Ty, the Rambling Artist
The art of making drawing smiles and making connections, anywhere in the world.
I have been a caricature artist for many years. In that time, as you can imagine, I have had some crazy experiences. Some have been good, some have been incredible, some have been frightening and others have just been weird. And yet, through it all, the truth that I get to wake up and live every single day is that I love what I do. I love the people I meet and the stories I hear. As a caricaturist at Walt Disney World, I love being a part of what, for some, is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I love people and almost every day that I stand behind that easel, I’m gifted with a memory
Several years back I received a gig from an agent. It was a birthday party for a 3-year old girl so I pictured myself drawing a lot of little princesses with big eyes and soft features. At the time, the only things that struck me as odd about this request were the length of time for which they wanted an artist, and the time at which the party was going to start. I was scheduled to work this little girls birthday party from 8:00-11:00 p.m. I thought that surely the agent had misunderstood the request and that the party was really for a 30-year-old. However, when I called the client to confirm the gig and find out what they wanted printed on the paper, it was, in fact, “Happy 3rd Birthday Mikayla!”. It was strange but I’ve seen strange before, I’m a caricature artist. As I drove to the gig on that Saturday night, my GPS sent me out into a remote area of South Fort Worth. There were no houses out there, just land and horses and cows. There were so many cows. And then I saw something in the distance. Was that a Ferris Wheel? Sure enough, this is where I was headed. As I approached the gate, I could make out several carnival rides on the horizon. The Ferris Wheel was the most obvious but it looked as if a midway had materialized in the middle of nowhere. When I had talked to my client, a jovial man named Javier, he had given me a passcode to get into the gate. This was not odd as many neighborhoods are now gated and require a passcode to enter. What was odd about this particular gate, however, was that there was no keypad - or landscaped wall announcing the name of the subdivision. There was no subdivision. Just a locked gate and a speaker with a button. I pressed the button and the static crackled over the old rusty speaker. “PASSCODE?” I heard a gruff voice ask. At this point I’m starting to feel a bit uneasy about the entire situation. What was I getting myself into? I steadied my voice and read off the series of numbers that Javier had given me when we spoke on that phone. I began to tell him that I was the caricature artist for the party but before I could get that out, the gate beeped and slowly began to open. I was suddenly on a small dirt road headed off toward the horizon and the Ferris Wheel in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. It seemed to take a very long time for that dirt road to eventually lead anywhere. As I traveled closer, I started to make out more of the party. There were 3 circus tents, carnival rides and several motorhomes, one that had a wrap touting the name of a Mexican band. Past all of the festivities, I started to see a very large home, ornately gilded with fountains and impeccable landscaping. Approximately 10 miles from the gate, I came to a lot that had been designated for parking. I was met by two armed parking attendants, who questioned me (just to make sure I wasn’t lost) and showed me where to park. Once out of the car, I was escorted to a security outpost where my things were all inspected. After the security team was convinced I wasn’t a threat, I was told to proceed to the second circus tent where I would meet the event planner who had hired me. As I was walking toward my tent, down that dirt farm road, I noticed the fencing along the way. There was a wooden fence that seemed to be supporting a shorter chain fence. Leaning up against this permanent fence were many curved pieces of fencing that looked like they would fit together to form a large oval. As my brain began to process what I was looking at, there was a loud, angry rush from the other side as, what sounded like, dozens of angry dogs hit the fence, which shook under their force. I jumped back, even loaded down with my equipment and the dogs continued to bark and growl. My brain quickly went back to that fencing. Angry dogs, metal arena…. OH! I picked up my pace as the dogs continued to snarl.
“Where AM I and WHO are these people?” I’m thinking as I come upon the first real attraction of this three-year-old’s birthday party - a car show. Here in this grassy area sat dozen of low-riders with lots of chrome and paint that would change color as the light hit it. There were SUVs painted solid gold that had hydraulics to make them seems as if they were “dancing” and each vehicle was decked out to the hilt, seemingly screaming for your attention. Two armed men covered in tattoos with gold jewelry that seemed to match the cars were standing by. I was out of place here, no doubt.
By this point, I was beginning to near the heart of the event. I walked through a row of motor homes and tour buses making my way toward that second tent. As I walked past the bus that obviously belonged to the band, the door opened and I was greeted with a large waft of skunks-smelling smoke. Through the cloud, a few members of the horns section emerged, laughing and joking in their silky puffy-sleeved shirts and rhinestone-laden bell bottoms. I immediately hoped that I would be able to set up next to the band as they were obviously going to be putting on a great show. I always draw better with music.
