Saturday, November 19, 2011

Caught looking


A week ago I was in a pizza place in Baltimore, and I saw two young women at the table near me looking at pictures on their iPhone.


Perfect, I thought. They’re preoccupied. They won’t notice me sketching them.

I deployed the Moleskine watercolor book and did a very quick pencil lay-in with a #2 pencil. Then I pulled out two Niji brush pens, one with black ink and one with water, letting everything blur together wet-into-wet. 

Halfway through, one of them looked up, a little alarmed that I was gazing so intently.

This question has come up before: What do you do now? Pretend you weren’t looking? Fold up your book? Stare at something else? That would only make them feel weirder.

Instead, I plucked up the nerve and I marched right over to their table and said, “I hope you don’t mind. I’m trying to learn to sketch, and I was drawing your picture.” I showed them the half-finished drawing, and even though it looked pretty unpromising, they were immediately interested and glad to cooperate. I told them they didn’t have to hold still or pose or anything--just go back to whatever they were doing.


When I finished, I showed them the results and they got a big kick out of it, and they wanted to put it on their Facebook page. Once I told them what I was doing, the awkwardness disappeared. They were happy to be drawn.

Previously: Portable Portraits

23 comments:

SulaMoon said...

Haha I would be like "omg Gurney is sketching me!" If only they knew :)

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

I love that -- "Trying to learn to sketch". I guess learning is a lifelong process. You have an amazing attitude and a disproportionately small ego :)

billspaintingmn said...

excellet advice! I have been caught
many times, and yes, it's a weird situation.
I've never tried this approuch, but will!
I go to live model classes, but there are times out in public when things inspire. (I have moleskins
too)
Now I can respond when caught in the act.

Shona said...

'...I'm learning to sketch' - that made me giggle lots, James! I think your honesty was absolutely the right thing to do to respond and their response confirmed this :)

The Surfin' Squid said...

I really love your advice; I haven't yet had the opportunity to use it but now I know exactly what to say when confronted with this situation.

Have fun at CTN! I don't know if I'll be able to make it but I'm certainly going to try.

Fabio said...

It happened to me. I was caught and I just denied to the death!! D:

Andrew Wales said...

At least you didn't give them animal heads this time!

A.Decker said...

Very cool. Good one.

My Pen Name said...

:I guess learning is a lifelong process. "
"i am still learning -: michealangelo
and what did hokasi say?
"From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist."


regarding sketching in public. i try to choose people who are making themselves public - like speakers and such - sometimes i will just do a mental sketch (measure out proportions etc) and do it from memory - thats a good facility to practice as well

Unknown said...

An intense look can be a threat gesture. I used to draw at the zoo a lot and realized the gorillas would immediately become very upset as soon as I started. They would get agitated, even hide. So I stopped doing it because I didn't want to upset them.

I told a friend who didn't believe me and we went over to the enclosure. The gorillas were already agitated, looking at two people who were at the fence. "I guess they remember us." one said as a gorilla threw a branch which flew a few feet over their heads.

Vet's! That's who look intently at the gorillas, make notes, then do unpleasant things. No wonder they object to being sketched, they think they're about to get shots.

But a little falcon also objected to being drawn, because it didn't like being looked at that intently. So it isn't "just" the vets. And humans too are aware of and uncomfortable about being stared at.

My Pen Name said...

"An intense look can be a threat gesture."
Definitely - and if you're a male looking at a women, they might freaked out..

regarding gorillas your observations are correct::
http://boingboing.net/2009/04/17/gorilla-viewing-glas.html

puppatoons said...

Waah, I wish I were there. But my husband is, and he got an autograph from you with a dinosaur with puppets on its little dinky tyrannosaur limbs! thank you! :D

Hydra Industries said...

Awesome! I've never been brave enough to do that, but I'll have to do it next time it comes up.

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

I've done that too, James! Glad it worked out and you could finish this lovely sketch. I had to giggle at your "trying to learn to sketch..."

I think you're getting it... :-D

Will said...

I'm often drawing people in public. Often I'd give them the drawing.

Cynthia Morris said...

I try not to let them see me. I've been practicing drawing people on the m├ętro in Paris. I choose people who are reading or sleeping or otherwise still and distracted.

In my experience, people are uncomfortable if they know I'm drawing them.

Thanks for sharing this. I love your art.

GWhitehall said...

Such a great subject for a post! Heres a trick I use when caught "sniping" a portrait: If Im drawing my target, and they happen to look up and meet my gaze, Ill immediately look off to the side of them, looking down at my book and back up to my fake target, complete with wiggling my pen to suggest I'm still sketching this imaginary object. Often they will watch me do this for a few seconds, and relax. Once their guard is down, I resume! This usually buys me enough time to finish my sketch. Other times, the target will deploy counterintelligence, and try to slyly walk behind me to check my book. Then I get a taste of how it feels to be watched.
Im enjoying your blog very much, it was also great to catch you at Blizzard and CTNX!

bill said...

The perfect ending to this story would be if they were looking at Gurney Journey on the phone. Gotta think symmetry.

william said...

I'm kinda surprised how many people, try to hide it, or feel awkward when getting caught drawing and observing people. Maybe it's just my personality, but I'm kinda like Will, I often just walk up and give them the drawing. I think many/most people are kind of flattered. Seriously this was my secret weapon for getting girls in high school and college, hmmm wonder if it still works...(going to get some coffee ttyl:)

Matt Dicke said...

I liked how you mentioned, in the talk the other day at Uarts, that when you are caught looking that you say "you are a student or learning how to sketch". And that takes a bit off of their expectations as well gives them a sense that they are helping you out with your practice. It is great advice.
matt dicke www.mattdicke.com

Chris Beatrice said...

Heh, I actually got threatened by a guy when "caught" sketching him and his girlfriend in a restaurant.

Ken said...

Unfortunately I don't get nearly as friendly a reaction at times (like a couple of the previous commenters). I can understand it to an extent...you are looking intently at them, and they are wondering what your problem is. Rather unfortunate misunderstanding at times.

I usually try to find a quiet, discreet corner of a cafe to sketch fellow coffee / tea drinkers for several reasons, this being one of them! At this point though, if I get caught or if people appear upset, I simply nod in apology and choose someone else.

jason said...

love your blog, i too would never go over to some one, but do not hide what i'm doing, as i have all my gear out in front of me so thay can see what i'm doing, i get some who see me them move an arm or move there whole self and smile to them selfs, i did use to find it very hard to sit in cafes sketching due to people seeing me but now i find it fun and get lots oe people come up to me and say "are you drawing today or just people watching.