Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Fig" Newton, Carnival Worker

Yesterday I took my compact watercolor kit "into the wild" to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York and painted an impromptu portrait of James "Fig" Newton, the oldest carnival worker at the fair.

He was assigned to a ball-toss game in Kiddie Land. A bucket of ping pong balls cost five dollars. The goal was to toss a ball into one of the glass bowls floating by on little rafts in a circular wading pool. 

The game looked impossible and nobody was going for it. 

I asked him if I could sketch him while he waited between customers, and he was glad for the diversion.

Fig is 71 years old. He has been in the carnival business for 48 years, working mostly in New York State. He has saved up money to help his nephew get started in glassblowing, and he just sent his daughter $500 so his grandkids could get outfitted for school.

He said when a family walks by he can tell right away who makes the decisions and who's got the money. Sometimes it's the dad, and sometimes it's the mom. I asked him if he had a good sales pitch to pull people in. "This game's not worth my barking," he said.

Every fifteen minutes or so a family would come up, pay the money, and a kid would toss the balls one by one. 

Ping--Splash.  Plip -- Splash.  Dink, Dink -- Splash. 
As each kid went away disappointed, Fig got up to his feet, leaned over the plastic pool, and scooped out the ping pong balls with a kitchen strainer.

The portrait took about an hour. I used watercolor and colored pencils, with a little gouache for the edge lighting, highlights, teeth and the blue collar. When I showed it to him, he shook my hand and said, "Good. You got my scowl."


Unknown said...

Fig sounds like "Employee of the Month" material.

SE said...

How do you get the gouache to looks so pure in the highlighs? I just started using the medium this summer, and my white highlights look grey or grey-brown. I even wait for the paint on the paper to dry before applying the lighter pigment. Yea, no avail! Anyone know what to do to make white gouache clean? I'm ready to go back to acrylic.

James Gurney said...

Sam, to get pure whiteness, there's the obvious stuff like clean palette and clean brush, but also use titanium, not zinc white of a good brand of paint. Also, use it thickly from the tube, even letting it dry a bit to get pasty rather than runny. And just put down a touch and leave it--no working the stroke.

Unknown said...

Shave the moustache and whiten the hair - he'd look a lot like my own Grandad...

Sounds like he's got an interesting life, though I imagine a hard one at times, too.