Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How I started sketching in public

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

I discovered Urban Sketching in 2009. This whole idea blew my mind! I subscribed to Urban Sketchers blog, friended Pete Scully, Rob Carey, Gabi Campanario. Then I bought a sketchbook. I wanted to sketch this city and its people and its happenings. I wanted to sit in cafes and draw, go to museums and work in my sketchbook. I wanted to be a part of that, but I was afraid. 

If you ask me now what I was afraid of, it would be hard for me to formulate exactly. I suppose I was afraid of being judged. I was afraid that people would look at my drawings while I sit there in public and recognize me for a fake that I am. I was a afraid of failure, my drawings never came out like what I meant them to be, instead of beautiful proportions and delicate value gradations, my results looked grotesque and wonky. Plus, I never went to art school and thought that it would be immediately obvious to anyone who looks at my scribbles. Aaaaa-nd, when I was in the middle school, my father did all my art homework because I was too busy with my math and history. You see - I had many reasons. I can probably remember a few more if I concentrate.

So I would go to the Art Institute, my sketchbook in my bag, and walk gallery after gallery trying to summon my courage to sit down and draw something. And then I would go home with my sketchbook having never left my bag. Weeks passed, then months.

That one Tuesday I was in the Art Institute again and heard uncharacteristic noise coming from the main Impressionist gallery. I went there to see what’s going in. There were kids there, 2nd graders, having their art class in the museum. About 40 kids, very loosely chaperoned by their art teachers, were sitting on benches, lying on the floor and copying Monet and Renoir and Degas and Cezanne onto sheets of paper. They were laughing, squealing, pushing each other and having enormous fun. When they saw that I was interested in their drawings, they gathered around me and started showing me their masterpieces. The drawings were what you would expect of a 2nd grader equipped with a #2 pencil and a sheet of printer paper. The fun that filled the gallery was over the top. They were so happy and proud of their work! And I was almost crying from envy. I too wanted to be part of that. How come they are not afraid, I thought. How come they are having so much fun, and I am about to leave the Art Institute with my sketchbook still unopened in my bag. Enough!

I walked to the right of the main Impressionist gallery, sat on a bench and got my sketchbook out of my bag.

Gaston Lachaise - Woman (Elevation) - Bronze - 1927. Art Institute of Chicago 

Nobody laughed. Actually nobody paid any attention. In a few days I came back and drew again. No-one cared.

Randolph Rogers - Nydia, The Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii - Marble - 1858. Art Institute of Chicago

I went to a local coffee shop and sketched a view from the window. A man looked over my shoulder and said, “You are so brave to draw in public like that, I don’t have the guts.” I thought, “If only you knew!”


  1. Thanks for this message Alex !!!! This was my reality until this February when I decided it was time for me to dare sketch in the Paris Metro after weeks with my sketchbook in my purse. Now I sketch (almost) everywhere and… so what ! At the Louvre the other day a tourist asked if she could buy one of my sketches !!! I couldn't believe it because it was an awful sketch of a statue. But it really encouraged me to go on doing something I should have started years ago.

  2. What a great story and lesson to overcome fear Alex, thanks for sharing your experience, it will sure inspire many people.

  3. Great post and story...Even for me it is difficult and scary...I draw in front of hundreds of people while at Shedd although they are behind me and I cannot see them or at private parties with smaller groups but that is different than out on the street or in a coffee shop I have also done this many many times gone out to go sketching and never taken out my supplies going back home disappointed in myself and my fears!

  4. Thanks Alex! I love the image of the children inspiring you. I've not had any art experience until last year. Totally, no drawing or painting experience. I love sketching now. I find doing this in my small town is the hardest place. People know me! Ha! I guess I'm afraid they will expect me to be "good", whatever their version (or my version) of "good" is. Any place else is so much easier. Well, you have inspired me to allow myself to have fun close to home and let the joy take over!

  5. I struggle with the same thing! My sketchbook stays in my bag because I feel shy and don't want to make a "spectacle out of myself," because I would be the only one drawing. I wish I could be invisible during sketching, so I could do so without feeling self-conscious. This is all silliness though, because once I get going on a sketch, it's all fine. I think that as we grow up, life serves up embarrassing moments, bullies, mean girls, and our self esteem gets scarred along the way.

  6. It's such a great observation that hardly anyone notices When you're sketching in public, and the few that do are very supportive. I followed the link to your father's work. He's really good. Has he ever gone out sketching with the group?

  7. I remember my first in college studying Fine Arts... my professor sent me and my classmates to sketch our university park and buildings. It was fun when doing it in groups. There was a time when I had to finish a drawing assignment and I have no place at school to finish it. I went to a cafe outside and did it. Of course there are few people who passed by looking at my work. I was a bit nervous but I didn't mind much as I was beating the deadline. I wish I feel the same when I go out and try urban/observational sketching alone. I'm going to visit a museum this weekend and I'm hoping I have the guts to pull out my sketch materials.