Once when I was 16, I picked 350 pounds of cotton in one day.
I did, if you let me define “one day.” Actually, I started at noon and picked until past dark. Next morning, I was in the field before sunrise and picked right up until 12 o’clock, weighed in, and went home.
What had happened was that Junior Romans’ cotton that year was crazy lush, the soft stuff just falling out of the bolls, and I knew this was my chance to set a new personal record. A few days later, in agriculture class at Winston County (Alabama) High School, when my friends began boasting about how much cotton they could pick in one day–for the best, it was 200 or 250 pounds–I casually let drop that my personal best was 350 pounds.
The things we do for bragging rights.
People ask me how many drawings do I think I’ve done over the years. Children will say, “Have you drawn a million people?”
Not even close. In fact, I’d be surprised if I’ve drawn 75,000.
Think of it. A million is one thousand times one thousand. There have been many years when I probably did not draw more than a hundred or two. The last quarter century, however, I’ve gone about it seriously, and may have done 50,000 in this time.
Next week, however, I expect to sketch one thousand people. Here’s how.
Oh, the reason I’m writing about it in advance of the deed is that for several days afterwards, I’ll not feel like typing a lick. So, if we’re going to record this for posterity (!), we’d better do it now. If I have presence of mind, after the week ends, I’ll leave a note at the bottom of this.
This Saturday, I’m drawing at the First Baptist Church of Belle Chasse.
On Saturday prior to the annual Southern Baptist Convention, our denomination hosts an evangelistic event in churches all across the region called “Crossover New Orleans” (or whatever the host city is). Since the SBC meets at our Morial Convention Center next Monday-Wednesday, Crossover takes place here.
The FBC of Belle Chasse, downriver from New Orleans, is hosting a block party Saturday afternoon and they invited me to draw. I’ve drawn for them before, so we have a little history here. At this point, I’m uncertain as to the hours.
How many will I draw at Belle Chasse Saturday afternoon? Maybe 100 or more.
Then, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week (June 18-20), I’ll be drawing at the convention center.
In the exhibition hall, among all the booths displaying the work of God’s people in colleges and seminaries, missions, evangelism, etc., I’ll be situated at the booth for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and trying to log as many hours as possible.
Obviously, since the right hand and the brain grow fatigued, I’ll have to take breaks. But my goal is to try to draw 600 or more during these three days.
On Friday night, June 22, I’ll be drawing for 4 hours at a fundraiser for the New Orleans Medical Missions Project.
This is a Catholic event, and I’m there at the invitation of my Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, Daniel Jacob, one of the finest men I know. This will be my second year for this. We’ll put a bucket next to where I work, for donations.
I hope to do 125 people that night.
So, adding these up–100 at Belle Chasse, 600 at the SBC, 125 at the fundraiser–it all comes to 825. So, still have 175 to go.
The rest will have to come in those spare moments. Like today.
My office is in the back of the church library at First Baptist-Kenner (across from the New Orleans airport). Today, as I stepped over to the church office to mail some letters, I noticed teenagers outside. Someone said we have two groups, one from Bainbridge, GA, and the other from Denham Springs, LA. I asked if they had a few minutes. “Just a few,” the man said.
I called to the teens, “Hey guys. Come into the library a second.” They filed in dutifully, I stepped into my office for pens and paper, and began sketching them as quickly as possible.
No one loves this more than teenagers do. And they are such fun to draw.
How many did we get done just now? Well, maybe a dozen or more before their leaders were pushing them out the door.
Yesterday, while my wife was seeing her doctor on the second floor of a bank building–not my bank, but one I’m unfamiliar with–I was sitting in the car waiting, when I had a bright idea. I grabbed my sketch pad and walked into the bank.
The teller, a nice lady named Doris, greeted me as I entered the door. I walked straight to her. She said, “How may I help you?” I said, “By looking me in the eye and smiling at me.”
I drew everyone in the bank, maybe ten of them. It was a slow time of the day for them, and it broke up the monotony, and I left with ten new friends.
Here are the questions people usually ask about my drawing. (In fact, the teens who were just here raised some of these questions.)
First Question: Why do you do this?
1. Can I get by with saying, “I don’t know”?
2. Or, is a better answer: “Because I can”?
3. I suspect there are a dozen reasons all mixed in. They would involve making people happy, trying to develop this talent, it’s fun, it’s an ego thing, and who knows what all.
4. It’s a witness. I sign each drawing “joemckeever.com” and often will point out to the subject that this is my website, so “please check it out.” When they get to my home page, they see–among other things–a feature called “How to know Jesus Christ and Live Forever” and another which asks “What are you waiting for?”
