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.

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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

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.

Popping the Freelance Cherry!

The Art Institute Sept. 1991- Mar. ‘94

When I was at AIP. I went almost a full year before entering their free lance program. I had heard about it but was preoccupied with other things. (Many of them school related!)

I was very good in school and fit right in with the other students. In fact, I was probably a little nerdy to most of them. There was a smoking lounge were people hung out between (but mostly during classes) and I (who smoked at pipe or cigars) began smoking cigarettes and finding reasons to cut class and play hacky sack or go to Corleones for pizza and beer with my classmates.

Fun Fact: One of my classes was called College 101. The gist of the class was to inform the students of random things like how to get around PGH, how to budget money for food (and recreation…) how to get a job, etc… One day the teacher spent a full class doing the math on the chalk board so that we would understand how valuable our time was at school. As it happens, I found out that that class, that day in 1991 would cost me $650. Yea math!

I had money from graduation and didn’t spend a lot at a time, (mostly it went to my Chinese food addiction a couple of times a week) but I did get a job right away. I worked at the Giant Eagle near Allegheny Center, where I lived. I lived on the 6th floor with most of my Visual Communications classmates. These towers were not ‘dorms’ per se, but they were the recommended facilities for most AIP students at the time. Although alcohol was discouraged in the building, it was a giant party tower, so any day when I got home from school, all I had to do was grab a sandwich and go to somebody else’s room hang out to eat it and drink booze. I had no trouble getting served or purchasing alcohol at any of the stores around AC so there was almost always alcohol involved in whatever I did after school. Yes, I did some rather stupid things…

Eventually this routine got boring and the few times that I had tried drawing caricatures at school events or on the street were disappointing. I had heard about the freelance program and went down to the school office to find out what it was all about. They asked me to do a few sample drawings and a brief list of my accomplishments. I had never drawn at a gig before so I was ready to get started and glad to have a new preoccupation.

How it worked was, AIP would take a call for a request for an artist and quote them a price, or take an offer. When the artist would go into the office, the office would take out a folder full of requests and show them what gigs were available. If an artist kept on his toes, he could be the first to hear of a gig and usually got it… When a gig peaked the artist’s interest, the artist would sign off on the gig and take down the information. I don’t think the office took a cut of the artist’s earnings for their trouble at that time. They had all sorts of offers, not just caricature gigs. I did some of my first paid graphic design work through the freelance program at AIP as well. Some were for ‘exposure’ and I learned quickly how things worked…

I don’t remember the specifics, but I think the first actual caricature gig I did was for an older student who was graduating soon. He sent in a request to AIP for newbies to draw at a prom for him about an hour away from Downtown… Luckily there was another artist who was also booked for it and he had a car. (I didn’t even have a bike at the time) We drove to the event, worked in tandem and it was a blast.

I was pleased to get my first ever caricature that night from the other artist I worked with as well as my first check for drawing at a party.

I doubt if any of the artwork either of us did was kept. It was surely pretty bad… (people didn’t call AIP to get a cheap newbie artist because they wanted to best available…) but I had popped my cherry!! I also learned a valuable lesson that day… Turns out, for working a 3 hour gig I made $100, the other artist made $100 and the older guy who had hired us through AIP (who did not go to the gig) made $100. Although I was happy to have the work, I thought his commission was a bit excessive so I told him so next time I saw him. Though asked to, I never worked with him again and I am still proud I told him so. (The normal commission percentage for an agent is 25%)

Copyright Adam Pate 2013, all rights reserved.

Epic Caricature FAIL.

Lesson in ethnicity (PLEASE REMEMBER THIS WAS 1991 WHEN I WAS JUST STARTING TO LEARN HOW TO DRAW CARICATURES!)

From ISCA Group on FB: “I think one of the things that might make my stories interesting to this group is that I taught myself. I had NEVER actually paid attention to how anyone drew caricatures of anyone before so every challenge I came across was handled in the best way I knew how, -and clearly sometimes they were handled badly, lol. But what’s interesting to me is that the outcome of my decision might be completely different than what most ‘taught’ caricature artists would come up with after learning a style and having support from, say Kaman’s, Fasen or Richmond’s concessions. I really enjoy seeing the way some self taught artists handle different challenges because they are usually pretty unique.” Case in point:

The Ashland County fair went on and I drew lots of people. The drawings were so bad that when somebody shows me a drawing I did from back then I don’t know wether to be amazed, embarrassed or feel sorry for them. All yellowed and crinkly and crappy lookin’. I had no idea what “archival quality paper” meant… Unfortunately, the sharpie lines do hold up well, even if you have no concept of line quality… To that I will attest. Every now and then I see one and the image creates a sudden, depressing panic in me. Like when you were little and you peed in a dream and then woke up and find out that you had actually peed your bed, AT CAMP. If anyone reading this happens to have one from back then, please burn it! Lol! Please. I will draw a fresh one for you for free if you prove that you burned it! 🙂

I worked at a few more local events before I went away to school. Most memorably, I did the Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival where I charged $2 and was so busy I never got to even look around and eat a forced meat sandwich. (I did get a sweet festival t-shirt with silk screened lederhosen on it though!) My parents went with me and they were amazed at how long the line I had was and at the end of the night when I counted up my loot, I had collected $350! People will buy anything for $2 I guess.

