Drawing Live in Orlando

I'm sitting at my buddy Keelan's computer, on the last day of my little vacation/work trip to Orlando, FL. We had a blast working a couple gigs this week, on Disney property with many many artists and friends whom I haven't seen for a while.

This is just a peek at one sketch (and guests) that I had the pleasure of drawing... I've never met merrier ladies!


Bringing back the Pigs

This is a very static expressions sheet done for a project pitch to GE, while I was working at a 3D animation studio. It's not so much a character pitch, as it was done to convince a client that a simple smiley pig can have varying expressions and lots of character, based on simple line changes and shadow/color design...

I just think he's cute.


"You're mean!"

There is a perception that exists among customers (and people, in general) that I will never understand. I can see it... I can fathom it... I can expect it... I can try to prevent it... I wait for it... I try to avoid it... but no matter what I do, it will never go away.

I spent nearly 5 years drawing live caricatures as a day-job. It is an affair that I will never get over. I love the challenge of having to scratch out a 5-10 minute cartoon face that looks undoubtedly and uniquely like the person in front of me, whom I've JUST met for the first time in my life. It's a great feeling when you get a good likeness. Once you master that approach, taking the drawings further, sillier and making them more unique is the next interesting endeavor. I will always love the live sketch.

(This cute baby was drawn in San Jose, CA in 2006. See?.. no need for
smiles to get the expression and overall cute look of a child.)

Every now and then I get asked to train caricaturists across the country (and around the world) by simply drawing next to them and talking to them throughout a work day. I love this setup, because I am asked to do nothing more than be myself, decide which drawings to take to the limit and which to bang out in seconds, and talk shop with other interested and interesting artists. It's a great gig, and hard to say 'no' to.

Recently I was asked, by my good friend Matt Zitman, to drop by the Six Flags theme park in New Jersey (just a 1.5 hr train ride away) and do such a training day. It started out slow, but I had a great time getting to know the artists a bit and doing a drawing here and there; basically brushing the dust off of my "live drawing chops". All was going well until I had that one customer that I've seen a thousand times:

A middle-aged couple and their 4 year old daughter are looking at the price signs, quietly. I ask if they'd like a caricature, and they say, "Well, maybe for HER, but she won't sit still."

TANGENT: One of the biggest MISCONCEPTIONS about caricatures is that they are cute and for little kids. This is WRONG. Caricatures are for ANYONE who WANTS one and usually for OTHERS to enjoy. Getting a l
ittle kid drawing makes no sense, when they are more interested in their Dora the Explorer sippy cup, while the parents are the ones laughing at the sample caricatures! Doesn't it seem logical to get one of YOURSELF? Even so, they are meant to capture the person as they are, in that moment. There is no other frame of reference, be it something as simple as hairstyle or something as heavy as a personality, for which to base the 5 minute scratchings.

So back to the parents... I responded enthusiastically and playfully with, "Well, surely YOU TWO will sit still! Why don't you get one of yourselves?!" They chuckle and the mother says, "Okay, how about you two." (pointing at the father and daughter).

First they take the hair down on the little girl, which is a bad idea, because her hair was in a pony-tail all day. I saw this over and over again. "Let's put her hair down so she looks like a girl in the drawing." Did they walk around with a little transvestite all day? Were they ashamed at the restaurant this morning at their little "boy-girl" freak? NO- they had a beautiful daughter with a pony-tail, but instinct and ignorance leads them to assume that the artist in a theme-park can't draw a girl unless the hair is long.

"He'll fix it in the picture," they say about her messy hair, being all crimped and bent from multiple rubber-bands and sweat.

So taking a deep sigh, I let all this go and put on a smile. "Okay, have a seat right here, you two."

Now my job is to capture them as best I can... the little girl starts screaming. Something about not wanting a cartoon or the strange man is looking at me... the usual. I do my best to capture her interest, with a patronizing child voice: "Don't you like cartoons? Do you want to be a cartoon? What's your favorite cartoon?" This works well, and she calms down.

I do my best to get her expression of contentment down, and it looks fine. Not offensive, not silly, and a good likeness.

