Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christmas Card Wars

Before I worked for the small company that fired me, I had a brief stint working for a big company.  Once while lunching in the employee cafeteria, back when my pencil portraits were a hobby and not my full time gig, I tried to convince my coworker Laurie to let me draw her twins.  And by twins, I mean her children, not her boobs, as my husband would automatically suggest. (In a house full of men, you have to roll with the "that's what he said" punches.) Laurie was politely interested, which meant she was in no way going home to dig through photos, bring them back to work and cough up cash.  But she made some maybe noises and it’s hard for me to back off when I’m getting a buying sign.  In my frenzy to force her into envisioning a gorgeous portrait of her twin boys, I blurted out, “I could even scan the portrait and print it on Christmas cards!”

“OH.  MY.  GOD,” breathed my friend, “That would be… spectacular.”

And she meant it.  Women can be a bit competitive about Christmas cards. It’s our time to show off our families and act like life is GREAT, even if it is messy or borderline disastrous.  If you’re like me, you even go that extra annoying step and include a newsy letter touting whatever good stuff you’ve got going on, most of which is not newsworthy by anyone else’s standards (let's leave my Facebook game playing OUT of it, though).  Sorry, that’s how we roll.

Laurie never bothered to order a portrait, but an idea was born.  I have printed several kabillion Christmas cards (one client ordered 370 – who knows that many people?), birth announcements, invitations, address changes, any piece of mail that can be enhanced with a photo can have a magnificent pencil portrait slapped on it.  And here's where I'm gleefully rubbing my hands together and giggling... my website address is on the back of every card.  Ta dahhh!!!  The recipient often knows the subject of the portrait, so it is a particularly good way to sell my accuracy.  What better marketing is that?  Plus a portrait becomes much more lucrative when I am selling multiple copies of it.  I once had an order from Denmark when someone received a portrait Christmas card from a client.  Me likey! 

I’ve sent portrait Christmas cards almost every year featuring my boys.  Sometimes I’ll see my cards stuck to refrigerators more than a year later or even displayed in a picture frame.  They seem to have a longer shelf life than cards with glittery sleigh scenes or Rudolph drunk on eggnog or the Shutterfly photo cards that everyone is doing now. 
One client, who had sent out about 200 Christmas cards, called me shortly after she’d sent them out to report that she’d received 52 messages on her answering machine about the cards.  That's awesome, but where are those people and why aren’t they calling me?  That client actually contacted me herself because she’d received a Christmas card.  It’s like Partylite or Southern Living! 

When I first started sending my own portrait Christmas cards, I had a full time job and drew my kids for fun or maybe for my mother as a gift.  After almost eight years of marketing full time, I don’t always make the time to draw them.  Like this year... I had a plan to draw the boys as a gift but it didn't happen so if you're on my card list, now you're just going to have to be satisfied with something else.

A long time ago, I attempted to write and illustrate a children’s book.  I used my kids as models for a few illustrations, but pooped out on the project when I decided that the story wasn’t good enough.  I am a big fantasizer and talker, but not always the queen of follow through, as you know.

The illustrations were lying around accusingly and I decided to use them for that year’s Christmas card:

In my story, a little brother hated being left behind by his big brother and the big brother hated being held back by his little brother.  It wasn’t Pulitzer material, but I thought it might be something that both siblings and parents would relate to and enjoy.  Max was really crying hard about something and in one of my less than proud parenting moments, I snapped a photo of him to use for this drawing.  Joey was probably legitimately pissed off and pouting about something else.  I added some drawings of them jumping on the bed to the inside of the card. 

I have a booming-voiced neighbor who is rather outspoken and, frankly, can be terrifying at times.   Shortly after I’d sent this card, she stopped by my house while walking her dog and said, “I got your Christmas card.  The front of it was creepy.” 


Considering I hadn’t intentionally drawn the pictures for a card in the first place, I hadn’t spent a ton of time analyzing it, I just thought it was funny.  I was so flustered that she’d called my kid and my artwork, or both, “creepy,” I didn’t even know what to say.  She seemed to realize that perhaps it wasn’t the friendliest, most neighborly thing she could have said and began an awkward attempt to un-say it, which made it worse for both of us.   I will never look at that card again without hearing the creepy comment in my head, and sort of agreeing with it.

Two years into my full-time artist extravaganza, I had absolutely no time for drawing my kids for a card.  I need to draw them in the summer, when my workload is slower, but I am sometimes too busy drinking margaritas and buying flip-flops. So I had the cutesy idea to have my boys and my husband Joe draw our Christmas card.  That way it would still be a portrait card, sort of. 

I asked Joey and Max to draw each one of us, on a separate piece of paper, so I could pick drawings from each of them to scan and digitally combine.  I tasked Joe with drawing Bullock, our rat terrier/miniature pinscher mix, who we adopted from a shelter.  Before we had kids, Joe and I bought an enormous Alaskan Malamute from a breeder.  Niro was sweet and stupid and produced messes similar to having a retarded adult man crapping in the back yard.  I wasn’t interested in having more pets after Niro met his maker.  It was terribly sad when he died and really… nobody in a democratic country should have to clean up that kind of natural disaster for long if they have bigger dreams.

But a little dog… maybe that wouldn’t be so bad?  As soon as I gave my husband the slightest inkling that I was weakening, he went into a frenzy, deciding on the name (not after Sandra, after Seth Bullock from the HBO show Deadwood) and frantically researching shelters.  In his defense, I can change my mind quickly and he had to move.

Bullock turned all four of us into baby-talking fools.  We adore him.  I asked Joe to draw Bullock because the kids tend to draw dogs that look like toilet paper rolls on sticks.  My Joe puts up with many annoying requests from me and he obediently took to the task.  Joe sticks his tongue out like Michael Jordan when he is concentrating and spent a good 15 minutes with his tongue poking, painstakingly drawing his portrait of Bullock. 

I set myself up.  I am a perfectionist and I’d wanted Bullock to be drawn standing up so I could pose him with the kids’ other drawings of us, which I didn’t communicate to Joe.   He drew a close up instead, which looks like a deranged cat with a penis for a nose. 

Bullock looks nothing like this.

I laughed out loud when Joe proudly unveiled it to me and I hurt his feelings.  He snatched it back from me and looked at it incredulously, announcing, “This is the best thing I have ever drawn.”  He got in a bit of a huff and stomped off, accusing me of not recognizing good art when I see it.
I hurriedly drew Bullock for the card, the way I’d wanted him to look and Joe was outraged that I’d rejected his fine artistic contribution. 

“I can’t believe you aren’t going to use my awesome drawing,” he sulked.

Finally, I put the penis cat on the inside of the card next to the greeting, “Hope your Christmas is picture perfect.”  Joe was somewhat appeased, but still pissed.  

Happy holidays!

Wendy Zumpano