The upcoming August/September issue of International Artist magazine contains my article "Painting Candid Portraits in the Wild," which recaps nine recent adventures in plein-air portraiture.
In the article I address a question that comes up often:
Is it OK to Sketch Strangers in Public?
Yes. In most public places people have no expectation of privacy, and you have a right to sketch them. However, for both ethical and practical reasons, it’s better to assume otherwise. Whenever someone notices that I’m sketching them, I try to introduce myself, and I show them what I’m up to. My standard line is: "Hi, I'm just getting some practice sketching people, hope you don't mind. Keep doing what you're doing. I'll be done in five more minutes and I'll show you when I finish." Most often, they just want to take a photo for Facebook. If they look annoyed after I say that line, I’ll switch to someone else. But nine times out of ten, being open will erase their worries and perhaps make a friend. Sometimes I’m sitting too far away to make such a connection, or I’m dealing with a language barrier. In that case, I hold up the sketchbook and smile. That clears the air and gives them the opportunity to decline politely. If I want to do a portrait with a lot more commitment, rather than stealth sketching, it's best to get permission and set the terms at the outset. Then I can say something like, "Hey, are you going to be around here a while? I'm an artist and I'd love to sketch your portrait while we talk."