After the fair, I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for my first quarter of classes. I enjoyed school. I had lots of fun partying, making new friends and finding my way around the BIG CITY of Pittsburgh. It was the first metropolitan area I had ever been in really. The school was right down town and I lived only a 5 minutes away. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up in the air! I was on top of the world!

There were a couple of festivals in Pittsburgh near downtown and since there is a big art school there, several of the festivals are art centric and caricatures are very popular at such events. My first year in Pittsburgh I went to the Three Rivers Arts Festival to check it out and see what all the hub bub was about. I saw some caricature artists there and thought “I can do that too!”. I wanted to sit there and do them but I was too late to get in on the action. I could have busked in the park there, but was told I’d get into trouble. So I went down to Point Park and sat under the bridge so as to be more inconspicuous. (Totally illegal by the way. The festival has a special permit to use the park for the concert venue every year. What is normally public property was being used privately per special license, therefore it was at this time private property and I needed permission to set up there. Didn’t know that then… Luckily nobody hassled me.)

2 milk crates a ‘jam box’, a sketch pad and a few markers is all I had. I think I may have taped a cardboard sign to a wall on the bridge that led into the park.. Only in the big city for a month and I was already ghetto as fuck!

I was asking for $2 a drawing or tips or something like that. My drawings were terrible at the time, but then again, they were only $2! I was still very green and hadn’t really had any experience or education on the matter to speak of. I drew a few people’s kids here and there and made a few bucks. Well, along came these 4 black kids who were going down to the festival in Point Park. They asked for a drawing and I realized with horror that this was the first time I had ever been asked to draw black people and I had no idea how to do it. It was not going to be pretty.

Clearly this is not something appropriate to be horrified by to most people’s standards, however, growing up in rural Ohio, in the middle of nowhere, I had only seen a few black folks in my life, and had never even SEEN a drawing of one that I could think of (that wasn’t intended to be blatently racist). Let alone one done in black Sharpie on bright white paper… My dorm room mate was a black guy but that doesn’t mean I drew him! I really had no idea where to even start! Being self taught, I knew I had to make some mistakes to learn the correct way to do things. This was one of those mistakes. It certainly was… I did some stupid things, but this probably gets the prize for the stupidest.

Folks… I really do apologize if this sounds crude, or racist or whatever. It’s not intended to be. Part of what I learned on this day is that you just have to be brutally honest sometimes and go with your gut, ya know? These kids were very dark skinned. Not ‘latte’, ‘mocha’ or ‘cappuccino’. more like full blown ‘espresso’. I thought back through all of my schooling and all of the ways I could think of to suggest different tones in black and white artwork. What came to mind was…

Slowly I began drawing the features of the first boy’s face. When I got most of the way done with the line drawing, I started putting darker lines around the lines I had just drawn. That didn’t quite do it. DUDE WAS DARK. Sitting in the shadows around the bridge I thought about the lighter shades I could see and I decided to draw him as dark as possible and add highlights. Maybe show that contrast… Yes. About 5 minutes into the drawing I had decided to draw his face entirely black and add the highlights around the lines I had just drawn.

I colored in most of his face black with a dumb ass, faded, sharpie marker before I realized I could not pull off what I intended to do. At all. It looked horrible and the other kids actually said something. I was starting to sweat and the old, chewed up marker I was using ran out and I had to start in with another one that was fresher and go back over some parts of it again. I was no where near being capable of the artistic craftsmanship it would take to pull off a stunt like this, let alone the flaccid and feeble attempt of a drawing of this child that I had ruined this shitty, cheap piece of paper with. I don’t remember exactly what they said. I know their mouths were hanging open and their lower lips dangled in disbelief, but I was kinda too embarrassed to look at them. Guessing, I would say they were all between 10 and 13. Luckily, their parents weren’t there to witness it… After about 5 more excruciatingly awkward minutes of trying to color in the blackness to a somewhat uniform tone, I gave up when the second marker ran out -And all of those young kids just about crapped their pants they were laughing so hard.

The kid I was drawing looked at it for a second, said something cruelly appropriate, crumpled it up got on his bike and rode away without paying. I was a little bit surprised I didn’t get decked, but one of the other kids watching wanted one now. Obviously because I must be a clown and they wanted to laugh at me some more.