Second Question: How long have you been drawing people?
I sometimes try to be cute and say, “I think it was about 10 minutes ago, wouldn’t you say?”
The real answer is my mom started me drawing as a preschooler in order to get me out of her way while she cleaned the house. And I’ve been drawing ever since.
Third Question: Do people pay you for this?
Some of them do. But most of the drawing I do for events such as this upcoming week are all done without charge. In the case of the seminary, I’ve accepted their offer to put me up in a nearby hotel for Monday and Tuesday nights to lesson the hassle on a very tired cartoonist to get downtown each morning, find parking, etc. But no money is changing hands.
People pay when I draw cartoons for their books or sketch people at their birthday parties or do a personal drawing for the retiring pastor whom they are honoring. That sort of thing.
Fourth Question: Does your hand ever get tired?
My neighbor asked that this morning.
Yes, but I do hand exercises every day to allow me to draw for hours on end without cramping or excessive fatigue. What gets really tired is the brain.
To sketch a person in 90 seconds requires intense concentration. Then, they get up, you hand them the drawing, and another person sits down. Now, you are concentrating just as intensely on them. All day long. Well, at least for several hours at a time. Yes, that does get tiring. At the end of the day, you are on autopilot and have a hard time remembering your own name.
Fifth Question: Why don’t you publish your drawings in a book?
We have actually, but they’re not in print any longer. In the 1980s, Baker Book House, a religious publisher from Grand Rapids, Michigan, printed 8 volumes of cartoons for church newsletters using drawings from two other cartoonists and me. We sold more than 300,000 copies.
I’d love to come out with a book of cartoons in color. A large size one so the drawings can be seen more clearly. It would have to be expensive since color costs more to print. But it would be fun to have.
Sixth Question: Where can I see your drawings?
The Baptist Press website posts a cartoon of mine each weekday. Go to www.bpnews.net and click on “cartoons” on the left column. You’ll see there are 7 cartoonists whose stuff they post. The other 6 turn in one per week; I’m the only one doing a daily cartoon. This means they have over 2,000 of my cartoons on their website, all of them available free of charge for churches to use.
How do I get paid by the churches? I don’t. Baptist Press pays each of us a small stipend each month (it’s the same, whether we send one drawing a week or one a day) for the privilege of posting the cartoons.
I expect we’re all just happy to have our stuff out there being used by God’s people for His work. I know I am.
We also have two CDs of our cartoons (one in b/w and the other in color) which we sell for $20 each. Each one has hundreds of cartoons, and they’re arranged by subject, something the Baptist Press is unable to do with the ones they post.
Question Seven: Do you give cartooning lessons?
I do. Last week, in the afternoons following vacation Bible school, my church held a “sports and arts camp.” Among the offerings for the children was a class in drawing cartoons. We did two or three classes each day for all the children.
In two weeks, I’ll be teaching cartooning classes at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for teenagers who will be attending Heartsong, a music and arts program.
Last year, the Kentucky Baptist Convention brought me up as their speaker for a weeklong “Senior Celebration” across the state. I would speak (tell my stories, some of them entertaining, some inspiring, and then bring a message) and would teach cartooning classes. “Do seniors want to learn to draw cartoons?” I asked Shelly Johns, the senior consultant for the KBC. She said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
We had classrooms filled with 50 or more at each event. It was as much fun as I’ve had in years.
Last question: What’s next for your drawing?
The Lord alone knows.
In the last year, I’ve drawn the covers for several books and illustrated them, mostly written by ministers.
This morning, a phone call from another state brought a request to draw a prominent couple who will be marrying soon. Their minister had a creative idea of something he wants to do in the wedding and asked for my help.
Yesterday, the editor of one of our state convention weeklies emailed with a story of some unusual happenings in her state. Would I do a quick cartoon to illustrate the story? I sure would. She said, “I don’t have any money to pay you.” I laughed. “It’s fine.”
In teaching children to draw cartoons, I sometimes advise them to get a day job. Very few people make much money with art, period, and much less with cartoons. So, if you’re going into it for the money, you’d be smart to try something else.
When my mother died a few days ago, a friend in Mississippi sent an unusual gift. She said, “Others will send you flowers. I decided to send sketch pads since your mom started you drawing. This way, she will always be in your heart.”
In my thank-you to her, I said, “Those three pads contain 100 pages each. Just think, in a few days, they will be in nearly 300 homes. People will keep them forever. Is this a blessing or what?”
It is indeed.
Thank you, Father.