"Some bad artists just really want to draw you." -- Rj Buckler, co-founder, FreeCrappyPortraits.com
There is a special place in my heart for artists who "can't draw," mostly because I'm one of them. However, in line with the African saying, "If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing," I believe that if you can write, you can draw. You might draw badly but, in my opinion, anything handmade is worthwhile. FreeCrappyPortraits.com is exactly what it sounds like: a place to submit photos in return for an amateur drawing for no money. I submitted an image the minute I heard about it and received a hilarious interpretation of my ridiculous photo a few days later, along with an invitation to be a guest artist. As a bonus, the anonymous FCP artist included a witty personalized message with my free portrait, and I immediately felt the need to ask this crappy art crew to explain themselves. Here's an excerpt from my four-way email chat with FCP founding artists Rj, Alyssa, and Sarah.
KF: Define "crappy."
Rj: We bill it as crappy so expectations are as low as possible regarding the artistic quality. If they do fall in love with it and even go so far as to display it, then they either have the same sense of humor as us, or there is possibly something wrong with them.
Sarah: Crappy is when you meant to draw a camel but everyone else thinks it looks like a priest's melting corpse. I hate drawing hands and feet, so thankfully with FCP I don't have to worry about it. Hands and feet become circles and triangles.
Alyssa: Crappy is a state of being, which does not conform to the accepted social standards of skill, taste, and beauty.
KF: It's really meta portraits you're creating, right? Drawn portraits of photo portraits.
Alyssa: Ok fine. You got us on a technicality there, I suppose. But it didn't start out that way! Promise! FCP began in pure form, by drawing strangers as they walked by our obnoxiously decorated table in the park. However, there are only so many people walking through Wicker Park on any given day. There are a lot more people walking through the Internet! The purity may be lacking a bit these days, but the genuine crap holds strong.
KF: What inspired this idea?
Rj: At the time FCP was conceived, I was making a short documentary about the people of SF0.org, a group of hilarious artists that give each other public tasks to perform. They do things like hang fruit in trees in winter, dance on trains -- all kinds of assigned social subversion. They were a definite influence on me when I first had the idea to do FCP in the park.
KF: You're all secretly decent artists, aren't you?
Rj: Alyssa's horrible; she's the last person you'd ever expect to work regularly on an art site. And we always tell her that, yet she laughs it off and keeps trying. I love the occasional stifling silence in our e-mail account when we send Alyssa's portraits out to people. Like we've crushed their dreams so severely they're left in an incommunicable state. In high school, I was considered good at drawing. Sarah should probably be fired; her art is incredible. It gives us all balance: Sarah and Alyssa at either end of the quality teeter-totter, and me somewhere wandering around in the middle.
KF: Are you starting to get overloaded with submissions?
Rj: Yes! Our inbox has been pretty busy lately! We love it and hope it doesn't slow down. One art site, Lost at E Minor, gave us a nice mention that multiplied our standard hits by about 30 in one day. Opening our inbox every day feels like Christmas. We often try to write back and forth with the person and get to know them a little bit instead of just coldly drawing and sending mechanically. People usually submit because they want something interesting to happen to them, and we try to be that thing, even if it's just briefly. As we get overloaded, we'll become more efficient at delegating out to strangers. Anyone can do guest art, they should just mention they'd like to. We cover ourselves by saying on the submissions page: "Give us from one to a million days." We would like to draw everyone on earth.
KF: Please share some funny/interesting/crappy stories from the field.
Rj: I like when psychic portraiture happens. Alyssa, who can be pretty 'creative' with her color choices, managed to color a baby purple at the park one time. Upon handing over the portrait, she found out the baby's name was Violet. How do you explain that?!
Alyssa: FCP brings friends together! We brought FCP supplies to several outdoor summer concerts. Jugs of wine and phone numbers were offered in exchange for portraits, bonds were solidified, and good times were had by all! Whoever said, "Don't drink and draw," hasn't properly tried it. Stop the war. Draw crap.
Sarah: I find it amusing that my actual career as a graphic artist is in comfortable mediocrity, but my crappy art is getting featured on high-profile design blogs. Take that, five years of artistic training!
KF: Justine Bateman was your first celebrity guest artist. Do you have more special guests lined up?
Rj: A ton! Steve Martin, Stephen Colbert (Jon Stewart would suffice), Tommy Wiseau, Simon Pegg, Dmitri Martin. Okay, it's more of a wish list at this point. Those are the top five I would like our website to land through magic.