Laughing, I told him I just didn’t know how to draw black people as it was my first time, and I had never tried to draw a black person before in ink. There was no middle tone. Just black and white. I did mention that they were so dark too, hoping to get the sympathy vote from him and the other 2. It actually worked! They were cool about it, and they even acknowledged that they were hella dark too and that they might be hard to draw because of that. They told me that basically just give them big lips and noses and stuff. I said I didn’t know many black people, but I was pretty sure they didn’t like being drawn with large, stereotypical features and I didn’t want to offend them by drawing them that way and they laughed again. “Duh, we got big lips and noses and stuff though!” is what he said. I asked them if they had ever seen another artist draw a black person and they all said no, so I started again from scratch.

This time I thought instead of going all ‘contrasty’, maybe I would use some cross hatching… Holy shit. Yes. I. did. If you thought I was embarrassed when they laughed at me for trying to draw the one kid entirely black, imagine how stupid I felt drawing straight black sharpie lines clean across the other kid’s face -for like 8 minutes. TOTAL FAILURE. LOL! THESE KIDS WERE LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY AT ME NOW!

The other kid’s mouths just hung open and when I handed it to him he said that doing that was probably NOT the right thing to do to it either and laughed at it/me. He was pretty cool about it though, considering. They all were. I was lucky. My stupidity didn’t seem offend them much, if at all. I wasn’t trying to be offensive in the least. I just had no effing clue what I was doing!

In hindsight, I’m really glad it was those kids and not somebody who would have taken greater offense. It could have went very badly for me! After that drawing they suggested again that maybe I try to draw them with big lips and noses and concentrate on the size and shape of the features instead of the tone of their skin. I thought about it, and decided to try that next time. Not surprisingly, neither of the other two wanted one. Lol! I discovered that not only was my mistake trying a drawing style that I was clearly incapable of pulling off, but I was drawing them with caucasian features and thought that merely changing the tone of their faces would make them look like black people. Their features were completely different than caucasian features, and after all, it was them who had pointed out that they HAD big lips and big noses so it must be something they’re comfortable with and I figured whatever I drew probably wouldn’t be as offensive as drawing them all in black or cross hatching over their faces!!

I didn’t immediately follow their advice unfortunately and did some other stupid mistakes but quickly got the hang of it. It took me years to finally let go and learn that emphasizing the most stereotypical features on ethnic people is the best (and funniest) outcome in this situation. Afterall, a humorously exaggerated likeness IS the point of a caricature.

A good way to practice drawing caricatures is to draw yourself in a mirror. (a better way is to draw some one else from a still on a DVD- but I’m getting ahead of myself) Many newbie caricature artists use this practice as a crutch. They learn how to draw THEIR nose satisfactorily, and don’t realize that they unsatisfactorily draw their nose on every person’s face that they draw from then on. Everybody does it. You can tell the care an artist puts into his craftsmanship by the different ways he can draw other people’s features. (but again, I get ahead…) In short, it takes some skill and time to discover a repertoire of different and acceptable ways to draw different people’s features and then use those standards relative to each individual.

We’re allowed to make mistakes. We all do it. It’s part of learning how to do something the right way. Understanding, identifying and learning the proper ways to communicate a person’s ethnicity (or any other defining feature) visually and aesthetically (and yes, in fact, exaggerating some stereotypical features) is very important in communicating a good likeness no matter what the ethnicity of the person you’re drawing. Political correctness has no place in the caricature world. That said, personality stereotypes are stupid. Just as important in my opinion is learning not to judge people based on personality stereotypes. Each person is an individual and if you look objectively at each person as such, and treat them like you want to be treated you can do no wrong. I don’t tolerate hateful intolerance and I don’t tolerate mistaking sincere objectivity for hatred.

All rights reserved on all content. Copyright, Adam Pate 2013

Middle/high school art class

By the time I hit Jr. High School, I had made up my mind to try to be the class clown, so I spent a lot of time down at the principals office. If I was going to get in trouble for disrupting the class anyways, I figured I might as well disrupt the class!

One of the few classes I was not disruptive in was art class of course. I loved art class. It was nice to have a time each day to do art as opposed to once a week like in elementary school. I learned how to do scale drawings, mix and use different kinds of paint, sculpt with clay, shade and smudge with pencils and a little bit about perspective. The basics… I got along well with the art teacher, was recognized for my talents on occasion and was confident enough to help some of the other students to figure out the lessons when asked. I learned how to draw from photos in magazines and spent much of my free time drawing.

