Why you should sketch everything, unapologetically, and how to get started...
Updated: Jun 8, 2018
Tuesday afternoon, 3pm. I walk into Caffe Nero armed with my priority moment and the barista says hi.
"Decaf americano?" I nod. The rest of the queue don't bat an eyelid.
I'm quickly presented with my coffee and I sit down at the back of the shop. As if by reflex, I get out my sketchbook, a rollerball pen and my new addition- a pink promarker. I scan the room for unfamiliar faces and start to draw.
One of the questions I'm asked most often is "how do you have the confidence to sketch people? Aren't you worried about getting caught?"
I'll let you in on a secret.
In the four years since I started sketching habitually, I have never been noticed by the person I was sketching. Sure, people around me occasionally take an interest, but that's fine. Here's why...
1. Sketching is a talent!
Only rarely have I seen people doing what I do, and whenever I have done, I found it fascinating. Musicians go busking, it's a way they can showcase their talent and actually earn some money from it. There may be no financial incentive in coffee shop sketching, onlookers will appreciate your dedication in the same way. Have you ever stopped to marvel at a caricaturist? They had to start somewhere. Chances are, they were sketching everyone they could find before they mastered their craft. And on that note...
2. Sketching is a tool.
There is nothing I find more satisfying than flicking through a filled sketchbook, even though that's rarely the end product for artists. My sketches are part of an ongoing process that enabled me to draw with a likeness. It's more challenging than drawing from photographs, people are always on the move, even in relaxed environments. I can't count how many times I've been drawing people who've left the shop, or got off the bus..it's a risk you have to take. Often the rawness of half finished sketches make them more enticing than the ones you complete!
3. It can be a brilliant stress reliever.
If you feel anxious at the idea of publicly drawing, this might sound insane! Consider it this way: it's a way of focusing your mind without having to look at a screen. It's astounding how many people in coffee shops are glued to technology, like it's the adult form of a comfort blanket. As a starting exercise, make sketches of anyone you see occupied by their phone or laptop. Not only will you have a multitude of subjects, they'll be too distracted to notice you.
Now the benefits of sketching have been laid out, you may be warming to the idea- but actioning it could still be a way off. In order to make the jump...
1. Start small and set goals.
When I was in sixthform, my go-to sketchbooks were A6 pocket moleskines. I set myself the challenge several times of completing one in a month, I'd advise anyone getting into sketching to do the same. These books have 32 pages- roughly a sketch a day. It might only take 5 minutes out of your day and will ensure that sketching becomes routine. For some it may even take less time, because...
2. Not every sketch has to be a masterpiece.
In fact, none of them do. I would be very surprised if anyone who knew me by my sketchbooks could guess what my paintings look like. I favour a quick, expressive technique, and if I keep my hand moving the shapes tend to find themselves. They have to, my lines are always permanent, in marker or ink. Pens are a fantastic way of breaking the mental barrier that every sketch has to be your best work.
3. Use beautiful stationary to stay encouraged.
If a reporters pad from Wilko works for you, use that. Chances are though it'll take a little more to keep you motivated. I've used fat and thin sketchbooks, patterned and plain, but my current favourites are all from Coconut Lane. They have a really manageable 20 pages, (40 sides,) and fun covers which fuel my addiction to pink. The books are a great price anyway but the website often has fab new customer offers, so keep an eye out if you haven't already discovered them.
4. Get inspired!
Instagram and Pinterest are your best friends. Here are two of my favourite sketchers from Instagram: Laxmi Hussain and Adebanji Alade. Just remember to actually go out and draw once you've had a browse. It's easy to get sucked in by the pages that inspire you and not actually produce anything.
Still uncovinced after absorbing the best of the internet?
Some final hacks to make it even less daunting...
1. Draw things other than people.
If you're concerned about being caught by the person you're sketching, great news! Lamps and foutons won't see you. It might not be the most exciting of subject matter, but sketching still life is a fantastic way of training your eye to draw from observation.
2. Carrying your laptop with you? Become the Hannah Montana of the urban sketching community. Sat at the back of a coffee shop, no-one will suspect a thing as you draw behind the screen. People really aren't that nosey.
Yes, they know me in Caffe Nero. I would bet on the staff referring to me as "the girl who draws people." Realistically though, as a Fine Art student I pay substantial fees to be an artist for 3 years- so being "the girl who draws people" isn't so bad. The fact it's left enough of an impression that they know my coffee preference...isn't that a bonus?