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Sketching People In Everyday Life

I think I’m going to rename this drawing unit ‘The One You Will Be Working On For All Eternity’. Man alive, it’s taking me a long time. I’m embarrassed how little I’ve been able to work. So… *braces self*… I am on a mission to get this thing finished, silly disease be damned. I would really really like to start painting in the New Year and that means a focused effort to get through this last body of work.

RIGHT. Let’s do this. Next up in my write-up of work I’ve done so far, is the drawing project of ‘The Moving Figure’ in everyday life. I’ll be honest from the get-go, this pushed me waaaay out of my comfort zone. I’m not a particularly adventurous artist just yet, I know this. I hope to be one day and think I have it in me, but I don’t find being pushed easy. With confidence still a bit of an issue, especially with the added dimension of health difficulties, I cling to controlled situations, being able to work at my own pace and with subjects I feel safe with. This is boring though, and not the artist I want to be. I WANT to be braver. I’m hoping working with paint next year might ‘open me up’ a little in this regard, I’ve always found it so much easier to experiment in that medium. Anyway, in the meantime I’m doing my best, and so gave ‘The Moving Figure’ project the best I had. I am SO self-concious drawing in public. It is horrible and a real problem, I wish I could be braver. I long for an invisibility cloak so I could sit and draw people un-noticed for hours!

I quickly realised this was about working FAST. Really really fast (hard for stiff fingers and slow reflexes!). You’re probably going to have less than five minutes to draw someone, and they’re probably going to move. I got lots of half-outlines of people. Sometimes I only managed to get half a drawing done and then sat and reworked lines, or added details after they’d gone.  Gravitating towards people sitting gave me a better chance, especially if they were looking at something or waiting. It was interesting to note that even if they moved slightly, people seemed to revert to ‘default’ poses and settling of their limbs.

Accuracy was hard. You have to work instinctively, not really looking at the paper. Maintaining the proportions I’d learnt from previous figure drawing was a challenge. I began working in pencil but started to favour working directly in pen to make me bolder and think more about the marks I was making, be more selective and not over-work. Pen sketches always seem to hold more energy, somehow, too. Quick expressive marks were needed to show pose, facial expression, the weight and drape of their clothes. Facial detail was difficult and too fussy to really add much of, especially at a distance. You had to be really selective about what you chose to draw, really look at what ‘defined’ the person you were drawing and concentrate on that. Their stance or pose? Their clothes? Their general gaze, gesture, or something they were holding?  It was a great lesson in people-watching – something I may come back to write about in more detail.

I tried to draw people who’s pose or presence suggested some kind of energy or purpose, with the drawing conveying something about the wider scene or situation. I didn’t want them to be too ‘posed’, more about a moment. I’m not sure how well I always managed this. The instinct is always to draw something that is still, however short a time it is, cause movement is so hard to convey. I should have maybe tried some more experimental drawings – people in full movement. Maybe when I’m feeling better the dance studio down the road might be worth a phone call if I’m brave enough.

When I couldn’t draw live, I took photos and drew quickly from them, trying to work as fast as I could, as if they were standing in front of me. When I was stuck inside I even used photos of people on the internet, just to keep my hand in! Sometimes I did both – did as much drawing as I can, then took a quick snap to look at and see if it would tell me anything that I could use later to ‘finish’ off the picture. The sitting girl waiting in the cowboy boots was a good example of that. I find retaining details in my mind difficult. The drawing from memory unit later I worked on more recently really pushed me there.

Here’s some sketches then. Some of them are better than others, obviously, but there are a few I am pleased with. I’ll comment more on why I drew them, and what I was trying to convey.

This guy is a regular in a particular coffee shop and never stops moving his hands to express himself as he talks. I would have liked to have drawn a whole sequence of images of his hands in their different places but I got a bit self-concious drawing him as he sat in the window. He always wears those big shades, no matter the weather!

I loved the line and perspective of the tables and the people’s heads (although didn’t manage to get this down all that accurately) and the ‘scene’ of three different people, all reading but in different positions.


Older men sitting. I love how the all seem to wear similar trousers and how they ride up to show their socks as they sit. Here I wanted to get some element of concentration in poses. The left-hand sketch is not so good proportions-wise, with his body too short (he was sat confusedly trying to work a mobile phone, which I found endearing), but I was pleased with my right-hand drawing of the man in the hat. I used very few lines and like the feel of it.

Man nodding off on a bench, in biro. His head is a disaster but I was pleased with his legs and shoes!

I liked the way her profile peeped out of her hair.


Fast fast fast one! Waiting for a bus. Starting to experiment with a more scribbly pen style. Here it was the sense of waiting and the big bulky coat I concentrated on.  The details of the street were added afterwards – in reality there were more cars but it would have made it too fussy.

It was her cowboy boots and slouchy bags I loved, the forward lean of her, and the strange way she held her hand as she sat with her fingers across her face. Half worked from a photo, I liked having to time to build up the hatching in this one.

Coloured in afterwards. I had just drawn the outline and thought this would make a good silhouette.

Quick one of Kai balancing on the curb in the lane by our house :-) (I may have made him walk it a few times)

Cold and hunched and holding shopping. Pleased with this one. Can’t believe looking at it now how fast I drew it.

Oh old man bandy legs!! I love them. Feet pointing out, a slight forward hunch and uneven lean of weight – I hope this drawing conveys something of the movement of ‘old’.

She was not at ease in that group. Quiet, anxious, forever looking over her shoulder. I liked how she was part of that group but separate  and some of the little details – her scraggly hair and worried face and hands, her bag on her lap as if she needed to run at any moment, the dark lips and long nails of the woman in glasses.

 After all my low confidence I actually loved doing these. Really loved it. I think doing them and working like this really helped me grow and added a new element to my work. Writing up this post has made me hungry for sketching again. Maybe some more quick pieces like this would be a good way to try and get my fingers working again ready to do my assignment.

Self-portraits were up next! My own face! Eeep!


  1. Yet more fabulous work from you. Looking forward to seeing the self portraits. Wish I could post you some confidence though, or have you see your work through my eyes!

  2. wow you are realy really good – have confidence in your work honestly its great!

  3. Catherine Banks

    I can see how your confidence grew. Love the hatching on the girl with cowboy boots; the bandy legs on the old man and the expression on the face of the quiet lady at the end. Great range of techniques to gain the effect you wanted.

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