I Think I’ve Been Had

Jim Public portrait of two grandparents, September 18, 2011

Early in the door-knocking phase of the Camelot project–I have only a few dozen homes left to greet!–I met a neighbor who, whether intentionally or not, got the better of me. Even before he answered the door, I knew I was dealing with a character. Minutes earlier, I had been chatting with a friendly retiree a couple doors down who told me laughingly that the neighbor in question was a Cajun Vietnam veteran reprobate, which he told me he meant affectionately.

I rang the doorbell, waited, rapped on the door, waited, and at last the man answered the door not wearing much. When I told him I was a neighbor and I’m doing this neighbor-meeting-and-drawing campaign, he told me I could draw his grandparents and went into the house for a few minutes. He returned with an 8 x 10 framed photo of his long deceased grandmother and grandfather, along with a very small photo of a man in uniform who turned out to be his father. He handed them over to me, asking that I not take too long because these were his only prints of these photographs.

A little stunned, but feeling open to the strange possibilities of my quest, I accepted the task, and told him that my intentions are to draw my neighbors, and he said, “You can draw me and my wife when you finish with these.”

Normally I would have declined. As with lawyers, accountants, nurses, so with artists: there are people who think, because they know you outside your professional capacity, that they can ask you to do for free what you would charge others for. I’ve had far more offers to draw and paint people for free than I’ve had offers to pay me for these services. But in the context of the Camelot project, I’m in a giving mood, so I went for it. I don’t plan to make this a habit, but that’s just how this interaction with this neighbor went down.

What really struck me about this conversation is that this guy was in no way caught off guard by a stranger on his doorstep offering to draw him as a gift. It was as if he’d been waiting for an artist to knock on his door so he could get some free drawings of his kin, and when I arrived, he was ready, as if to say, “I’m glad you finally dropped by; I’ve got just the thing for you.”

So, I did the drawings, walked them over to the neighbor, who was happy to receive them, and we scheduled an appointment for me to come and snap a photo for the drawing I had intended to do from the beginning. When I showed up at the designated time, there was no answer. I stood waiting at the door, slowly accepting what felt like a foregone conclusion: I’m not going to get a photo of this man and his wife. He probably forgot the appointment; I don’t think he meant to dodge the photo op. But, as I’ve gone through the neighborhood and found that very few people answer their doors and even fewer are receptive to the notion of my drawing them, I’ve realized that chasing my neighbors in order to be friendly and offer a gift isn’t the best use of my energy. I’ll continue to make the effort to connect with them, and leave the decision to have the drawing made in their hands.

Which is to say, I don’t expect to be making the drawing of my Cajun neighbor and his wife; but, if something changes, I’ll let you know.

And if you want a portrait like this done, I’ll soon be adding a page where you can commission one. They’re 10″ x 8″ and the price is $50 for the first person and $25 for each additional person. If you’re looking for a good deal on a family portrait, look no further.

Jim Public portrait of a father in uniform, September 17, 2011
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