The things I learn ...
Rambling about the art of making little magical moments.
I'm just now getting my land legs. Yesterday the travel day started at 5:00 a.m. I was one of the first crew members debarking the ship. We landed at midnight. My luggage beat me home. The rest of the travel day kinda goes the way as you might imagine. Gate change in the last hour to a terminal across the airport. As we were taxiing to the runway, my notice of gate change chimed in. Then when I unpacked my easel from its own case, padded by dirty clothes, it had a broken leg.
Today was a day of rest and reflection. I drifted in and out of naps. In addition to the entertainers I met on the ship, I thought about a friend of mine and his jazz trio. I imagined that a few of my best event entertainers friends were on the gig with me. My friend and his jazz trio, being the center of the groove that became the soundtrack of my reflective thoughts. Wouldn't it be great if I could book a whole menagerie of my talented friends on a cruise ship? I know from my experience that I could have used a dozen other caricaturists. I was that busy. My lines were that long. Just think of the fun and the joy we'd make. It would be a beautiful time.
I imagined that the greatest sleight-of-hand magicians that I know where casually roaming the ship in and out of crowds waiting for the next seminar. They would be entertaining before the big shows, sharing laughs, making smiles, and creating the wonder of joy with their well planned "small performances." I could see, in the background, the plethora of street performers I know wandering around, playing casual games. Creating acts of crowd participation moments, thus causing childlike joy in everyone around them. I imagined walking in and out of the many evening events and seeing my musician friends setting the mood, creating the groove that flowed from deck to deck on the ship. And of course, I remembered the exact moments of interaction I had with the entertainment crew. Lee, the Cruise Director, Monroe, the Entertainment Director, and the rest of their teams. The brilliant group of outgoing young people I met from all over the world. Entertainers who were not only coordinating all of the events on the ship but also facilitating joy, memorable moments, and most importantly, fun. I watched Lee and his team battle off the boredom of more than 3,000 people for 8 days at sea, and 4 days in and out of ports in Hawaii. Imagine, if you will, the dangers of boredom setting into 2500 senior citizens, 500+ younger generations and a few hundred youths. The lack of things to do with near complete internet silence on a cruise ship, day after day at sea, is a boiling pot of mutiny. The job of fending off such a sea monster is a battle that I do not recommend for the weak performer. Perhaps that is why I imagined my own favorite entertainers that I know. Thinking of them gave me a little extra strength. I called upon that extra energy within to handle and manage the expectations of hundreds of people waiting for me to begin my "Draw-a-Matic" routine. These people waited several hours before I even showed up for my shift. Often times, I felt as if I failed miserably. In reality, I know that I did quite well and gave all that I could provide during my allotted time. I can only draw so many smiles in an hour. "Five to seven minutes a person" I would tell them. That is about as quick as I can comfortably draw for about 4 hours at a time. I have always been outnumbered hundreds to one every shift I worked on the ship. I was humbled and proud and slightly horrified by that continual popularity.
It was a brilliant gig, by the way. Artistically I had game. In regards to likenesses, I was remarkably accurate. This is the equivalent to an MLB pitcher hitting the corners of the plate in all his innings. Except for the day that we encountered rough seas. 8-10 ft. waves. The ship was moving from side to side, up and down pretty well. I felt as if I was just letting the waves push the marker across the paper. Still, I seemed to have satisfied everyone. Mingling with the guest of the cruise, I was delightful, engaging, and found my unique skill of connecting with people from all walks of life, way above my natural levels. I have such a high input strength in my personality that I am genuinely interested in everyone I meet. On the ship, I treated each guest, crew members from all over the world as if they were my lifelong friends. It's what I do when I'm on stage. And similar to Disney, on a cruise ship, you are on stage at all times. I had people asking me to draw them while I ate dinner. "All the world is a stage," Shakespeare said. He was not kidding.
On this 2 week cruise to Hawaii, I drew a couple of honeymoon couples. One couple eloped and got married in Hawaii. Their moms were greatly disappointed. Their fathers seemed to be relieved, they said. I felt so honored to be a small, but memorable part of their adventure. I drew many anniversaries. The most extended anniversary was a 55-year celebration of love. I drew a gay couple from British Columbia who celebrated 20 years together. They were one of the early gay marriages in Canada and one of the first gay couples to adopt a baby boy. They turned out to be the youngest grandparents on the cruise. Having received their first grandchild just months before the journey. (In their 40's) I like being a part of each and every one of those couples celebrations. I know for sure that by being there, getting to know them in that short time together, my encounter with them becomes a valuable part of who I am. I am grateful beyond comprehension for those moments. I love drawing couples in love. Long term relationships, short term relationships, they are a delight. I find the second or third attempts to love even more encouraging. They have found each other, and that is a remarkable story of trials and tribulation from both of them. They are, as John Pryne says, "The big door prize" to each other. Love wins. Love is love is love. And I get to commemorate their love in a little simple light-hearted sketch. How fortunate am I?
