16 April, 2016. I used to be a heck of a lot more discreet when I sketched in public. It’s not that I mind people looking over my shoulder while I draw. Usually the casual observer has pretty much the same comments: Did you draw that yourself? I can’t draw a straight line. That looks like fun. I wish I could draw. The conversation never ends there, and that’s fine: people are curious and I don’t mind sharing.
But I have always tried to sketch people from a distance without intruding upon their space. I don’t want anyone to feel any discomfort from my artistic voyeurism, and I sure don’t want to be looked upon as some sort of stalker either! I’ve learned how to draw without drawing attention to myself and I used to be quite good at it. Here lately, however, I’ve been busted on numerous occasions, “made” by people I’ve been drawing.
The sketch above, for example, like many of my scribbles is a conglomeration of people and places. I fill the page, creating a compositional arrangement as opportunity permits. Since people are constantly in motion, each person is often a collage of parts: one guy’s head fuses to another’s torso; suddenly he has a companion in my drawing that he didn’t have in real life. I was quickly adding the woman onto the sketchbook spread when she spotted me drawing and made a beeline in my direction. The first words out of her mouth as she bent over my sketchbook was “That’s not my husband, you know.” Followed by: “That looks like fun. I wish I could draw.” We chatted for a few minutes. I was pleased that she immediately recognized herself in the drawing, I provided my usual background information: Yes, I’m a professional artist. Yes, I’m an art teacher. Yes, I’ve been an artist my entire life. Why yes, it is fun.
Sometimes the encounters are more awkward. In the DMV this week, while waiting my turn to be served, I began to sketch the people around me, also waiting on benches and demonstrating varying degrees of patience. Midway through the quick scribble above, the young lady popped out of her seat, walked directly to me and sat down next to me. We were immediately far more cozy than I was comfortable with! I find it a little intimidating when strangers so egregiously violate my personal space: leaning in, laying a hand on my arm to chat – and all quite dauntless and innocent. Although quite a pleasant little chat, I was relieved to escape as they called my number to the counter!
The gentleman in the lower corner seemed to only gradually develop an awareness of being my subject. He was intently searching through his cell phone for something and when he finally got up and wandered off, I sat and continued drawing from memory. A few minutes later I sensed – rather than saw – a presence. I’m not certain how long he’d been standing behind me as I drew. “Hmpf,” was all he said before turning on his heels and disappearing into the market crowd.
This market shopper paced back and forth for quite a while in generally the same area, perusing generally the same produce. I was pleased to be able to make three sketches of her because under normal circumstances people I target don’t stick around long enough to generate a legitimate likeness. After perusing the same box of squash for about the fourth time – and not purchasing a single one – she came over to where I was standing. Never once looking at the drawing, she smiled and asked, “Did I stay long enough for you to get the sketch made?” I grinned back. Busted! (Lamy Safari Medium Nib fountain pen, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Canson 180 sketchbook.)