEAH I would! He gave me his son’s card and I called him a few days later to go down and meet him.

So, as I was finishing up and the bar was winding down, the bartender was giving me shots till I could barely stand up. (which was a lot considering how much I drank at the time) He was trying to figure out how much I made. I didn’t want to know or count it till I got home. Growing up in the 70’s I knew full well that “you never count your money while your sitting at the table. There’d be time enough for counting when the dealing was done”.
(-Kenny Rogers reference in case you didn’t know.)

I think I rode my bike there and back which would have meant that I crossed the Birmingham bridge on a cold winter night to get back to my place where my girlfriend was already sleeping. I woke her up and counted my money on the coffee table, sitting on the edge of the foldaway couch-bed in my studio apartment while she went down the hall to the bathroom. When she got back I had just finished counting. It was mostly large bills. She asked me how much and I screamed, “HOLY SHIT!! I MADE TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY DOLLARS!!!”, threw the money up in the air and we both took off our clothes and rolled around naked in it on the bed and laughed!
(Which was highly unhygienic of course)

Easily one of the most memorable nights of my life.

All rights reserved. Adam Pate. Copyright 2013

Selling my caricature cart!

Hand made mobile custom caricature cart for sale. Included are an umbrella, stools and a rain cover. Weighs around 100lbs, 36″ x 48″ approx. easel is BUILT IN with pencil tray, top space/table for holding mattes and matting drawings, cash box, etc… and storage area below it. Designed to hold display signs on sides and rear or from umbrella frame. For sale by owner/builder. $1000 OBO. May deliver within eastern US. (for additional cost of travel)

2012-06-27 20.49.28

2012-07-14 16.38.53

2012-06-29 16.15.54

2012-06-27 21.19.40

Feel free to contact with questions

Beginnings…

HOW MY CAREER FOUND ME

So Oakland was a really fun little college town/borough in Pittsburgh and there were lots of parties and lots of pretty girls to chase around. I was a good kid for a good while but I was a young man and being good is pretty boring when the one you love is so far away… Wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t take long for me to screw up the whole long distance GF thing and we ended up breaking up not long after (although clearly the story continued…)

School was taking up more and more of my time and I had pretty good grades though I still spent a lot of my extra time drinking beer and going to parties. Even though most of the people I knew were lowlifes we somehow kept out of trouble, for the most part, and had some of the best times of my life that I won’t remember, lol!

A year went by, most of my savings was gone, I had a girl living with me and I was 21, which made drinking and partying only slightly less fun… I had a really fun job as a bike messenger in the summer but I had quit it to concentrate on my studies during my last quarter of school. Seeking out just about any opportunity to make some extra money during the rough months of January through March when bills are higher and income is lower, I went to see the freelance advisor to see what was new. I hadn’t been there for a while and had missed out on some pretty decent gigs apparently and there were a lot of new artists that had snatched them up. There wasn’t much of anything worth bidding on but there was this one gig that had apparently been offered to about 13 artists and every one of them passed on it. As the advisor told me about it, I started to kinda get excited because it actually kinda sounded like it might be fun!

A few streets away from the Birmingham bridge on the south side off of East Carson St, there was a “Speakeasy” that was rumored to be a common hangout of Al Capone. It was closed for a long time and somebody bought it (mafia) and wanted to re-open it. The grand re-opening was in a week or so and they wanted somebody to come in, walk around and draw the customers at the bar. They wanted the artist to be there from about 8PM to 12AM but he could stay later if he wished as it was an after hours joint.

I was intrigued! I didn’t know it but this was going to be the start of something special.

Copyright, Adam Pate 2013, all rights reserved.