Every person I encountered, regardless of just visiting with them or drawing them, Taught me so much. Hawaii was my 49th state, so most often one of my better ice breakers in conversation is, "Where are you from?" It is a given that I can insert some form of universal relation by saying, I've been there. Or I've been to a place near there. Everyone will have something to say about where they are from. From there, the conversation becomes a light banter of humor about our shared experiences. Most often good, a few times not so proud, but that just opens the door for a little fun.
I want them to gain trust in me. Humor helps achieve that first step for to be okay with the drawing. Heres a fun fact; all humans are more alike than a select few would like us to believe. All humans love something, someone, or someplace. All humans smile. All humans laugh. All humans enjoy life. Some more than others. Even the ones that can't seem to see the light or the fullness of their glass will have moments that brighten their lives. If they have sat in my chair and I am allowed to draw their caricature, chances are, I'll add to their brighter days.
In some cases, I may have even created a crack in a wall they have built around themselves. This crack I've created in their darkness allows some other light in at a later time. A good smile can plant a seed of happiness to sprout elsewhere. Even if we are not around to see it, it will happen. I enjoy that opportunity immensely.
In my days of advertising and being a designer of corporate brands and rebranding campaigns, I became a keen observer of organizational cultures. To me, it was a requirement to understand what I was interpreting into a brand fully. A design. A logo or mark. It has become something of a part-time hobby of mine to sit and watch a cooperate culture when the opportunity arises. My contract for this opportunity to draw smiles on this two-week cruise had a last-minute glitch. I was to have guest quarters on the ship, but due to guest bookings, the only room available to me was a crew cabin. Smaller, blander, less desirable to save a descriptive here. I was given two options. One: I was to take the crew cabin and continue with the contract as planned. Two: I could have taken the check and aborted the opportunity to draw smiles on this particular cruise. Obviously, I can make jokes and a slight sound argument for taking the money and run. In this time and place of our world, I suspect many reading this will call my choice stupid for NOT doing so. To them, I provide this reasoning for why I said: "No problem, I'll be happy to have the crew cabin."
First and foremost, Hawaii is now my 49th state to visit. Alaska is in my target sights. Maybe I’ll strike a golden opportunity and be a part of an Alaskan cruise in the future. Anything is possible. Secondly, going back to my fascination with corporate cultures. By accepting the crew cabin, I was allowed an inside observation point of the heart of the cruise industry. I saw things. Great things. The impressive professional interaction of a team. An excellent group. This crew clearly new the mission. They understood what was at stake. They had a clear comprehension of their role in the task. Together, they all performed their job as expected. They lived in a very tight spaced community. A Cruise Ship. A small luxury hotel in the middle of the Pacific. And it's raining. I never heard anyone complain about nothing more than the rough seas three days coming back to LA. That and missing family.
This whole "part of the crew" thing was fascinating. Fun Fact: the crew on this particular ship represented over 85% of the world's countries. I bet Lee, Your Cruise Director has those actual numbers and countries off the top of his head. He could do a song and dance number while he gave you that information. He's that brilliant.
I had conversations about what I do for a living with the engineers. I ate the majority of my meals with people from all over the world. Eating I'd hear a dozen languages in conversation. All at once. And all of them knew English. I barely understand English. I'm from Texas public schools. Now I know people from half the worlds countries. (I don't know everyone in the ship). I do know the painters in the elevator. I would be in my gig clothes riding with these guys, playing nothing splotched out of their buckets and onto my stylish attire. The fire control guys with buckets and boxes of who knows what. My steward from Bali. Great kid. Some name I can't pronounce. Tipped him every day. A few times, I added a watercolor postcard. The sales ladies from the Ships Mall. They invited me to a midnight crew celebration in the Dance Club on the ship. I looked at them, smiled, and said: "I'm as old as your grandfather. Goodnight kids."
This experience opened my eyes. First hand I was part of the world nations. Working together with a Common Goal. To give the guests the best time of their lives. I learned so much from this crew. Particularly the entertainers. Lunch with the comedians was priceless. I asked hard questions about what they do and how they do "what they do." And I got reliable, serious answers back. It was a professional entertainment business lunch. I've already stolen some of their material. Musicians from Croatia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and exotic places like Omaha Nebraska, just to name a few. All of this would not have happened if I had a guest cabin. I've learned long ago that taking the road less traveled is often the pathway to the greatest adventures. This experience confirms it. Wow, what an adventure this was. Yes, I'll go again if I can have a guest Cabin. One with a balcony. On my way to Alaska. I'd like to experience that trip now.
