When I was 15 years old, I saw an ad in The Sandusky Register to be an artist at our local amusement park, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. If you asked me when I took the job if I would still be working there after college, I definitely would have said, “no”. So as I stood at the same location 12 years later with a College Degree, I remember dreading the moments that someone from High School would stop and say, “Hey, Heather! What have you been up to?”
There is nothing else on this planet that I despise more than an amusement park.
The company I worked for, Kaman’s Art Shoppes, was great for artistic types and helping creative minds learn sales, managing people, a business and operations. It also gave people like me, who are driven and competitive, an opportunity to make a ton of cash. All of the sales were commissioned based, and I could sell like crazy. Eventually they started sending me to parks all over the country, to hit high sales, teach others how to make money and learn all of the random crafts that they sold. By the time I circled back to Ohio, I had learned how to produce all kinds of shitty art to hustle amusement park guests: Caricatures, Pastel Portraits, Hand-cut Silhouettes, Hair Wraps, Face Paintings, Routed Wood Signs, Rice Jewelry, Carved Rings, Henna Tattoos, etc… etc… Need a camera set up on a Roller Coaster? I’m your girl.
Upon graduation from Penn State in 2002, I didn’t have a whole lot of options. As appealing as the offer to work for plumbing supplier in Lakewood, New Jersey (the Hasidic Jewish Capital of the US) was, I chose another route. I took an offer to manage Sesame Place in Philadelphia during the summers and spent winters in Florida at Sea World and Busch Gardens. I also got really fat.
My art was mediocre compared to my coworker’s. Pro Caricature artists would call my caricatures “Cute-icatures” because I would make people look cuter than they really were (An ingenious selling strategy in my opinion). My main weakness was drawing those little bodies. My bodies are awful. And horses… I can’t draw a horse. My theory was, “They probably don’t know the difference.” And for the most part, they didn’t. Every once in a while, they’d get rejected (a reject is when someone doesn’t want to buy your drawing because they think it doesn’t look like them. See www.rejectsthebook.com , by the talented Mr. Bluhm).
In my 12th year, I returned to Cedar Point and was working at a stand with a few of the best caricature artists in the country. It was raining and the park was empty. I still wanted to make some cash, so I was on high alert for anyone that might want a drawing. Sure enough, a little girl walked up to the stand.
I sat her in my chair, and asked her what she wanted to be doing in her picture.
“I want to be riding a horse.” She said.
“How about a cheerleader?” I happily reply.
“No, thank you. I really want to be riding a horse.”
“A horse is Okay, but wouldn’t you rather be doing something super cool, like playing soccer, dancing or….. you could be a mermaid!!! How about a mermaid!!???” I was NOT going to give up the sale to another artist….
“I have been riding horses all of my life, it’s my birthday and really want to be on a horse!”
Muscling through it, I start to draw the ugliest horse that I’ve ever seen. It looks like a brown and grey hippo coming out of the little girl’s crotch. I scribbled some high grass so that I didn’t have to draw the legs. It takes me 15 minutes. It’s the longest 15 minutes EVER.
As I was working away, my fellow artists were walking up behind me saying things like, “What ya drawin’ Heather? Is that a HORSE?” “Wow, that’s great!” (looking at the girl) “Oh, you’re gonna love it!” Assholes.
Despite my attempt to hold it in, I was silent laughing so hard that my shoulders were violently shaking and tears were streaming down my face. I had to hide behind the easel as I was sketching so that the little girl didn’t witness my hysterics.
I finished the drawing, ripped it off of the drawing board, showed it to her, held my chin high, forced big smile and said, “IT’S YOU!” She loved it. Her mom bought the largest frame that we sold, and put it on hold at the stand. To make matters worse, the girl kept bringing her friends back to show it to her.
My friends, these amazing artists, still make fun of me for that drawing. The poor young lady probably still has that picture of herself, as a little girl, humping a hippo that seems to be entangled in high grass. If I ever see that drawing again, I will set it on fire.
Shortly after, I quit working in amusement parks and moved to Colorado.
Did I think that she should have bought the drawing? Who cares? Am I proud that I was able to make that extra 20 bucks and have higher sales than my peers? Hell yes. I see much worse art in people’s houses, restaurants and at arts festivals regularly. Did I still practice to get better? Of course.
At least I tried. Without taking on challenges, we will never find our strengths.
Confidence is everything. Confidence should come from experience, talent and hard work. I still can’t draw a stupid cartoon horse very well, but I definitely can sell one.