As I arrived at the first tent, I noticed rows of long buffet tables filled with food and dozens of service staff busting around like ants to try to keep everything replenished. Between the first and second tents was the “bounce section” with just about every inflatable house, slide and obstacle course you can imagine. Young children were running from one to the other squealing with delight. This was the first time I had actually seen anything that even remotely resembled a 3-year-old’s birthday party.
Past the second tent I could finally make out the midway area. Aside from the Ferris Wheel that I had first noticed, there was a Zipper, the Disco Toboggin, the Spinning Barrel of Anti-Puke thingy, a Fun House and many other things that are staples at most State Fairs. Once again “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE” dominates my thoughts.
About this time, I came to my destination, the second tent. Here I met with the event planner who walked me around and introduced me to some of the other entertainers lucky enough to work this gig. There were several face-painters, balloon artists, a couple of psychics and another caricature artist. She showed me where I was to set up and disappeared. I began to unpack my easel, happily noticing that I could hear the Tejano music of the band well but I wasn’t so close to them that I’d have trouble hearing my guests.
Once we were set up, and just before the sun set, our event planner brought around the host of the party to meet us. I have no idea if this was the “Javier” I had spoken to on the phone, as his name was never given in the introductions but I instantly liked him. He was a short, portly man with beautifully groomed hair and a braided rattail that fell down past his belt. He was wearing large gold rings on each finger and about five pounds of gold on each wrist and around his neck that was laden with turquoise and other jewels. As I was introduced, he shook my hand and flashed me a brilliant, warm smile. We conversed for a few moments and I liked him almost instantly. I suddenly had no real desire to know anything about the dogs or the skunky band guys or what might be in the private lake just beyond the mansion.
Once I was set up and began to actually draw, it was much like any other event. I drew couples that looked like they had come to the party straight from church. I drew children with their parents. I drew men who looked like they were audtioning for a role in the Mexican Sopranos. I even drew one of these men who when I asked what he did for a living (a question that I had sworn I wouldn’t ask but old habits die hard), he told me that he works in the “family body shop.” I left that one alone. It was one of the friendliest and most diverse crowds I had every drawn. Everyone was friendly and the host came around with “Cervezas” often enough to keep us loose and happy.
At the end of the gig, when most of the guests had left, the band had retreated to their tour bus and the other artists were packing up and preparing to make the long walk back to their cars, the host came around again, this time carrying a large roll of bills instead of beer. He came by and said, “Thank you” to each and every one of us and I noticed that at the end of each conversation, He would peel off several bills and hand them to the entertainer. When it was my turn, he again shook my hand using a warm two-handed grip, looked me directly in the eye and thanked me for making “Mikayla’s” birthday so special and memorable. (I don’t think I ever even actually met Mikayla to tell you the truth) but the host was thrilled and therefore, so was I. As he had done with the other artists, he peeled off three $100 bills and handed them to me. I thanked him and he began to laugh, his eyes sparkling. He told me how he had been watching me throughout the evening and how much he appreciated my humor and talented. I was flattered. He then placed his arm around me and asks without a hint of teasing in his voice, “Hey…. you wanna girl?” I was shocked and silent, my brain trying to find a way to respond. He took my silence for confusion. “A girl.” He said. “You know, my way of showing you how much I appreciate your time with us tonight. I’ve got plenty up at the house. If you want one for the night, she’s yours.” By now my brain had caught up and I sputtered out a “Thanks but no thanks” type of reply. “I have a great girl waiting for me at home” I said. He stared at me for, what seemed like, an eternity. I wondered if I had offended him by turning down his offer. At this point, I wanted to get my things and leave. I envied the guys in the tour bus probably without a care in the world. Suddenly, with his arm still around me, the host broke out into, at first, a warm smile and then a hearty laugh. He removed his arm from around my neck and fist-bumped me on the shoulder. “You’re a good guy!” he said. “Here, go home to your woman and then take her out for a nice dinner on me.” He then peeled off three more hundred-dollar bills and handed them to me. “She’s lucky to have you”. And with that, I headed off with my easel toward past the tents and the car show and the angry dogs, knowing that I had just experienced something the likes of which I might never see again.
I never found out who they were and I’m all but certain that I couldn’t find that house again if I had to, nor would I want to. I think of it a bit like the Island on ‘LOST’. It was there and now it isn’t but it definitely left an impression on me. It was a truly enjoyable gig and to this day, I can honestly say that for all of the amazing tips Ive received, that is the only time in my life that I have been offered “a girl”.
From Ty Walls:
After four decades drawing smiles I often encounter remarkable people. I've learned to create little special moments for people from all around the world with my simple smile-drawing skills. But sometimes, life creates little magical moments for me. This blog is my attempt to share them with you.