The last two weeks. Stories of me walking from Ho'okipa Beach to Paia. (3 miles) Only to be picked up by one of my favorite guest couples from the ship. They asked if I was lost. I replied, "Yes, but on purpose." Those that know me, know I love a good hike. I spent the day with these two. They both were on their second marriage. They are retired Orange County sheriffs. He was a veteran Marine Recon Leader. He now mentors young recon Marines. He loves to draw and keeps a sketchbook. Picture this, me the chronic asthmatic, former advertising creative director, the epitome of "wimpy civilian," hanging out with this guy who could kill with his thumb. A real action movie bad-ass. A complete Teddy Bear. "Call me, Doc." He said. I know caricature artist named Doc. Then we started exchanging stories. We both came from opposite sides of life and instantly became great friends. We traded sketches. I loved our time exploring Hawaii, and I can't wait for them to meet Real Crystal instead of #FlatCrystal. See my Instagram or Facebook page for the photos of #FlatCrystal adventures. People treated me like we have known each other for years. It's truly something magical when strangers from around the world become friends. The kind of folks we would be delighted to see each other on future Journeys.
I traded sketches from our sketchbook with a Mom and daughter from Denmark. As the cruise went on, guests would recognize me and shake my hand, tell me stories of when they met. How they met. Why they are on the cruise. What is great. What's not. I'd get all this, and all I wanted was the pepper. Stories of the joy of entertaining people with my talent. It's what I do. I'll miss the musicians from all over the world. They embrace the value of engaging people. Making positive experiences. I'll never forget those conversations. They are worthy of my Disney Passes. I can't wait to see them. They should audition for Disney. This ship has the best teams of smile makers in the Carnival Company. I created smiles with the watermark of smile makers in Cruise ships. I would draw a crowd of smiles with this team anytime. Anywhere. (Provided we go through the proper channels of agents and front office people, of course) The happiest hardest working man I ever met, Monroe, the Entertainment director. He took a risk to have me be a part of his team. I believe we achieved great success drawing smiles on the ship. I was the first caricaturist to be on the Splendor. I'm happy we increase the guest's experience with art. Speaking of Art. The Gallery hung all of the auction items all over the ship. It was like an eclectic collector showing off. Just wonderful.
And a bonus. Hawaii. I finally experienced Hawaii. I did not do any of the planned excursions. I felt that it best that I return with real Crystal, not #FlatCrystal. Together we will share the greatness Hawaii. I did, however, rent a bike in Honolulu and biked through downtown. I feel like I got a robust taste of this beautiful city. I rode six miles from the port to Diamond Head National Park. The last mile went from Zero elevation to 200 feet in elevation. A severe challenge to this flatlander from Florida. Then I hiked to the top of the outer rim of Diamond Head. That would be 700 feet in elevation. So many stairs. Turns out to be the most spectacular view of an ocean shore I have ever seen. It was worth the exhaustion. Then I hiked back down. Rode back to the ship. Albeit, more wobbly on the return.
I saw a large heard of green sea turtles on Ho'okipa beach. I hiked from the port in Hilo to Rainbow Falls. About six miles. On the way, I visited with a local as he prepared his outrigger canoe for a morning paddle. My hike to the falls took me through several parts of the town that others did not see. I collected reference sketches and photos for future artworks. When I arrived at Rainbow Falls, the weather was not ideal for the namesake effect. I went up on top were to the river met the falls. I hike about an hour up the river. I hopped from rock to rock among the rapids. Rushing water at my feet. Nice.
I walked back through town and shopped for souvenirs for the family. I was not able to go to shore in Kona. That day became a sunny watercolor day. I created a few watercolor postcards. Sketches and a few large (9x12) watercolors. For the first time in years, I got sunburned. I tan well. This time my Chickasaw blood did not protect me. One day I will learn to use sunscreen. I am satisfied with Hawaii. I'll do it with real Crystal. There's a cruise to Hawaii in January, our anniversary month. (* Hint Hint.) We will be celebrating 26 years. She should get booked on the ship as the Haiku artist that she is. See her website ( www.thevintageverse.com <http://www.thevintageverse.com/> )
Finally, I must say thanks to the agent of record on this adventure. Rich Brown, http://richcaricatures.com <http://richcaricatures.com/> an exceptionally talented caricaturist himself. He made all the arrangements for this adventure to happen. He handed me an opportunity of a lifetime, and I can't say thanks enough.
I look forward to being sent on a Cruise gig again. I could quickly fill my calendar with such fulfilling gigs. Like I said earlier, anytime, anywhere.
I am settling into my routine here in Orlando. I am prepping for my next gig drawing smiles. A wedding in Key West this weekend. My June and July and August are pretty open for engagements and bookings. For those that are interested. I'm open to proposals. Let's change the world one smile at a time. Please, and thank you
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.