Archive for August, 2010

As you’re getting all the ingredients for your party together, after you’ve made arrangements for the food and the flowers, put two more things on your list of what you have to get: 1) a spectacular view of the lake and 2) a cellist.  Are you writing this down?  Good, because, take it from me—3) that caricature artist—I go to parties for a living.  And this little bash at The Hallmark yesterday afternoon was nothing less than inspiring. The view of the lake with sailboats, the runners, the golf course, and the clear blue sky from the 37th floor on Lake Shore Drive (LSD) near Belmont was exhilarating.  But on top of that, the music.  One good cellist is all you need to set the tone, so to speak.   For rich sounds, sophisticated and witty, rooted in Bach, Gershwin and Eddie Gomez, I will henceforth recommend Tom Culver, whose sensitive, energetic playing received much admiring comment. People, were frankly amazed at the fabulous sounds he got out of one instrument and, of course, his trusty acoustic device. He should be famous.

When the music is good, the drawing goes better.  And when the business that brings everybody together for a networking event has to do with social work, with caring for people, with nursing, with decorating apartments for them, with creating graceful living conditions, all that, then the event will inevitably be joyful.  I noticed a long time ago in my professional party going, that the cultivation of compassion goes hand in hand with a robust sense of humor.  The laughter is heartfelt and heads are thrown back when they see the drawing of themselves.  I’ll have to take a stand on this:  caregivers like nurses, social workers and therapists have the best laugh of any group I’ve drawn.  (See post for 8.22.10, “Laughter Therapy”) Nobody has figured out how laughter works, physically or psychologically, but we all know it’s essential to life.





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Last night I spent three hours at the Hard Rock Café, under a photo of Elvis.  Across the room was a framed jacket from Ray Charles’s elegant wardrobe.  The food looked smart, but I only had time to sneak some chocolate fudge squares from the desert table before the drawing started and then there was no stopping.  This was a party for party planners.  It was networking for networking professionals.  It was fun for people who organize fun.  And here comes the plug:  the caricaturist they chose for themselves was…me.   Ta-tah!  Thank you, thank you!  I drew them funny and they in turn will have me at their next party.    There’s a funny sort of logic in that. Works for me.   Seriously, it was a blast.  The photos don’t do justice to the energy in that room.  (“Energy” is definitely a party planners’ word.)

Lovely people.  They’re concerned with  ambiance, feeling, style,  the memorable moment; but at the same time tradition, decorum, appropriateness;  and on top of all that… details, details, details.  Pretty complicated job.  The whole ball o’ wax, without any dripping, please.

BTW,   has anyone made a camera that can read a big white rectangle surrounded by a spot of beaming flesh and lots of nightlife darkness?  Oh, tell me, somebody, what would that be?

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Laughter Therapy made the front page of the New York Times yesterday. People are getting together to laugh, about something or nothing, just to laugh. There’s a laugh therapist to get them started. They laugh for an hour.  Then they feel better, their physical pains are gone and they feel no anxiety, go home and sleep soundly for the first time in days.  This is news?  Don’t make me laugh.  I’ve been working as a professional laughter therapist since 1989 when I hung out my shingle, which says:  Caricatures by Katherine Hilden. It’s well known that laughter dilates the arteries; lowers blood pressure; reduces anxiety;  reduces stress hormones; increases muscle flexion; trims the abdomen; boosts the immune function;  triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and produces a general sense of well-being.  I didn’t know any of this when I started drawing caricatures professionally.  I thought I did it because I was good at it, I enjoyed it and people were throwing money at me for making their guests laugh. Over the years I’ve been reading about the health benefits of laughter and lo and behold I’m actually doing a good deed when I draw people funny. Not that I’m one of Oprah’s angels, but I must tell you that for me the fist-full of money I get for drawing people at a party is not enough.  I get a tremendous satisfaction from seeing them crack up and laugh uncontrollably.  It’s hard for me to get a shot of this reaction because it’s so fast,  but some of the videos I have on YouTube show it.  Here are some links that may crack you up.  Hey, it’s good for you!





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Love and Logic says it all.  It’s a way of raising responsible children without resort to physical, mental or emotional violence.  The fact that many of us can’t imagine any other approach is an optimistic sign of cultural evolution.  But, of course, it’s a very recent idea.

