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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sketching in public?

I'd love to hear your ideas, suggestions, and experiences. Please share!

Here are some people-sketches done with different approaches...all worked for me!

Ask permission!  This young man was in my pottery class, and I loved his dreds, so I asked if I could sketch him.  FUN.

Airport people are always interesting, and make great subjects.  Usually, they're preoccupied with their own plans, waiting, reading, or snoozing, like this fellow.  I usually sketch quickly, not staring in any one direction for long.  Lots of glancing...and if I'm caught, I smile sweetly.  So far that's worked!

Sketch from a distance...these were quick gesture sketches of my neighbor across the street.  He didn't even realize I was practicing!
When sketching in public, you may be sketching the landscape or a building, or like these examples, you may be sketching your fellow passengers or diners in a local cafe'.  Different approaches to different subjects...

Fred Crowley draws in a Panera's, and does a lot from memory.  Roz Stendahl sketches among the crowds at the State Fair, Liz Steel does wonderful travel sketches, Laura Frankstone works in cafes and on cruises, Alissa Duke sketches in museums and botanical gardens, all of these with people around. 

In fact, many of our correspondents have found ways to work in public.  So how do YOU handle it??


  1. After being a 'closet sketcher' for many years (I didn't actually sit in a closet to sketch but sketched in private then stuck the results in the closet) in the last couple of years I have begun to sketch in public and share my sketches openly. I have found it very rewarding. Having a group to sketch with is what helped me get started. Now it doesn't bother me at all whether I am with a group of not. I just pretend I am part of the scenery and most people ignore me. The few that stop to chat or gaze over my shoulder are welcome and enhance the experience for me. Thanks for bringing this topic up, and I love your sketches above, as always.

  2. I loved Danny Gregory's quote in his book, Everyday Matters, about how no one really cared if he was sketching or not and the police didn't show up and ask for his artistic/creative license! And he's right. If people notice, they're usually just curious to what you're doing. I also think they are kind of in awe of someone who can a) sketch and b) sketch in public!

    I find it's usually easier to get folks started sketching in public in a group as Janene mentions, and usually inanimate objects. Once they build up confidence, they start going alone and tackling more difficult subjects—like people.

    The funniest thing that ever happened to me is while I was doing a semi-blind contour of a mini teapot in the eye doctor's office while waiting for my father-in-law. This very nice, elderly woman leaned over to see what I was doing and said in one of the most Southern voices, "You're not very good are you?"

    I burst out laughing and said, "No ma'am, I gotta long ole ways to go yet."

    You can read the whole story here, http://paintedthoughtsblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/tea-pot-of-happiness-full-of-joy.html

  3. I love Laure's story about the lady at the eye doctor's! I think the key to becoming comfortable sketching in public is to just leap in and know you'll get used to it, as with anything else. I have sketched in the middle of traffic circles in Paris---it doesn't get too much more public than that! I will take Danny's advice one step further... you're just not that important to onlookers. They might want to have a peek, but once they pass on, you're history. Unless you engage with them, YOUR choice, and then the fun starts. I have had wonderful conversations with the old and young alike, encouraging them to get out their paints and go for it!

  4. Laure, what a great story!

    And Laura, agreed, most people just walk right by. It IS fun when you can engage in conversation, when you know someone is really interested. I seem to have the most fun of that type with teenage boys, mostly ones that start out trying to act tough. I was in Maine ones and some young ones swaggered past, being loud, then backed up, watched a while, and said "that's WICKED good!"

    Thank you, Janene, that's a wonderful attitude.

  5. Great stories! (how scary to picture Laura in the middle of Paris traffic!) ---
    I admit to some subterfuge when sketching at church. Everyone in our small group knows that I sketch and some wonder what my "target" of the moment is. If I'm sketching John, I make sure to look a lot at Arturo or Silvia, etc. Keeps 'em guessing!
    At first, or around strangers, I may only sketch shoes or bags --- it's still sketching in public but feels safer somehow.

  6. Agree that it's all about having the confidence to just do your thing and not worry about others. Having a setup/materials that you're comfortable with helps, too, so you're not dropping stuff all over the place!

    And Kate, I seem to have the same experience as you while sketching/painting in public -- often teenage or preteen boys will hang out and point, but they soon realize there's not a whole lot they can say and move on! A wide-brimmed hat is helpful (to avoid eye contact) if you're not inclined to be social for a spell.

  7. I've never found it hard to draw in public. For one, it doesn't really bother me if I produce a good or bad piece. Two, what I do is just not that interesting to people, so surprisingly few people notice ( those that do and stop, or comment are usually very supportive). And three, this one i think helps me the most, once I get into a sketch, be it in a quiet place or in the middle of chaos, I'm in a bubble, I don't really hear everything that happens around me.

  8. I've only tried a few times sketching in public by myself and still very uneasy doing so. However I'm getting out sketching on location after joining a sketch group here where I live. I find it easier with a group and each time I go out it gets easier and easier. Although I have to admit if I see anyone stopping to check what another sketcher close by is doing, I will get up and move for fear they might check me out next. I haven't reached that comfort point yet of interacting with onlookers unless a child (which did happen to me at Disney).

  9. Had to laugh at what 6 years has changed. In that air port drawing today, they would all be looking at their I phones or whatever....


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