Posted on Apr 11, 2013 in Vancouver | 9 comments

East Van alley

There’s a great hilly alley west of Windsor Street between 13th and 14th Avenue. A homeless guy walked by with a shopping cart (he really was wearing a red top and blue pants), and an older person was going for a walk in the distance. I sat in the middle of the alley, had to move for a car once, that’s not too bad.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, people sometimes start chatting or offering me beers when they see me sketching outside. Most people, of course, ignore what we urban sketchers do and just walk on by, which is what I expect. My theory is that most of us urban sketchers are introverts who have to overcome a bit of shyness every time we draw in public. Luckily I find that it gets easier all the time. I am happy to let people look over my shoulder but I won’t address them until they start talking to me.

But sitting still in public while everyone else moves around you makes you look somehow non-threatening and approachable. So it’s not uncommon for a couple of people to start talking to me whenever I draw in public. This means I have had some interesting encounters with people over the years of my urban sketching practice. Here’s a summary of what goes down:

people who bring me a beer are awesome. Bring them on.

— some people want to critique my work or make suggestions as to what I should draw. I switch to politely-ignore-mode.

— there are people who are curious what I do for a living, whether I’m a professional artist, why I am sketching in this spot etc.

— when they find out I am a graphic designer, some people want to hire me to design their logo/brochure/website/coffee shop menu/lawn sign. This is not as welcome as you may think. I actually have a full slate of clients and am not looking for more work. And to be honest, it’s not my dream project to spiff up your business card.

— some people hire me to draw their house. I like doing that. I charge $150 plus GST and PST for one of my panoramas, and another $50 if you want me to add the perfect IKEA frame and custom-cut mat. Cheaper than a hockey game, and you get to brag for years, instead of just for as long as it takes to down a pitcher of beer.

— some people stop because their kid wants to look at what I’m doing. I welcome kids. Kids are right up there with the beer-bringers. Better yet, have your kid bring me a beer.

— sometimes I get asked if I can teach them/their kid. Then I recommend an art school that can teach them/their kid.

— some people tell me that they used to like to draw and now they don’t do it anymore but they would love to get back to it. For those people, I now carry an extra pen and paper so I can tell them “draw with me right now”.

— some people feel compelled to tell me their life stories, which usually turn out to be sad.

— someone tried to pick me up once. At this stage in my life, that is far more flattering than annoying.

— then there are the down and out people who just chat for a while to butter me up so they can eventually ask me for money. My heart goes out to them but my wallet stays safely tucked away. Depending on where I’m sketching, I may not even bring my wallet with me. I take my big-city precautions but I don’t like to restrict where I’m going to draw.

— some people are a bit suspicious as to why I am drawing their street or their house; probably because they’ve never encountered anyone drawing on the street.

— some people’s questions may even communicate veiled hostility. Those are the most unpleasant encounters; I start to tense up and that’s the opposite of how I want to feel when I’m sketching.

But yesterday, I had what was probably my funniest encounter yet, which made me write this post to begin with. I met Rory, a construction worker, who suddenly walked into my drawing, lifted up his shirt and suggested that I draw him into my sketch along with his abs. Well, he said “abs”. I said “belly” when he handed me his cell phone so I could talk to “this woman he was hitting on and tell her how great he was”. I appreciate people who make the effort to kid around, even if some jokes fall flat. At least they put themselves out there.