Monday night, the 18th I worked till 11:pm painting elevator lobbies in the Pace Gallery high-rise on 57th. Afterwards I wandered down to Times Square and set up between 42nd and 43rd beside a lone Chinese portraitess. I only had 3 sample pieces to display, but I didn't fret; if someone wants a portrait, they are not looking for quantity in a display. My work differs from the Chinese in that I draw with a litho crayon, not charcoal. This makes it impossible for me to get that silky smooth blending and shading that makes their work so attractive, nor can I erase to make highlights and corrections. I must rely on a more graphic approach and work without making mistakes. To my advantage, I finish faster and my work stands out as different.
After setting up, this kid with a wannabe hipster goatee stopped by to overpatronize me with smarm. "Oh, man. Wow! These are SO good. Can I have your card, man?" I think he was so annoying because he reminded me of myself when I was 17.
"Sure." I say flatly and hand him one.
"I'm gathering together the world's LARgest artist collective!"
"Yeah. It's gonna be GREAT!"
"..." Blank stare.
"This stuff is really cool. You know, making and creating things is, like, what holds people like us together."
This is the point, I suppose, where I should have said- 'Sit down, I'll draw you.' and then wrangled a price he could afford, even offering a free one to pull in business, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
"Well, it was good to meet you." he said and held out his fist in the 'Brooklyn Respect' shake (two fists pressed together on the flats of the knuckles.) I acquiessed and gave him my fist, and he moved on. A minute later I looked over and he was being drawn by the Chinese woman next to me. She handled his exuberance by talking loudly in Chinese on her cell phone for the entire 25 minutes she was drawing and still managed a fair likeness. He gave her what looked like 30 dollars and left. She packed up as well.
I had a lot of casual interest but no bites until 1:30 when a policeman, A really nice, soft spoken guy from the Bronx, started asking me questions about my trade, and we talked enjoyable for nearly half an hour. During this time despite the thinning crowd, numerous people stopped to ask the officer directions, and many others. because I was engaged in conversation, were able to stare at my art without feeling threatened by a sales pitch. Eventually someone tentatively interrupted, "Um excuse me, How much are these?"
"20 dollars." I could already tell they were going to get one.
"Could you do us both on one?" She asked, hopefully looking at her boyfriend.
"Sure, but it's $20 a person." Their faces fell. "I'll give it to you for $30." They exchanged glances nodding. "Sit right down. Where you guys from?"
"Vancouver." She had sat in the chair and he positioned himself standing perfectly still beside her, one hand on her shoulder. After about 3 minutes of drawing her, I realized he thought I was drawing both of them at once.
"Hey, you can come around and watch, I can only draw one at a time." He was much relieved.
Her face had me worried. It was the first of the night, of the season for that matter, and it often takes one to warm up. Plus, she was part Indian and she had one of those jawlines that changes with the slightest turn of the head. It's really hard to avoid making it lumpy or fat, but somehow I managed. As soon as I put the jawline in, I heard the oohs and ahhs of the onlookers and I knew I wouldn't need to finish in great detail.
His face was easy- big dark eyebrows, thick lidded deep set eyes, large nostrils, lips with defined edges, and a moustache and beard (which makes any jawline trouble reworkable) and even though he gave me a 3/4 pose I had quite a crowd singing my praises halfway through. "Oh my! He is GOOD!" and "Why, that looks just like him." and "You really got 'im, Chief!"
I stopped drawing much earlier than I wanted to, hoping to get another customer and not wanting his side of the page looking far better than hers. They were more than pleased and tipped me 5 dollars, but when I turned around the streets were suddenly empty. My crowd had vanished. Everyone but my officer freind and his partner who both stood there smiling. I started packing up. "That's it?" my friend asked.
"Yeah. It looks pretty dead." They watched me load up, we said good night, and I headed home.