During live caricatures, I'm occasionally asked if I have any good anecdotes about my job and the people I've drawn. While there are a handful of stories that I'll occasionally relate--the incident with the drunken twin strippers from New Zealand is a good one--I think my favorite involves my last "reject" of the season.
Those of you familiar with retail caricatures will know that on rare occasions, a customer will just be unsatisfied with their portrait for any number of possible reasons--they don't see the resemblance, they think it's too exaggerated and are offended, they don't think it's exaggerated enough and don't think they've gotten their money's worth, they don't understand what caricatures are, they are in a grouchy mood; who knows. We call these unwanted orphan drawings "rejects." This happens even to the best of us; master caricature artist Joe Bluhm has an entire book filled with amazing drawings that various philistines didn't appreciate.
When business is slow at the Zoo, we often try to attract customers by doing sample black and white drawings of willing passers-by so that people can see the quality of our work. One day in August, I convinced a random man with his family to come sit so that I could do a free demo of him. His family moved along to the carousel while he sat. When I finished, he took a look, laughed, tipped me a five and asked if it was ok that he leave it in the booth and come pick it up later on the way out. No problem.
Later that day, he swung by with his family (while I was drawing somebody else) to get his drawing. Though I was preoccupied, I'm told by a co-worker that he and his wife stood somewhere behind me for about a five minute period looking at the picture, then looking at me, all the while talking under their breath. Finally, the wife approached my co-worker, at the time standing directly next to me and the customer I was drawing. "Excuse me," she said with a sour look, "We don't want this. It's just really bad." Then she and her family left the zoo. I've always wondered what it was about the drawing she found so offensive enough to compel her to embarrass all of us in front of paying customers--especially since her husband was apparently pretty happy with it.
We took satisfaction later in hanging it up in the booth as a black and white sample image, enshrining it for the remainder of the summer as an ode to the capriciousness of retail caricatures.