How do I draw inside busy coffee houses, tea rooms, and bistros?

People who see my drawings often wonder how I make drawings in the middle of a public space, surrounded for the most part by strangers.  Do the people I draw know that I am drawing? Do I have a way of hiding the fact that I am drawing?  Do I ask permission to draw?

When I first started to draw in public places, all of these questions were mine as well.  I decided before I ever began drawing publicly that I would not ask permission from the people I draw.  The reason is that I do not want to draw portraits.  When we sit for a portrait, we become self-conscious, stiff, and our persona changes.  My goal is to capture the moment and the spirit of people, not to capture a perfect likeness.

At first I thought I could draw people without them seeing that I was drawing.  I drew in very small sketchbooks, with a single pen.  I soon discovered, however, that people quickly surmised that I was drawing.  So I went bold.  I place all of my pens and markers on the table in full sight. What I discovered is that people immediately figured I must be an important artist!  My problem then became that people would begin to “pose” themselves in the very self-conscious postures I was seeking to avoid.

My strategy now is to first sit and observe the room and find people who are engaged in talking to a friend, reading a book, working at their computer, or staring out a window.  These are the subjects I am really seeking anyway.  I find that people who are engaged in the present moment almost never notice that I am drawing.  If they do, and seem uncomfortable, I move on to someone else. My goal after all is not to draw the interior of rooms, or even people, but the moments that make up daily life.

Drawing people engaged in some activity also makes drawing easier.  Otherwise, they move and change their positions so often that they are almost impossible for me to draw.

Often, before a drawing is finished, the subject or subjects will notice me as they get up to leave, and will come by and ask to see the drawing.  Most are amazed by my scribbles.  To anyone who asks, I send them a copy of the image.  One of the main reasons I draw in public spaces is because I enjoy making contact with other people.  Doing art in my studio, isolated from other people, is difficult for me.  It is not art that I seek to make, but rather life as art.

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