Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our First 'paid' gig

Tonight Lucy and I did our first paid gig for the opening of some pop up spaces in The Rocks. We set up our pitch next to the kitchen and after Lucy had prepared our instruments I began to work the room. It was strange working indoors without natural acoustics, without a sky to stare at between announcing the minutes, hooking the crowd and keeping Lucy in line. And it was strange to be paid a fee.

The lady who ran the kitchen gave us food and commiserated with us. She wants us to pitch at her cafe and gave us some useful advice on how to swindle customers.

My bottom is on the mend so I'll suggest Lu and I get on the road soon...Perhaps to Broken Hill or Quebec...

A selection from May 25, 2011

An observant reader will noticed that nearly two years passed between our first 'paid' gig and the next portrait-painting session.  That reader might further discern the fact we did five sessions in a couple of weeks.  I think we overdid it.  Painting portraits in words is first and foremost a business venture, but it also has a kind of spiritual quality, where Stella has to channel all the spruikers who ever came before her, and I have to tap into the great reservoir of how to describe faces.  We can certainly flog our wares, but we can't flog them too often, or our fonts will dry up.

Our 'paid' gig also had some fatal flaws - people were all dressed up in their art-opening clothes, and art-opening manners, and art-opening make-up, and when they sat down in front of me, wreathed in their social smiles, I wanted to snap at them: "Can you just be real for five minutes!"  It wasn't a situation conducive to still and natural faces, and a pall of resentment slowly crept over me.


I've put Amanda's up here as it is the most uninspired and scraping-the-bottom-of-the-imagination portrait I've done.  No fault of Amanda's.  I was having portrait-painter's burn-out.




John and Bill

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The last day of the Sydney Writers' Festival

I got up early (10am) to draw up some more of our letterhead - we were expecting to do REAMS of portraits on this, our last chance to clean up at the Writers' Festival, where we get paid by the glorious minute (50 cents for me, 50 cents for the boss). Stella says when the Festival is over, we are going back to 'gold coin donation'. I don't ask why, and I dare not ring my union rep.

Jon and Marg

Jon and Marg arrived as we were setting up, saying, "Great, you're here! We saw you yesterday, we've been looking out for you!" - music to any busker's ears, as long as it doesn't then follow with, "We've had some complaints", "We need to see your busking licences", or "So who have you been liaising with from the Official Festival Organisation Board?" etc.


Carolyn and Victoria

Carolyn and Victoria were liberated from their children for the morning, and had an air of excitement - that first taste of freedom! Of course, prolonged freedom can start to have a stale and lonely taste, for many people.


This was the first time Ros (or "plain Ros", as she called herself when I asked for her name) had sat for her portrait. She was game and enthusiastic (all our sitters are game), but I'm afraid she might not have enjoyed the experience that much.

Amanda May Russell

Photo by Sally McInerney


I started speculating to myself about Robert's character (something I actually don't do that often when portrait-painting - I'm too busy mixing words together), and I think this made him feel a bit scrutinised. It's highly likely that his "wary" look is not habitual.





Linden had a great face. When she sat down, she was wearing a cap and large sunglasses, which I asked her to take off. She did somewhat reluctantly. I can only think that her reluctance was something to do with not looking as she had twenty years ago. Or maybe she was just shy.
Photo by Sally McInerney


One thing I've noticed is that as people get older, their features settle firmly into place. Maybe when our faces are young, our features slide and bounce around on our plump-mattress faces. That might seem an ugly way of expressing it. But whenever a face is described, without such adjectives as "pretty" or "handsome", it often ends up sounding exaggerated, and bordering on ugly. So far, all our customers have been very forgiving and good-humoured, but I do hope they are not haunted ever after by a clumsy or thoughtless phrase of mine. Once someone told me I had a weak chin.

Carol Nelson

Photo by Sally McInerney


I squandered a bit of time, while describing this lovely, interesting face, in expounding upon my differently-positioned-eyes theory.


Jenny Towndrow

Author Jenny Towndrow paid double the price for double the time ($10 for 10 minutes). It was nice to be able to stretch out and do a bit of elaboration. She said her portrait is going to go into her biography.