Kids Town Academy, a new preschool day care center, will open in the fall on Grand Road in Gurnee and will be dedicated to this enlightened approach to child rearing.  Talk to children in a way that makes sense and respects their integrity and yours.  Over this past weekend, the organizers of Kids Town Academy participated in Gurnee Days , a big two-day town celebration that included a parade, a talent show (“Gurnee Idol”) and acres of white tents in the park.  The founder of the school, Rick Duncan, had the good sense to bring in a caricaturist—me, yeah!—to draw and draw in the crowd.  No, not the crowd, just the little ones in the crowd.  The little ones…the really little ones…the belly button cuddlies…many of whom preferred to stick to their napping schedules…and the occasional sibling, already in school.   So, sitting still for the artist was not yet a meaningful skill.  Artist, what artist, this is not what life is about, pick up my pacifier, will you.  But then there were babies who were very curious about this set-up, where somebody looks straight at you for a couple of minutes.  Errr, a couple of seconds, more like it.  Drawing babies means being fast on the draw.  A glance, a quick read of the shape and color of the eyes, positioning of the ears, the pouty bow of the mouth.  And a quick read of the personality.  Oh, yes, at a few weeks there’s already a personality.  Fascinating.  The family dynamics, fascinating.  The whole gig up there in Gurnee, fascinating.   And the sounds from the nearby band shell, where twelve-year olds were noodling through complex chord changes in the hope of winning the “Gurnee Idol” title—sweet.  Thank you,  Rick, Christine and Lynette!  http://www.kidstownillinois.com     http://www.loveandlogic.com


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More Mini Cooper Lovers

The event at Soldier Field on Sunday was called Mini Takes the States. The team was driving from Chicago to Denver, with several cities in between. After Chicago it was on to Indianapolis, where Mini Cooper lovers got to drive on the Speedway. Wow.  Anyway, back in Chicago on Sunday,  I had pre-printed 150 sheets of paper with the car and logo–this is possible because I draw at the rate of 3-4  minutes per person–but I only drew about fifty people, because of the weather conditions.  Of the people I draw at an event, only very few get a photo op, because of others standing in line.  Due to the wind on Sunday, the photo efforts turned into a slight of hand with wafting drawing paper.  Here, then, are a few more Mini Cooper lovers who congregated in Chicago on Sunday to celebrate their love of the Mini.  Ahhh.  Ohhh.  Oooo…  Btw, John Cooper (1923-2000), the designer,  had a passion for race cars, was a race car driver himself, and took his car through the Indy Speedway in 1960 at 144.8 mi/hr.  I’m beginning to understand why there were so many guys here in Chicago  on Sunday,  eager to speed through those turns in the parking lot.


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You drove your Chevy to the levee, maybe, and I don’t question that you loved that car.  But yesterday, in a Soldier Field parking lot I learned to what length people will go if they drive a Mini Cooper.  And apparently to drive one is to love one.  They drove their Mini Coopers from Ann Arbor to Chicago and from Madison to Chicago and from way up in Michigan to Chicago just to be with other Mini Cooper owners and to drive through a simulated race course set up in this parking lot. It was a love fest. (If there was a sales promotion involved, I saw no signs of such a thing.)  Mini Cooper drivers congregated to celebrate with others who shared their love of this car.  I was the only caricature artist in the area chosen to draw them, and I drew from nine to five, through rain and shine, literally.  At ten it started raining with blustering winds; at two the sun was out.  Everybody remained in good spirits, throughout. I for one, felt inspired.

Interesting people, these Cooperites!  Unusually verbal and communicative, story tellers, into all sorts of stuff, witty types, smart….A big burly tool maker,  who has owned six Mini Coopers, tells me that after the surgery on his skull the a gorgeous blond surgeon informed him that she had to drill a whole into his skull and he asked  her what size drill bit she used.  A writer who blogs about celebrities hair dos.  A woman, who drives a canary yellow Mini Cooper comes with her son and grandson, every one of them in canary yellow t-shirts and windbreakers,  tells me about her ancestors moving from Germany, where famine ruled, to Katherine the Great’s Russia and how her grandmother made it to Ellis Island with two small children and pregnant with twins and this narrative tickles  me to tell her about my ancestors who also had pioneering adventures in the 18th century and we exchange contact information and all this takes place in driving rain and wind under a rattling tent surrounded by these lovely cars, between the lake and the Chicago sky line.  You may be exhausted  just reading this, but I was exhilarated, as I listened and plunked my forearms onto the table to keep my drawing materials from blowing and rolling away.  There was a guy who impressed me with his job, fixing x-ray machines, and claimed it wasn’t hard, but I saw right through his modesty and told him so and he said when he first bought a Mini Cooper his wife said, Oh, a clown-car.  Well, to my design-loving  eye, it’s elegant and witty.  A man named Lewis, who sells Jaguars and Landrovers in Tinley Park, has a love of art history and an architect son with an inscrutable mind and we talked about the similarity between math and art.  All this, as I’m drawing them and battling the gusts of wind.  A tall skinny tanned extrovert has a tattoo on his upper arm in the shape of the heart beat rhythm recorded on the what’s-it machines and when I ask him about it he tells me it’s because he’s had numerous heart surgeries, but I find that hard to believe because he’s so young and this prompts him to ask me to guess his age, to which I say twenty-seven and he says, it must be the hair, which is falling over his forehead like too much of a good thing, and he slides his glasses onto the top of his head and tells me he’s fifty-two and then he keeps pouring out his vitality as if his life depended on it and I draw him twice, one front view and one profile, because he’s such good company and because everybody else standing around is in favor of the  double take.  There was a car lover (can fix anything) named Nick who said it was just a nickname.  And there were dancers.  A couple named Jason and Melanie will be performing this fall at the Harris Theater, that level of dancing, mind you, and I will look up the performances and go.  Beautiful people!  I drew them twice, also, front and side views, how could I not. Another dancer came with her friend who works backstage and these people stole the show.  When she, the dancer, discovered a  baby squirrel under the table, placed it on the table in front of me and got a banana for it,  a crowd of about fifteen onlookers immediately gathered around.  My art was upstaged. The squirrel nibbling at the banana was the center of attention for several minutes.   When I resumed my work, I knew it was time to upgrade my act.  I have to get a squirrel costume.  And I have to get a Mini Cooper.

