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Caricature artists hit hard by summer event cancellations

Artist and small business owner Nolan Harris furloughed his staff and is already looking toward next year.
Credit: Nolan Harris
This photo was taken pre-pandemic, when Over The Line Art held retail spaces at the Seattle Waterfront and Space Needle.

SEATTLE — Professional caricature artist Nolan Harris knew his small business was in trouble when the pandemic hit.

"You've got to key into people, you've got to key into their personality a bit,” he said. "In a way, you're playing therapist for about 5 - 10 minutes."

Those “therapy” sessions happen in close proximity, usually at large events.

Harris' company Over The Line Art employees more than a dozen artists who work from April through September. They occupy retail spaces at the Space Needle and waterfront, and are booked at some of the region's biggest summer festivities.

"We would do about 40 odd events a year, festivals like the Bite of Seattle, Taste of Tacoma, the state fair,” he said.

Credit: Over The Line Art
Over The Line Art employs about a dozen artists who specialize in caricature drawings.

But by March, his scheduled events started disappearing from the calendar.

"It's almost like it happened overnight,” Harris said. "I kind of saw the writing on the wall at that moment, things were going to shut down."

He furloughed his employees and was granted a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Harris said he hopes to start booking events around the holidays, but knows it may be 2021 before he's able to resume "normal" operations.

In the meantime, he’s picking up freelance work through virtual events like birthday parties and corporate Zooms. Instead of putting pen to paper, he draws caricatures using digital technology.

Credit: KING TV
Nolan Harris is creating caricatures using photos and digital tools, until he can draw in-person again.

“We'll actually draw them on our computer, and the best part about it is we can share our process, we can share our screen on Zoom so they can watch us draw,” he said.

He's also doing commissioned work, using photos rather than live subjects.

A pivot, until a time when Harris can create his art in person again - and a reminder, every aspect of the entertainment industry is affected by the pandemic.

"Everyone is trying to find a new way to provide entertainment to people where they can be safe, and feel safe,” he said. "Entertainment is so important to me, to you. We're all watching TV to get that escape, why not get that escape through art as well."

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