Vinod was very helpful - we workshopped his face before I started writing. His mother had told him that he must never get a portrait done of himself because his features are large and it would look like a caricature. But we humans like large features!
Photo by Stella


Galea and I went to art school together. The only time we've had an almost-fight was when we did mean caricatures of each other in a Computer Class. I think this regretful episode was more about the boringness of the Computer Class, than about any animosity between us. I absolutely love Galea's face, it lives in my heart.


Danny and Teya

Paul S.

A colleague of Paul's passed by and asked if he could read Paul's portrait. He ran his eyes over the page, nodded and said, "She's got you right: shifty." I had to do a fair bit of damage control after this. My mother suggested the word "alert", and Paul said not only did he sound shifty, but also exhaustingly intense. Several hours later, with Paul was still sporadically quoting, or misquoting, from his portrait ("'Hooded eyes'", "'Darting this way and that'"), I finally said, "You're more used to looking than being looked at. So you haven't learnt to disguise what your eyes are doing, and what is catching your interest." This seemed partially to soothe him.

Oh, and the word at the end should be "WIFE'S". My typo lends the observation an unintentionally lewd air.



Martha was waiting for her parents to come out of a session. As you can see, our customer-count for the day had wildly exceeded my expectations, and I had run out of letterhead.
Photo by Sally McInerney



There was another customer after Davor, but I had only one sheet of paper left, so gave him the manuscript and didn't take a carbon copy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our third day of the Sydney Writers' Festival

Our plan had been to busk every day of the Sydney Writers' Festival, but our plan was thwarted on Tuesday night when Stella put her leg through the floor of her flat, which is also the bedroom ceiling of the flat downstairs. Her bottom was sore for a few days, and I was relieved to have a break, because I was having a bit of a portrait-crisis. I did some soul-searching while Stella's bottom recovered. I resolved from now on to be more honest, and to worry less about people's feelings. My writerly reputation was on the line! Even just one little scrap of bullshit leaves a bad taste in my mouth, which, when I phrase it like that, is hardly surprising. I don't want to degrade the act of writing, even for one sentence. Though one healthy aspect of this portrait business is that when Stella yells, "Time!", I have to finish my sentence, pull out the page and let it go, mistakes, deficiencies, failures and all. I can't afford to fiddle faddle over a phrase. The next customer is waiting. There are plenty of published novelists out there who would be grateful for a paid gig, as Stella constantly reminds me.

But Stell's bottom was almost back to normal by Saturday, so we went down to the wharves and set up on Hickson Road opposite the bottleshop (Stella's choice). Stella's voice boomed out from our little alleyway, and once we started, we had as many customers as we could possibly want. We charged a Sydney Writers' Festival premium: $5 per portrait, instead of our usual fee of 50 cents or more. We RAKED it in!


Jorie was part of a wedding group. I offered to do the bride and groom, but they were in a hurry to get to their photo shoot. Jorie was not only the mother of the bride, but also an Anglican minister, so she had done the official marrying. She is a poet, and it turned out she knew Stella's mother and my father, both of whom are poets.


Annika and Nikita


I've known Kirsty for a long time. She was my brothers' year advisor, and twenty years ago, she gave my sister and me the best bag of hand-me-downs I've ever received. They were clothes from her wild days in London: knee-high black go-go boots, tartan flares, and a navy-blue silk blouse with white crowns on it that I still wear.
Photo by Sally McInerney

Solange and Monique

Solange and Monique had chanced by the Writers' Festival as they walked off their hangovers. I assured them that there was no evidence of hangover on their faces, and that they were youthful enough to get away with many more years of hangovers.


Photo by Stella


Russell was a particular favourite of our mothers, who were at the edges (or in the golf buggy) doing a bit of crowd-handling whenever Stella and I had our hands full.

Georgina and Rebecca

Georgina, Rebecca, Stella and I had a little discussion about make-up. Georgina asked whether I did anything to my eyebrows, and I proudly said I'd never even plucked a hair of them. I started saying something about the concealing and disguising properties of make-up, but Rebecca said that's not what make-up is about.


Alisha and Isobel

Rhyll (Mumma)

I like writing about faces I've been looking at since I was born. I could have written pages about Rhyll's face. I love the way the McMaster/McDonald women are put together, both outside and in.