Drawings of everyday life

Will the person I draw not be annoyed that I stare at her?

Coffee Company Berenstraat
I like to sit in a café. I read a newspaper, write and since half a year I draw my cup of coffee. Or I draw the people sitting there. Sometimes I feel unsecure about drawing other people. Will the person not be annoyed that I stare at him? Will they be angry, irritated or just simply not feeling at their ease? Should I ask permission?

In  a few cases the person I draw looked at me and notices I’m drawing him, then I smile friendly. A few times – when I know the person in the café – I announce that I’m going to draw her. Some people become very self-conscious.

Coffee Company Haarlemmerdijk Amsterdam

I asked for advice in the Every Day Matters Yahoo Group. Sarah Wilde answered:

I don’t ask, I just go ahead and draw, but I usually pick people who are involved in reading or talking or something. Depending on the person, if they notice me I either smile and ask if they mind (if they look friendly), pretend to be drawing something beside or above them (cowards way out, lol) or offer to show them. It really depends a lot on how I’m feeling.

Peter Sloan answered:

If they do notice and get upset, remember, it’s always easier to ask
forgiveness than permission.

I’m really curious what your experiences are. What do you do in this occasion? What is your

(The drawings above are the result of an exercise in the book Drawing Lab of Carla Sonheim. This exercise was inspired by the work of Sarah Wilde.)

UPDATE February 19th: I just found this interesting discussion on the topic on Flickr (I love the Internet).

UPDATE December 24th 2012: Andrea Joseph wrote about this subject on her blog. Three years ago she described herself as a “reluctant public sketcher”, now she is drawing on planes, and in airports, cafes, parks and streets.


10 responses

  1. So interesting question. I’m just starting and till now just once I took a picture from behind of a man walking, and then, at home, I sketched his figure. Never dared to sketch people directly, but I think it could be great.

    February 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

  2. Dan

    I’ve been doing this for some time. I never ask. I try to find people engaged in conversation and/or not too interested in the people around them. I also aim for a 3/4 angle (which is the best angle for a drawing anyway).

    If you are looking straight ahead of where you are sitting you have two things going for you: 1. People assume you have to look straight ahead. 2. People assume that what you are doing couldn’t possibly have to do with them.

    The key is this, I think. No one cares about you. They are busy with your own lives. They assume you must be busy with yours.

    I try to look when they are not. I try to capture the image in my mind so I can concentrate on the drawing as much or more than on the subject. If they happen to look my way while I am looking, I just casually look down or away as if they are the most unimportant thing in the world, as I am to them. Most of the time this works.

    February 14, 2011 at 3:06 am

  3. Jaap Keller

    Fantastic drawing from the café.
    It looks like you did not lift the pencil from THE paper.

    February 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

  4. I haven’t sketched people in public for a long time, but I always found the best way to sketch was in the classroom and everyone thought I was taking notes:)

    February 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  5. most of the time people either do not notice me drawing them, or just ignore me 😛 especially in europe. as a matter of fact i was approached only a couple times by the people i was drawing, in america and couple times in turkey. but in all occasions the reaction was friendly. i even made friends that way 🙂
    i guess people like to see their drawings.:)
    what i love is sometimes going to the general rehearsals of operas and ballets and draw the artists there. they do not care who is doing what since they are so busy with their performance. and the entrance is free 😀

    February 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

  6. Great drawing. I don’t draw much in public but I do a lot of photography. It is different though, because I usually do ask if I want them looking in the lens, and the ‘operation’ only takes a couple of minutes at the most. Hope you continue to do what you do, and not care too much about people’s reactions. Besides most people are not very interested in life around them anyway, I find.

    February 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm

  7. I think of the same too that’s why I am very careful(almost like a ninja) if I sketch in public, which I don’t do a whole lot anyway. Dan up there is the veteran when it comes to sketching people in public…so that means he’s also a Master Ninja :p

    February 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  8. I’ve never had anyone say anything to me about drawing them, and I do it a fair amount. I think it’s because I also try to choose folks who are otherwise occupied. If I do look up and see them watching me, I just casually smile and look somewhere else. Then I go back to them when they’re not looking. Also, I try to position myself so that other people can’t see what I’m doing – both because it’s easier for me to draw when unobserved, but also because then it doesn’t call attention to me. I like the style you chose to use in these drawings! nancy

    February 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm

  9. Charlotte

    Ha ha, I really recognise this feeling! I’m just starting to draw in public again so it’s really interesting to see what people say.

    My Dad got really good at this on the tube in London- he would draw people without them being aware he was looking at them. He filled dozens of sketchbooks over the years and I don’t think anyone ever really noticed.

    Great line drawings too!

    February 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm

  10. Pingback: Drawings in the Coffee Company « Tekenen van alledaagsheid

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