I drew so often in classes that the teachers sometimes would come see what I was drawing and usually complimented me on whatever it was. I found ways to go out of my way to draw. Study hall for instance. I would draw for the entire period. Cartoons, pretty ladies, cowboys, motorcycles, hot rods, space ships, ninjas, super heroes, etc… The fact that middle/high school has more students and different teachers each period didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but thinking back on it, having that opportunity to blend in with the other students and escape a domineering teacher that you have one period for a friendly teacher you had in another period really helps a kid’s development and self confidence a lot. Especially when they have been conditioned to feel like an outsider.

When I went up to the high school I was a much calmer in my classes and still drew a lot. I became interested in being a good student again but sometimes I just couldn’t help myself though and had to cut up a little in class. There was one teacher in particular that the students used to have quite a bit of sport with. We did awful, awful things to this poor teacher, and I feel bad about it now, but I drew some horrible caricatures of her. Terrible!!! The other students liked it though and they would pass the drawing around the class. Of course the teacher found it and sent me to the principal, Mr. Dorr’s office.

I spent a lot of time in Mr. Dorr’s office… He as a pretty nice guy as far as principals go. He always asked to see what I was drawing when I came in to his office. He saw the picture of the teacher (giggled) and asked me if I had ever thought about doing caricatures for a job after high school (presumably at Cedar Point) We talked a little bit about that. He asked me to draw him. I did. He liked it and asked the other principal to come in and get drawn. I did. Then the secretary, some girls who worked in the office, etc… By the end of the class I had drawn everyone in his office. He told me that he would get me some work drawing stuff around the school and he did. I drew decorations for Christmas time of the principals with santa hats on and stuff like that. I drew backgrounds for the proms and homecoming dances, etc…

I had loved my art teachers and got along really well with most of the people in my art classes. We were a fun group. We saw each other in a lot of the same classes each year. I took some other ‘liberal arts’ type classes and some of us even went on field trips to the Pittsburgh Art Museums and other out of town shenanigans. Among the new art classes was painting, sculpting, dying, drawing, printmaking, etc… I learned all sorts of cool techniques and the teachers often challenged me to come up with something more creative than whatever it was I was working on or offered an extra credit project if I got done with my project and still wanted something to work on in class. I was a skateboarder and I drew a sweet 3-5′ pastel painting of Tony Hawk grinding a jersey barrier that won me an award in the Ohio Governor’s Youth Art Exhibition. I had participated and gone to the show several times, but as a junior, I was honored to be chosen to attend an award ceremony in Columbus with a few other classmates. Our artwork traveled the state and was hung in the Governor’s mansion for a while. On the last day of my Junior year, me and a couple of the other boys got a little too rowdy with our goofing around and Mrs. Schuman, -one of the art teachers- told me that because I was being a dork, I couldn’t participate in the Advanced Placement art class as a senior, which broke my heart. I kept hoping over the summer that she was just kidding but when I got my classes senior year… no AP ART.

Senior year I actually made the honor roll more often than not. Mom and dad and I had the talk about school after the Art Institute of Pittsburgh people came around and I was thinking seriously about going to college after high school. They were a bit surprised I guess! As for art classes, I think there was only one other art class other than AP I could take, so I did. I think the teacher felt bad she kept me out of AP Art, but what’s done was done. Since I did a lot of extra credit artwork my senior year, I was given a special display space in the hallway for the spring art show as a senior since I couldn’t participate in the AP show (which was very nice) and I was asked to do live caricatures at the show. It was my first time ever, I didn’t want to do it and I was terrified! There was one other student there doing them and he was better at them than I was. He told me that he watched them doing them at Cedar Point before and so I took a few pointers from him the second day.

The first one I ever did, I did in pencil first, then inked it, then had to go back and erase the pencil lines. It took 20 minutes, was terrible and I made a quarter on it! I might have done about 12 more that day. All horrible! Ha ha ha!! People told me they were nice though and paid their quarter. The other boy told me that if I stopped using the pencil it might speed up my drawings and it really wouldn’t be so bad if I made a mistake. I could probably correct it with the marker and he was right. I was a perfectionist when I drew my artwork. Often drawing the same line over and over again till it was just right. Shading something, erasing it and then shading it all over again till it was perfect… All that went out the window the second day I did caricatures at the high school. I had to let go and trust in my ability to not screw it up! I did probably 20 of them that day. All in Sharpie marker. I made money for the art club. …And that’s how I officially started my professional caricature career!

(Copyright Adam Pate, 2013)

Nolan Harris iPad/ProCreate tutorial with Ron Kantrowitz

Video

Nolan Harris, of Over the Line Productions in Seattle, WA (http://www.facebook.com/overthelineart) does a tutorial using Procreate on the iPad. This video is a drawing he did of my friend Ron Kantrowitz of Pittsburgh, whom I have worked with for almost 20 years.