The last page in my moleskine watercolour sketchbook. I tried to leave this sketch a bit unfinished. Or maybe I just didn’t want to stare at the people for too long.
For Sunday Sept. 8, I had set up two sketching outings, one in my favourite disposal bin, the Park-a-Park, the other one at a Dr. Sketchy Vancouver session in the evening.
Julien had arranged for the Park-a-Park to be moved to the Food Cart Fest in False Creek for just the Sunday afternoon. Three other sketchers came: Dino, Glenn, and Rachel. Julien, his girlfriend and a couple of their friends hung around there too. Glenn, Rachel and I figured out that we’re all neighbours — it just took sitting and drawing in a disposal bin together. It’s great to know there are sketchers living nearby; when the fall and winter rains arrive, I foresee a couple of impromptu sketching sessions at one of the many hipster coffee shops in our neighbourhood.
In the bin, with Julien, we had several random, yet all art-related conversations. I’ll try to summarize a couple of the topics, because they were interesting, and I want to remember what we talked about:
Big name artists who employ large numbers of assistants
And not just to mix their paint and prep their canvasses and empty their ash trays, but to actually execute art for them: artists like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Dale Chihuly, and many others have done that or are doing it now. That model of the artist’s studio already existed in medieval times, when a master painter would train many apprentices to paint in the “house style”. So does it really matter whether something is drawn by hand, by the actual artist, or is it the idea behind the art that matters? What role does craftsmanship play in art?
My brother-in-law, who builds and rebuilds unicycles and sailboats and motors, but professes to dislike both modern art and frou-frou drinks in fancy hotel bars (the latter purely to spite me), says it’s the lack of craftsmanship in much of modern art that turns him off. But I think art is not just about craftsmanship, there has to be something more. A unique way of interpreting the world, maybe.
I think a good mindset as an artist is to realize that you’re an alien who’s been dropped into this world from outer space. Then you set out to discover everything. Just keep the alien thing on the down-low.
Drawing people in public vs. photographing them
Like most sketchers, I have a hard time staring at strangers long enough in order to draw them, I really don’t want to intrude on anyone. With models, I have permission, but then it’s posed. Of course, friends or family or other sketchers may allow you to draw them, but they won’t be 100% natural either. Candidly drawing or photographing strangers on the street is a bit like photographing wildlife; it’s tricky but capturing a true-to-life pose or expression can be wonderful.
Dino said he tried to draw some native artists who were selling their crafts on the street, and they all got very irate when they noticed him drawing them. Maybe they were concerned about him intruding on their turf, being another artist? But I am certain that they cannot forbid him to draw them. Just as in street photography, where everybody who’s out on a public street is fair game for your camera, drawing a street scene with people in it is perfectly legal. Drawings of people are even permissible in places where photography is forbidden, such as during court proceedings.
Rachel pointed out that drawings are edited to only show that which is considered important by the artist, and are therefore not considered as neutral or realistic as photographs, hence the court artist is accepted where a photographer is not. Also due to time constraints, often a sketched portrait will be more of an impression than high realism. It’s about telling a story.
I tried to find some writing on street drawing and ethics, but I’ve only found entries on the ethics of street photography. Some of the thoughts here might apply to drawing as well:
As sketchers, I think it’s important to exercise our right to draw in public. It can feel awkward at first, but one gets used to it.
And we can’t help ourselves anyway.