As I’ve just hit 100 for this year’s OneWeek100people challenge (see here for more) I thought it would be a good chance to consolidate my thoughts about how to sketch people in public.
Thoughts on improving your people sketching
- I think sketching people on location is all about relying on your knowledge of the human figure – capturing gestures quickly and remembering the unique qualities of individuals. To do this you really need to do lots of research so that you know beforehand how you are going to draw a generic person and some generic gestures. This becomes a database that you constantly rely on when sketching on location.
- Lots of practice sketching people on location without this research will help you become more comfortable with the act of sketching but there is a very real possibility that you will start cementing bad habits. This was certainly the case for me! Just sketching wasn’t making it easier. It took a lot of deliberate study, practice and checking to fix some basic errors I was constantly making. And in fact, I still need to do this process on a regular basis.
- The top ‘people sketchers’ have often done a lot of study and know the human figure well. It has become second nature to them.
- I’m a long way from being where I want to be with my people sketching, but I’m super happy with the development I have made in the past 2 years and especially in the last few months. It’s definitely not just practice – practice and research need to go hand in hand.
- Try to sketch people who are engrossed in what they are doing – looking at phones is the most usual example.
- Try not to do the usual sketching head-bobbing action as much as possible – this is what people notice as it’s unusual head movement. So I look and try to memorise the specific features/ gesture and then draw as much as I can before looking back.
- In a cafe – sit in a back corner if possible and draw the people two tables away (it’s great if there are people sitting in the next table who you can hide behind)
- Try drawing the staff. I have only had positive experiences when drawing staff! In fact having the staff of my two local cafes on board and engaged in the challenge this week has been a huge part of the experience. They have been cheering me on and checking on my progress. Some of the staff have friends/family who have been following my sketches and trying to recognise them. It’s been so much fun!
Some tips for sketching faces
I’m still in major research mode for torsos, arms, hands, legs and feet… but when it comes to faces these are some of the things I think about:
- Think about the whole head – the skull – not just the facial features.
- Find an order for drawing the head which helps you think of structure and proportion first. For me it’s a quirky approach of starting with the ears!
- Use a tool that gives you some options for corrections – ie. a pencil, coloured pencil, paint
- When sketching with ink try to minimize your lines – better to go too cartoony than too heavy with lots of restated lines.
- If you draw an incorrect line in ink, leave it and embrace the wonkiness – well, when drawing people it’s more like embrace the mutilation!
And most importantly….have fun!