I get stopped half-way through the drawing by the mother saying, "Honey, would you like to see it?" She hops of her father's lap and takes a peek, only to start WHALING and crying because she's not smiling in the picture.

"Can you fix the mouth... so she's smiling?"

"We draw in permanent ink on paper, so the only way to do that would be to start the drawing over."


(The parents of this boy, drawn in Carlsbad in 2006, enjoyed the fact that he could
be best represented without a smile, and still be cute... how he really is.)

I continue to draw the father as the little girl SCREECHES in my ear about looking sad and mean in the drawing. The mother persists:

"Don't you have White-Out so you can fix things? Like maybe just white out the mouth and fix it?"

"No, we don't have White-Out... your only option is for me to start it over."

"Oh... okay," her voice trailing off, as though it's no big deal. I finish the drawing quickly and show the father who looks very underwhelmed.

At this point, it's customary to attempt to sell a frame or matte with each piece, to protect it or prepare it for hanging in one's home; "I don't want ANY frame," she starts, "I'm not very happy at all... you should have white-out for the mouth, so you can fix things... I thought you were going to make jokes (she gestures with her hand, as though it's some sort of blinking light via fingers, like I'm some sort of party magician) so she'll smile, then draw her smiling."

"I'm sorry if you don't like the sketch. I tried to banter with your daughter, but she clearly wasn't in the mood to be drawn. I did my best and represented the expression on her face. It's what we do. That's why I suggested that you two get YOUR caricature drawn, because it's a bit more fitting and easier for adults."

"Well, I'm not satisfied." She signs her credit card receipt, grabs her bags off the ground in a huff and walks away with a purpose.

What constantly fascinates me is that because an individual may not understand or grasp the intention or fun in a caricature, they feel that we should intuitively know to mold our profession around their specific, changing needs. I see it so often, yet it still intrigues me. It's as if someone enters a Taco-Bell saying, "boy, I love fast food! I eat at McDonalds all the time... give me a #1!" then being dissatisfied because it's not a burger... lesson learned, right? Wrong. They go to the manager and ask them why they made their tacos wrong.

The customer may "always be right" but it doesn't mean that they have any clue. I never hold this against them, but it will never fail to amuse the hell out of me and baffle my brain.

Ah, humans... They're freakin' weird.


Response to Anonymous

I've received a lot of comments on the "Mr. Anonymous" update, and I got some great emails. I'm putting one here because it's an interesting response and one that I agree with. His voice is quite unique (not an "inside-voice") and he gets to his point without messing around. I see it as a great response to "Mr. Anonymous." Here it is, a bit edited (for brevity). From artist Tony Cabral:

I know you invited folks to be "as sincere and open as they are quick and crass", but I find quick and crass to be short and to the point.

F*** that sh**.

I probably don't have to tell you that people just don't get what caricature is all about. Caricature isn't about picking on people or 'being an asshole' or finding fault. It's just the opposite; it's finding what makes people who they are. The best portraiture is closest to caricature, and the best caricature is a thousand times better than that.

I'm a fan and a great admirer of your work, ESPECIALLY the live stuff. The one thing what's-his-face got right was that you have "the gall to do this shit" in a live setting. More like guts; it takes guts to approach a subject the way you do that close in that amount of time. You've got an immense talent and a particular genius for this particular brand of observation. I'm a fan of Frank Caliendo for the same reason I'm a fan of yours... The best comedians do it with words, the best musicians do it with sound, you do it with line.

I spent a brief, almost ineffectual time doing live caricature when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I got sick of drawing people's babies and toddlers and watching adults chicken out of sitting down. Those that did would say things like, "Now, draw me pretty!" How about I draw you quiet, doofus... It's something I do these days for myself only, when the mood strikes. The fact that your particular voice is so strong and vibrant is something that I admire greatly. I'm really looking forward to getting my copy of "REJECTS", because it strikes me as a great testament to a great talent against the people who, one way or another, just don't get it.

The only other thing I can think to say is that the one thing that keeps me off the internet with my own blog or website or whatever is that I am very much aware that, for every person you want to reach, you're going to reach a handful who don't get it, don't like it, or just have nothing better to do than piss all over you. I have little to no patience for that. Good on ya for braving the storm.

