When you sketch in a street festival as a means of livelihood, it is necessary to stand out, seem slightly nutty, wear a reckless air and have a portable stereo bang out K-Pop real loud.
If you are a skilled caricaturist, you’ll have an easily foldable rig, which when unpacked sports an easel, a flat box of crayons, charcoal sticks and marker pens and a small foldable stool. And an umbrella. You don’t want ta get everything wet in case it rains.
All your sketching gear, when packed up, is heavy. So, you have a porter’s barrow, also foldable, to transport the stuff from the back of your Ford Transit Minivan jalopy. You prop up your portable stereo on the barrow and rig it up to a heavy duty battery so it will run the whole day, no problem.
The music is important, especially if its Arabic or Japanese or some other exotic stuff that folks in the west don’t usually get ta hear. Everything you employ in your trade is a prop.
You arrive at the festival before the street has begun to fill up and you carefully unpack and arrange everything. You lay out your pencils and sharpen them one by one, handling them as though you were born with them between your fingers.
To sharpen your pencils, you don’t use one of those safety sharpeners – you have a really sharp jack-knife, with which you sharpen your pencils with calm slicing motions. Unlike regular sketch artists who like to have all shades handy, from 6B to 6H, you like simplicity – for you just HB, 2B and 4H are enough. No fancy shmancy stuff for you.
You are choosy about the lead though. They might be just a loonie and ten cents a dozen, but you know your pencils. They have ta be from a natural graphite mine buried in a strata a hundred meters below the Laurentian countryside. The graphite from there is 95% pure. (A loonie is a Canadian $1 coin).
And you won’t be caught dead in a ditch with a pencil with a ‘bum rubber’ on the end. That would be below your dignity. No, Siree. You have chunks of a special clay-like rubber that you can knead and shape any way you like. One swipe and your paper is spotless.
You fidget and shift around, arranging the easel, the sketching stuff and the stereo, fastidiously, exactly the way a drummer moves his drums and pedals around so they are in just the right position.
And finally when you think you are all set up, you sit back on your stool with a sigh and a sip from the Tim Hortons coffee cup you had brought along. It is going to be a long, hot day.
Oh, I forgot ta mention this – you have another caricaturist’s prop, one that is more of a psychological aide, but no less important than your beloved pencils – an icebox in the van, jammed with cans of beer. You are going ta begin depleting your stock around noon.
You are not wistful about how life should have turned out. You were born into an affluent family – affluent, until your father, an alcoholic, lost everything in one poker binge at the Mohawk Casino in Kahnawake, one torturous night in 1995. And then, driving back home, he ended it all by crashing straight through the aluminum guard rails that wound round the Autoroute-20 as it passed through a steep curve before getting on the Mercier Bridge.
No, you have a sunny disposition. You are the quintessential pick up and move on guy. You have picked up and you have moved on. You want to be a cartoonist and to that end you have been applying to all the major news organizations and magazines.
The New Yorker recently sent you an email, informing you that you are being actively considered for a ‘staff cartoonist’ position. That is a big deal since The New Yorker has cartoons all over – even on its cover, which is exclusively done with cartoon caricatures.
One other thing happened to you today. You bumped into this scraggly old Bengali from the Eastern Indian state of West Bengal. He was a pest, asking all those questions about your life and your pencils and all. Of course you don’t want ta call him a pest – he tipped you a tenner.
Jesus, who are these Bengalis? You make a mental note ta google them, soon as you get home. But right now, the joint is filling up. Folks are peeking over each other’s shoulders and sniggering at the Bengali and the gradually forming caricature.
They are unsure as to which is real and which the caricature.