East Coast or West Coast: Caricature options range from a Raleigh local to The California Boys at the fair

One thing you may want to add to your State Fair to-do list is a caricature. It’s one of those things you may not think of at first, but getting a caricature done can be pretty fun, and then you have a nice souvenir to remind you of the fair.

Artist Nick Tabron told me he sees some people make it an annual tradition. It’s one of the reasons he’s been coming every year since 1996 or ’97. (It’s hard to remember when you’ve been doing it so long.)

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I have repeat customers who come back every year.”

One man has come back to see Nick for eleven years straight. The first year, the man got a caricature done of himself and his daughter. Since then, he’s brought all of his children back for annual caricatures.

Nick and his wife Rhonda operate “Art for You.” They live north of Raleigh, and you can find their tent at the fair just outside the north side of Dorton Arena. The rest of the year, they work at special events such as corporate gatherings and a few festivals.

I loved hearing Nick tell me how he ended up as a vendor at the fair. Back in the 90’s, he often entertained at the Angus Barn steakhouse in Raleigh, making caricatures of regular customers and celebrities who visited.

Jim Graham, the commissioner of agriculture at the time, came in and saw Nick one time, “and he said ‘you should be at the State Fair,’” Nick explained.

More than 20 years later, “Art for You” is now fixture at the fair.

Another caricature tent that’s become pretty established at the N.C. State Fair is “The California Boys.” So I guess you could say that among the several artists at the fair, you have a little east coast vs. west coast option for a caricature. “The California Boys” style is a bit more cartoonish and exaggerated.

Kirby Rudolph is one of the artists I talked to at “The California Boys.” He’s originally from Texas, and these days artists from around the country travel with the company. He said the name came from the early days when someone saw the original artists wearing socks and sandals, and the person said “who are you? Some California boys?” The name stuck.

“I like this because there are so many different faces every day,” Kirby said. “It’s somebody new every day.”

When I asked him if there were any secrets to his craft, he said squinting your eyes is key. I’m still not sure if he was completely joking or if there’s some real advice there. Maybe if not for drawing, it struck me as pretty good advice for life a lot of the time.

“Don’t get caught up in the details,” Kirby said.

Olivia Page also joined in the conversation. She’s an artist and company manager from San Diego, California – yes, a California girl.

“Every year you can challenge yourself,” she said about why she enjoys her job. “No matter how good you get you can always improve.”

She and Kirby both said they also love the interaction with people and working to create something unique for each person that really captures his or her personality.

It’s also personal connections that help motivate Nick and Rhonda to bring “Art for You” back to the fair every year. Rhonda said she loves meeting new people and catching up with old customers over the years.

“We call it our fair family,” she said.

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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