Anyway, just keep doing what you're doing. For the rest of us... F*** that sh**.


From Nice Mr. Anonymous

Every so often I get an anonymous comment on this blog. It is rare, but it happens. The funny thing about it is that the comments from the anonymous posters are usually statements in line with something you'd read on eBaumsWorld or YouTube, commenting in a snarky manner after a sincere video. This is the most recent one:

"dude, I just found your stuff. It's hilarious. But, you're still an ass-hole. Your funny, but I can't believe someone would have the gall to do this shit."

Now before I give a serious response, let me tell you... I'm flattered. There are many times when people will say, "Oh, you're so mean!" after seeing a drawing or caricature, both live and in print. This is just as much a rush as skydiving, for an artist, but not an accurate critique of the scene.

First off, I realize that this comment isn't as cutting as some of my blog replies, but it still shows a lack of understanding and eloquence. This individual can feel free to email me if they'd like, if they'd prefer to understand the art of caricature a bit more. I'd love to let them in on it, and explain why I'm not an "ass-hole", but rather an advocate of original caricature and artwork. It's clear that they aren't all bad, as they say my work is hilarious and funny. It's not like it was that controversial either... the reader commented on THIS update!

I care a lot about "this shit", but so long as people hide behind "anonymous", individuals like this will never have the chance to communicate with real humans. I invite this reader and others to drop an email to me (blog AT joebluhm DOT com) and be as sincere and open as they are quick and crass. I'm not angry or upset at all; I'm fairly non-plussed (as Larry David would say), especially in the neglect to credit one's own words.

I have to reiterate- I'm not accusing this individual of being a jerk or anything; quite the contrary. From knowing people's reactions, this person undoubtedly likes what they see and is a decent human. I am just amused.


Chitown, TCAF, + digi.paint

Wizard World Chicago went great. I met some wonderful people and I'll surely visit again next year. My buddy Jason Seiler joined me at the convention and we had a great time with Alberto, Bobby, Kei, Steve, Pete, 'T', Matt, Joe, and others. Don't forget the name Matt Stewart... he's an animator and effects/character designer and his work is badass (+ he's a fun guy).

Anyway, Jason Seiler is about to start teaching a class with Imaginism Studios, and has a lot to offer those looking to learn more about painting and caricature. If you are interested, check it out at Schoolism.com!

I'll be attending the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, this week. It's at Old Victoria College in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Driving me up to Canadiaville will be the snazzy Brendan Burford and the lovely Rina Piccolo. We will be in the room with AdHouse books, so drop by and pick up a copy of our books and show us the love. Anyone who brings me a cold can of sugar-free RedBull or sugar-free RockStar gets a free caricature!

I'm also working on more caricatures for Frank Caliendo. After doing a piece for comedian Brian Regan, I've been falling in love with painting again, and will be doing much more of it. Both digital and traditional hold their own challenges, and I'm really looking forward to tackling them head-on. Here's a peek at the unfinished caricature. Can you guess who it is?


ComicCon, PreOrders & Chicago

The NCN Comic Con booth was a total success. I can't even wait for the NCN convention in Reno this year... if you don't know, check it out here, and if you can make it, it's an artistic overload!

We completed 92 crazy caricatures by featured artists (for guest donations), sold nearly 70 books (by NCN members) and signed up 14 artists. It was a blast, and my book did pretty well. I unloaded all 99 books over the 5 days, and even received some bulk orders... it may go faster than I thought!

That brings me to the pre-orders. Thanks to everyone who ordered one (ore more) by August 1. I did a little doodle in every book (some quick, some not) of anything that struck me, from self-portraits to skulls (above) to baboons & canines. It was truly fun and great warm-up practice.

I had a blast and sketched for nearly THREE WHOLE DAYS. It was worth it, and this morning I'm mailing over 200 copies of REJECTS!

This week and this weekend you can find me at WIZARD WORLD con in Chicago, IL. I'll be at my first individual artist table selling REJECTS and individual caricatures, drawn live! I can't wait for this convention... it should be a blast. If you're in the area, drop by booth 4616A and say hi.