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How to Draw a Librarian

How?  With paper, pencil, and good posture.  Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed drawing them and I probably slouched a little when I did the drawings.  Turns out, librarians have a sense of humor, like all intelligent people.

I had been invited to fill the second floor display case at the Park Ridge Library with images and information about the Art of Caricature.  I was most happy to comply, of course.   So I drove to the well appointed library in beautiful down town Park Ridge, set myself up in Reference and drew thirteen staff members plus the president of the library. It didn’t take long, about four minutes per person, and off they were,  looking things up, solving problems left and right and generally showing off how organized,  competent and reliable  they are.   It’s what they do.  Now the 14 x 11 drawings are all up in the display case and patrons can see the people who’ve been answering their serious questions seriously in a lighter light.

The display case is fifteen feet long and about 5 feet high.  I had a ton of material to share, but chose just five themes.  1) The Librarians;  2) A small selection of the work I did at the Chicago History Museum from 2008 to spring 2010, which comes to hundreds of drawings that deserve a closer look in a future blog, I promise; 3) Party caricatures, of which you can see plenty right here on this blog; 4) drawing Garrison Keillor step by step,  as shown here in the post for May 10, 2010; and 5) some historical notes about the history of caricature: Leonardo da Vinci, William Hogarth, Honore Daumier, Pablo Picasso, Miguel Covarrubia,  Al Hirschfeld.  This last category is fascinating—Picasso, a caricaturist?!—will also be developed in some detail…later.  There are too many parties right now to report on.

The display at the Park Ridge Library is on the second floor and will be up through the month of August. It’s entertaining and, hey, educational!

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The village of Orland Park, south-west of Chicago, calls itself the “world’s golf club.”  It’s only a slight exaggeration.   I was drawing at a party in a golf club in Orland Park last night and I can attest to the lush, green environment in that neck-o’-the-woods.  A family was celebrating the christening of two baby girls.  There were a hundred-and-fifty guests—beautiful, well-to-do sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles and aunts.  Lots of expensive, buff bodies on the dance floor after the sumptuous dinner.  Throughout it all, I was set up near the gift table drawing anybody who sat down in front of me.  In my twenty-one years as a professional caricaturist, I’ve noticed that at a family gathering, adults tend to defer to the children and when all the children are drawn, the adults also come around to get their caricature.  I took very few photos last night because my battery ran out. So, all I have is a few shots of children.  Now, these kids were very well behaved, both boys and girls.  They all knew how to sit still for a couple of minutes, which is all that’s required for being drawn by a caricature artist.  But there was one big difference in the way boys and girls sat.  Girls smiled and boys didn’t.  We can take these sentences out of the past tense and put them into the present:  Girls smile and boys don’t.  My experience last night was not unusual.  It’s how it is, generally:  girls smile, boys don’t, even if they’re only four years old.  There are exceptions, of course.  But most often I only get a smile out of a boy, after the drawing is done and I turn it around for him to see. Then he’s all teeth and grins. He cracks up.  During the actual drawing process,  uh-uhh, he’ll sit and stare like John Knox about to deliver an admonition.

This reminds me of a photo taken by the German photographer, August Sander (1876-1964), who did penetrating character studies of his contemporaries.   Here’s an uncanny portrait from 1925 of a pair of twins, probably not older than four.

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