Drawing caricatures, with the aim of providing therapeutic humor for those in long term care facilities, is a thrilling adventure. Really? It is an artistic and social challenge to interface with those struggling with health and cognitive issues, in what society perceives as their least photogenic stage of life. Can a caricature interaction be therapeutic and make a measurable positive impact on those in long term care? Today I think it did… by generating the work of art.. that of communicating and creating an emotional connection.
Intentionally, I am not your typical long term care corridor traveler. – A great wide brimmed “Church ladies Hat” perfectly coordinates with my outfit. My easel is attached my torso with a shoulder strap clipped to a board. My non-drawing hand sports a raccoon puppet. As a result those I encounter express a mix of puzzlement, defensiveness, and most avoid direct eye contact. Fortunately curiosity overcomes hesitancy and I am happy to volunteer the answer to the unasked question which breaks the ice: who are you and what are you doing? When directly asking ANYONE if they want a caricature – the answer will almost always be no. Especially if they are over the hill. However, if I cheerfully engage and humbly ask to “practice my art” or if they would like to watch me draw one of the staff – someone will give their consent, even if grudgingly. The fun begins!
In my opinion who doesn’t want to cross off “getting a caricature” from their bucket list? But my next task is to help them feel “safe” in my hands. There is total absence of malice. I distract them with a story, or with the “Rocky” the puppet …asking who they want to be when they grow up, or what do they enjoy, love or find funny. Most seem pleased when they find that I really AM interested in their answers. Sometimes the subject is not even aware that I have started sketching – and are surprised when I invite a drumroll from the spectators to present them result of my efforts.
Everyone is in suspenseful anticipation to see how the subject will respond – with a frown? or a squeal of delight? No matter, as both reactions cause laughter from the spectators. Sadly, I do sometimes need to reassure the subject that my talent is indeed – dismal, and they bear no resemblance to the picture. If that is the case, will they kindly do me the favor of recycling it into an airplane and tossing it? Caricature is a 80 % spectator sport and %20 art that gets the subjects and spectators and artist engaged in the performance and can make people laugh.
It is thrilling to know caricatures can make people healthy because – with all the evidence based research to back it up – that all who had smiled and/or laughed had just taken a great big healthy (like medicine) dose of humor. Whether the experience was therapeutic humor – I will have to leave it to the researchers to determine in future studies.
Drawing successful caricatures demands a connection between the artist and subject. For the Caricature experience to be Therapeutic Humor would demand (among other criteria) that it be a positive and uplifting experience. How do I “draw” someone into activity and relationship? What do I do to turn a disappointing caricature into a basis for friendly interaction? I am just now parsing and paying attention to the minutia of how I do what I do. Below are my Caricature Rules of Engagement:
Always start with a smile from your eyes and into their eyes. See them. Ask their names and use it!
Choose to put cheerfulness into your voice and vary greetings – Hello! Hi! Good Day! Happy Monday!
Introduce yourself. In a way that makes you memorable I’m Kyle, like Kyle Busch – but I Draw Faster.
Allow them time to respond – It will give you a clue into their mood and help you respond appropriately.
Then let them know what task it is you need to perform – and beg their cooperation.
Even if you draw two dots and a line – and if the line smiles – they may see themselves in it. 🙂