Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Subway drawings

The sunglasses add an air of mystery
I started sketching regularly in the subway. I had done this before, but it took me almost a whole year to fill up a book. But starting in February I sketched pretty much everyday, often many times.

All the drawing are done on the spot and not redrawn or edited later. The books I use are 4" x 6" - convenient for carrying in any pocket. I use a simple ratchet/propelling type pencil with a fine lead, .5 - 7 mm. But the size and type of the pencil are not really so important. The kind of materials I use really depends mostly on how convenient it is to carry them around.

I took a lesson from my watercolour painting - use the eraser very sparingly, if at all. In watercolour painting whatever you paint, just leave it on the paper - changing it only makes things worse - the quality of the painting comes from intention - the choices one makes before ever putting paint on paper. Accidents can be helpful if you use them right - splotches and all.

In this challenging environment the same seems true of "painting" with a pencil. If I erase, it usually the whole picture, if I think I have started out badly. But I think I should keep the bad ones as well. I have to resist this temptation!

Drawing people on the subway is very challenging. First of all the moving subway car jostles you around, starting and stopping sometimes quite suddenly. The pencil on paper can be very unsteady at times.

Secondly you only have a very short time - the subject may get up at any time and leave the train. At other times people might block your view, entering and exiting the train, getting in between you and the subject.

Thirdly the subject does not always know they are being drawn. If they become aware they are, they may become very uncomfortable. "Does that person think I am strange, or look funny?" and so on.

Many of the people in my sketches appear to be sleeping, and indeed many of them were! Mostly though the appearance of sleep is because they are intent on their phones, playing games or texting. I never noticed before how high the proportion of people engrossed in their computing devices!

I admire those rich, photo-realistic pencil drawings one sees so often nowadays, but I favor the quick impression - hopefully capturing the essential character of an individual with as few strokes as possible.

Since I started subway drawing as a regular and frequent activity, the long trip passed quickly as if no time at all had passed by. I also started drawing everywhere and any subject that caught my fancy.

With this kind of art there is no plan whatsoever. So this was very different for me. Usually for a painting a concept arises and from that idea or vision I will plan it out in great detail. This is the opposite. When one steps on a train, you just don't know who or what the experience will serve up for you. There is more excitement.

Often someone is looking over your shoulder. If they like the drawing, they might tell you and you get into a conversation with a complete stranger. Again, there is no telling with whom. I have had people ask me to "do them". Once I had only one subway stop (about 2 minutes), but I took it as a challenge. Sometimes a sketch might be 20 seconds: the train is coming but there is a nice figure there for you to draw - quick! Make a notation. The lines take on this spontaneous quality. Sometimes they turn out quite all right.

The differences in people are interesting and fun to capture. Women with hijabs are great. The winter scarfs encircling heads and necks, wide collars, wrinkles, glasses, hats etc. all add to the wonderful variety of humanity one sees every day on the Toronto TTC. These also challenge one's powers of observation.

I noticed in reviewing pictures in the book, I could remember the person depicted in great detail and judge how accurate the drawing was. Drawing really helps the memory!