Drawing in times square is insane.
When I first got there, I found a street with three chinese portrait artists set up, no one I had met before. They greeted me with big smiles.
"You portrait artist?" the english speaking one asked.
"Yes" I nodded "Where are we allowed to set up?"
"Anywhere, all street" he gestured in a way that included the whole city.
"Here?" I pointed to the spot beside him, "by you?"
"Yes, yes" he said."come"
So I set up. This was my set up: in my right hand I carried my easel, a wooden fold-away Jullian Plein Air that weighs 9 pounds; on my back I had a pack with my Litho Crayons (grease pencils), a folding aluminum 12" easel, a sweater, a mini portfolio, scissors, business cards, tape, rubberbands, pastels, a palette knife, binder clips, a mini sketchpad, and backup china markers; over my left shoulder a large portfolio case holding two 14" x 17" sketchpads (one for portraits, one for drawing in while I wait for bites), one 18" x 24" pad (for drawings of more than one person), two 18" x 18" masonite boards (weighing about 2.5 lbs each, one for my easel backboard reading 'be drawn' and one with a self portrait to be set in the aluminum 12" easel for an example of my work), six 8.5" x 11" other examples in clear plastic sleeves, and one wooden folding stool weighin 3-4 pounds. The total weight of all this equipment was approximately 35 lbs.
As I'm setting up, the other artists buzzed around me with great curiosity. My self-portrait had a speech bubble that said '$10'. Upon seeing this the english speaking one came up to me and said "No ten dollar." I looked at him quizzically. "come, look." he said, and he showed me the back of one of his samples. There in print was his price chart:
black and white......$60
and some other slight discounts for doubles and triples beneath these.
"no ten dollar," he said "sixty dollar, then come down, fifty, forty, thirty five. Maybe thirty. no more." he grinned at me and bobbed his head for my understanding.
I looked at him in disbelief for a second then reached down and pulled the '$10' bubble off exposing a '$5' bubble underneath. "No, No, No five dollar" he distressed. "Wait," I held up a finger and grabbed a pencil and wrote a '0' in to make it say $50. "Aha!" he laughed.
Well, that was wrong too, though he didn't say anything. Putting the price in the open is a no-no in Times Square. Especially anything over $10. I immediately attracted the attention of an African vendor of some kind who kindly came up and whispered in my ear "You know these guys only charge $20" "Yeah, I know" I said feeling my chance of not becoming the Great Beacon of Inexperience expire. "Just, trying to help" he said and walked to the corner where he stood and continued to stare at me. Meanwhile 5 more artists blew in and set up beside me and they all began aggressively cajoling the passers-by to get a portrait made.
Now, right on the corner were three black guys selling crystal fiber-optically lit thingys for $5. They sat and stood behind a table and continuously Barked, "FIVE DOLLARS, NEW YORK, FIVE DOLLARS! COME AND SEE IT! FIVE DOLLARS" On the opposite corner a saxophonist played a continuous stream of milky lukewarm jazz. Cars were pulling up to the curb letting passengers out to squeeze between the artists. About 3 artists had customers when a drunk irishman (wow) points to me from a hole in the wall and calls "Are you a Christian?" feeling rather naked, I asked "do I look like one?" undeterred, he repeated "ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?" "yeah" I said getting up and walking over to him "why do you ask?" "You're a slave," he ranted, "you're bowing down to these chinese blankety blankers. You've bought into the system. You're hoodwinked. You can't think for yourself. What are you doing here?" "I'm trying to earn a living" I said, "by using the talent I was given"
"No you're not." he said "you're just like the rest of 'em and you can't even see yourself. You can't get a girl to save your life, you were born in Ohio, and you might as well blanken go back there."
"Actually, I'm married."
"No, you're not" he said
"What are you drinking?" I asked
"Can you smell that?" he sounded worried.
"And I'm not like these guys. Their bottom line is money."
"And what makes you different?"
"My bottom line is enjoyment. If there's no joy in what I do, money won't fix it."
"Yeah, right, that's hogwash." he spat.
"You know if you're going to deny everything I say, you might as well sit down and let me draw you while we argue."
"No way, you just want my money."
"Not at all, I'll draw you free."
"Free. All I require is good conversation."
To make a long story shorter he denied and berated me for the next half hour and I drew him as best I could, which wasn't really that bad and it was certainly scrutinized by all the other artists who thought I had gotten him to pay. He ended up saying "I like you, your a real person" and gave me five bucks and a box of little debbie german chocolate cookies (remember I hadn't eaten yet, and it was about 10:30pm)which I took as high compliment, even from a drunk guy.
About halfway through his portrait (throughout which he berated everyone who looked, even policemen) the other artists, seeing people crowded on the other side of the street, packed up and moved there in about 30 seconds. My setup being more kloogy than theirs I stuck around my side for 30 min. and decided to go home and eat having my toe wet enough.
Since then I have been back twice and have met Habib from Tunisia. But that's a story for another day.