Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cartoon Guy

Yesterday at the Dutchess County Fair, I sketched a portrait of Mark M., "The Cartoon Guy." He was working under a white tent near the tattoo vendor and the lawnmower dealer.

He does quick cartoon portraits using a Sharpie marker. They’re good portraits, and they only cost $5.00 (head only) or $10.00 (head and shoulders).

He was an artist in the Navy, and has been doing cartoon portraits for 34 years. He said that since his divorce, he is temporarily homeless. He travels around in a minivan, going from fair to fair, occasionally doing corporate gigs.

He loves observing people while doing his job. “Sometimes moms will come and talk for their kids, even 13 year olds,” he said. “They won’t let them grow up.” The hardest customers to please are good-looking teenage girls. “They’re raised to be vain.”

But in all his years doing portraits, only three have been rejected. One happened a couple of weeks ago. The portrait came out great, and the girl liked it, but he misspelled her name, and he was too busy to redo it, so he refunded her money.

He told us he wanted to slow down and paint. “The VA said they could get me a job as a park ranger,” he said. “What I want to do is paint nature.”

Photo courtesy Fred Bellet, Tribunephotogs, link.

12 comments:

Paul McCall said...

I do that sort of thing as well, but at private functions not fairs. The name spelling thing is one reason I haven't put their name on the drawings for years! Even the most normal sounding names can be spelled quite uniquely these days.

Larry said...

I'm facinated by the speed of these characaturist. I tried to keep up with a woman who set up shop in Union Square. I sat a distance behind and tried to draw her clients as they sat for her. By the time I got the shape of the head, she was collecting the money and moving on to the next....and as much as it pains me to say it,. her drawing was good.

Paul McCall said...

Larry, how fast was she doing a person?

Erik Bongers said...

From temporarily homeless to park ranger/painter would be a leap.
Sounds like a thin line he's walking on and I hope he succeeds.

But what is the "VA"?

OMWO said...

>But what is the "VA"?

Veterans Affairs perhaps?

I really liked this post. It always pains me that it is so hard to make a decent living from a real skill, while ignorant pricks with a degree in crap make fat paychecks for doing essentialy nothing more than damage to each other in the corporate world.

More and more it seems to me that most jobs are no more than crowd control - let's keep'em busy lest they hurt themselves with too much free time. Actual skill to do something good and pleasing to ther people is hardly rewarded.

Ah, forget it, I'm sounding bitter. Not what I meant to do at all, actually I found the post endearing. I always had the greatest admiration for the street portrait guys who can capture a likeness consistently in a flash.

James Gurney said...

Paul, yes I've screwed up my share of books at signings with names like "Kaisey" and "Saira." Now I ask the spelling, even if I sound like a dunce.

Omwo, I agree with your sentiments. I'm reminded of that Joni Mitchell song about the street musician who sang "real good for free."

Eric, Omwo had it right: I believe the Veteran's Administration, among its other responsibilities, is supposed to help vets with job placement. Mark served in the Vietnam War, when they had an art program, and he did portraits of officers and enlisted men. I wonder if this program is still going.

Random York said...

That was a great blog entry Jim. I can hardly wait for our local fair in September- it offers is a rich vein of people and things to sketch. The "Cartoon Guy" does neat work. Long live the "Sharpie"!

Timpa said...

This might be interesting for you guys, a PBS documentary called "They drew fire", about illustrators during WWII.

http://video.aol.com/video-detail/they-drew-fire-combat-artists-of-world-war-ii/3665336072

you can watch it online for 4 bucks. It used to be free...

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Nice post James - I hope he gets his wish.

terriblemichael said...

the cartoon guy is my father. literally. the old man does live in a church parking lot and has about a million dogs which is why he still pays the morgage on the house where his ex-wife (the term is used loosely) still lives in alexandria, KY. i have been to so many of these fairs with him and they are always a good time. i think that my dad as well as the other "street artists" would be able to make it in the capital world but they just refuse to grow up which is the biggest thing that i like about the old guy. he does what he wants in most if not every situation. if thats good or bad is yet to be seen. later mark. Kaitlin said hi and she want a betty-lou. so now i have to go spend $600 on a huge dog.

James Gurney said...

Wow. Thanks, Michael. I admire your dad's freedom, and the fact that he does what he wants. I spent the better part of a year riding freight trains and sketching portraits in bars, and I miss the footloose feeling of being on the prowl around America with nothing but a pen to earn the next meal. I'm glad you honor your dad.

Lifes said...

What a neat article and a super sweet guy! I have had the privilege of working with and next to Mark. He is amazing at what he does and continues to do. Mark touches lives in many many positive ways. It is comforting to know that his work will be shared by myself and families all over the country and beyond. Thanks Mark for being a part of my life and allowing me to be a part of yours. I will cherish the times we had forever. P.S. Same time next Year! Lynette in WI