What It's Like to Be Sketched by a Stranger

The Urban Sketchers Manifesto states drawings should be based "on location, not from photos or memory." Oops!

The Urban Sketchers Manifesto states drawings should be based "on location, not from photos or memory." Oops!

I met Lisa-Marie at that "sort-of" TEDx talk I gave in December. Immediately following the talk, she approached me with big, bubbly smile and asked if I'd like to join her sketch group for an afternoon.

My art skills are horse poo, so I agreed. 

MetroSketchers Group meets once a month (sometimes more) to hang out and draw stuff. They'll do outings (think Minnesota State Fair, Science Museum, the Depot in St. Paul), figure drawing meet-ups (yep, that means nude model!) and more. Lisa-Marie invited me to their annual portrait gathering, which basically means everyone shows up at someone's house and you draw each other. That sounded pretty fun to me, especially because I heard there was food involved.

Scary step number one = show up at a stranger's home in St. Paul. Not something I would normally do, but I kind of peeked through the window before I rang the doorbell and it looked so "St. Paul-y" (interesting artwork, lots of cool pottery and textiles, probably a lot of tea in the cupboards), I knew the chances of getting murdered were very slim. Once I walked into the home, I was asked to take off my shoes and place my coat in a nicely appointed bedroom upstairs.

These were good Minnesotans. I had nothing to worry about!

People were strewn all over the first floor of the house, casually talking and sketching. I'd scrounged all over our house before I'd left to find something to write on and/or with. All I could come up with was Josh's graph paper and some weird mechanical pencil. Everyone seemed to be using different materials-- pens, Sharpies, water color sets, blood (jk)-- so I didn't quite stick out as much as I'd expected.

I found Lisa-Marie in the kitchen's adorable breakfast nook, where she was sketching a portrait of the man sitting across from her. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming. I took out my pencil and graph paper, then realized I was supposed to start drawing someone sitting right there in front of me.

All sorts of anxieties raced through my head:

1. So, like are there general rules of thumb when drawing a person? Probably... I wish I knew what those were!

2. What if I make someone look disgusting or weird and offend them?

3. Wait, in order to draw somebody, I am going to have to stare at them for a very long time. I realize this is a necessary step in the process, but still! If they "catch me," not only will I feel awkward, but then what if they ask to see my drawing?! See anxiety #2.

I panicked, but since I knew I would be there for a few hours, I figured I could just draw a coffee cup or something that wasn't alive/had eyeballs that would catch me looking at them. That's when I looked up a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt online and started drawing.

It was a total crutch, but allowed me to get comfy.

As I butchered a portrait of my hero, I noticed a guy standing in the corner of the kitchen kept looking at me. Ah, crap! I never realized I might be a subject for portraiture. How long had he been looking my way? And what's more, what did his interpretation of me look like?! I tried to ignore it, but eventually I had to get up and take a look. 

Ken Avidor, the guy I caught sketching my mug. 

Ken Avidor, the guy I caught sketching my mug. 

As it turned out, the guy is an illustrator & courtroom sketch artist (!). I checked out Ken Avidor's work online & suffice to say, it's fabulous. His sketch of Lisa-Marie & I ended up being incredibly flattering (he said he likes to Hollywood up women in his sketches, which I was 100 percent a-okay with). I looked like Bridget Bardot or something. A gal can dream, can't she?

Ken's sketch of Lisa-Marie & me. Artistic license accepted!

Ken's sketch of Lisa-Marie & me. Artistic license accepted!

Lisa-Marie & I in real life. :)

Lisa-Marie & I in real life. :)

I talked with Ken for a bit, gaining insight as to what drives people to sketch, plus some tips on how to be more confident in my abilities. He looks to sketching as a way of journaling, recording the events of the day in a big ol' book. Others explained how sketching is more than trying to perfectly recreate what you see in front of you. For some, it's a way of record keeping, for others, it's storytelling. Some people rely on it as a meditative practice. Sometimes people simply crave a creative outlet when their regular lives or jobs simply don't cut the mustard. 

About 90 minutes into the party, I stopped caring about what other people thought of my shitty little drawings. I also stopped trying to perfectly copy images I found online. I decided to draw small cartoon-y images of everyone within my line of vision. Some drawings took me 30 seconds, others a few minutes. Pretty soon, I'd drawn nearly a dozen faces... and I think if I gave the piece of paper to someone in the room, they could totally tell who was who.

I was kind of proud of my drawings: 

They're kind of light, but mark my words: this will be worth a fortune some day. 

They're kind of light, but mark my words: this will be worth a fortune some day. 

At the end of the afternoon, we all placed our sketches on the couch for all to see (myself included!). I was so impressed at the vast array of styles and talent! How great are these sketches?


I learned a lot this afternoon, but the big take home points:

1. Sometimes you have to let go and stop trying to be perfect. Personal style is what makes everything interesting.

2. No matter what your passion or hobby is, find people who also enjoy it and encourage each other to take time to practice their craft. A meet-up like MetroSketchers forces people to set some time aside to do something they love. I'm so guilty of neglecting my hobbies because they aren't as "important" as work/cleaning/being productive. But when I take a step back, I believe nurturing our creative side is just as important as scrubbing the bathroom floor... and it's a lot more fun, too.