Page 9. Where, when and what to sketch (continued)


Another challenge is spectators. You may be the type who loves to chat with strangers and won't find this a challenge at all. But it seems that most sketchers would rather work uninterrupted by passersby. One way to handle this is to always sketch in a group so that outsiders will be less likely to break in on your circle.

Of course you can just accept the occasional interruption as part of the experience, be pleasant, and hope they go away. You yourself have probably come across somebody else sketching in the past, and can recall the positive thoughts entered your mind. Most people are not artists, and will have great respect for your art ability, and are merely curious.

This is the famous Kaminarimon in Asakusa. It's a popular tourist spot for photographs, and very crowded. I had to stand at the edge of the crowd with my back to the police box, leaning this way and that to try to see around all the people. Several tourists stopped to talk with me (in English or Japanese). This sketch was done in 2 1/2 hours in an F2 sketchbook (including finishing touches in a nearby coffee shop). I confess I was pretty tired when I was done, but I'm glad I stuck it out till the end. And I have great memories of that afternoon.

If you sketch at popular tourist spots as I often do, you will meet a variety of people, all with cameras. I suspect there are a lot of photos out there of me sketching, although I'm usually not aware of it unless I hear the shutter click. If I'm lucky, the photographer will offer to e-mail me a copy.

But even the most tolerant sketcher will meet his or her match sometime. One time I was sketching in a park and a middle aged woman stopped her bicycle right in front of me between me and my subject and proceeded to talk right in my face very loudly about people she knew who were artists, and then proceeded to talk about what ever entered her mind, apparently. There seems to be an abundance of this type of character in my town. After about twenty minutes of this, I finally packed up my things and walked away in search of another subject.

I sketched this statue of Omura Masajiro at Yasukuni Shrine on a national holiday that commemorated the ascension of the first Japanese emperor to the throne. It's a day when this particular shrine is flocked by tourists and right wing organizations in military uniforms. I did not have the luxury of a wall behind me, so I had more than my usual share of spectators standing behind me, watching me sketch. A few even offered to tell me all about the statue I was sketching. This sketch is in an F2 sketchbook, and took 38 minutes, including the preliminary thumbnail sketch that preceded it.

It sometimes depends on the person interrupting. Recently while I was sketching the ruins of the kilns shown below, a young guy very politely greeted me and stayed to watch over my shoulder and ask a few questions, but all in a respectful way. As it turned out, he hung around for the duration of the sketch and continued to ask questions. I would have preferred the freedom of sketching without an onlooker, but I continued on sketching and holding a conversation at the same time. The one danger in such a situation is that if you are concentrating on your sketch, you may not be as guarded in what you say. I think that in the course of half an hour I told this guy more personal things about my life than I normally would to a stranger. In most cases, when someone stands there watching, a polite greeting before returning to your sketching will suffice, and the spectator will move on, satisfied.

Sometimes a person will quietly creep up behind me and silently watch me work for a very long time, never saying a word from start to finish, even if I look at the person and say hello. Maybe it's a Tokyo thing. I find this very unnerving, and start to feel like a zoo animal. So I try to take this into consideration when deciding where to plant myself for a sketch. Standing with a wall at your back is very comforting, although it can get tiring, and may force you sketch small, and quickly.

Family trips

Family vacations hold the highest expectations for getting a lot of sketching done while in fact they are probably the worse settings to do any sketching at all. There's so much to see and do, and nobody in the group would dream of slowing down for fear of missing something that they will never have the chance to see again.
Girl reading on the train. This was done with brush pen and watercolors with waterbrush in Moleskine watercolor notebook in about 4 minutes.
Vacation sketching usually means standing and sketching as fast as you can, even if the results are not as good as you would have hoped for. You can always color the sketches later in your hotel room.

You may get lucky when everybody takes an hour or so to go shopping, leaving you to sketch by yourself (but you yourself may be itching to go shopping, too!). Of course, if your family trip includes a day sitting around at the beach, then you are in sketcher's paradise! That's my kind of vacation.

Public transportation

If you use public transportation to go to go to work, then you can fill a small sketchbook with human subjects, most of them sleeping or reading. Sleeping people make great models. You could fill a sketchbook with just sleeping people. Of course you won't find much else to draw on a train or bus besides people. I've been doing this for many years and have a pile of subway sketchbooks now.

The sketches need to be quick since you never know when your subject will get off the train, or somebody will get on and block your view. It's great practice.

Of course, sketching in close quarters has its own challenges, and unless you have nerves of steel and don't mind the stranger next to you monitoring your every stroke, it is easier to sketch standing up with your back to a wall (I love walls) which means you have to stand in the end car or in front of a door since there is not much wall space on a commuter train. Also, if your sketchbook resembles a regular book or an organizer (Moleskines have this advantage) then people may not suspect you are sketching.

Try not to bob your head up and down constantly as you look at the subject and back at your sketchbook, because you will draw attention to yourself. If your kids are sitting with you, watching you sketch, the sight of all those bobbing heads will surely sabotage your efforts to remain unnoticed. Also, when you are ready to return your gaze to the subject after drawing, look at something else rather than directly at the subject. If they realize you are sketching them, they will most likely shift their pose or even get up and move.

Of course if you ride home at the same time and in the same train car every day, all the regulars will eventually catch on to the fact that you are sketching, and it will be a question of which one will be your next victim. I thought I had done a good job at hiding my activity until one day when I walked by a man on my way to my usual car, and he greeted me and said with a smile, "Hey, you're the guy who sketches, aren't you?"

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