Sketching in public is one of those things that is necessary when you face the following two realities in your life: 1) You need to sketch, and 2) You have a social life/job/relationship with your community and a desire to leave the house once in a while. The fun part is trying to reconcile this very personal activity with the fact that there are other people around, either trying to engage with you, or trying to go about their business and not necessarily wanting to be models. Unless you're lucky enough to have a sketching buddy, you might find yourself playing the role of that weirdo who makes everyone in the group uneasy--not knowing if they can talk to you, move, or whatever.
|People at an outdoor concert, at a random sports bar|
The phrase "hiding behind the camera" is sometimes used around photographers. You don't really get to do that with a sketchbook--your face is highly visible. People invite themselves to look over your shoulder. One time in Jacksonville Beach, a particularly friendly construction worker managed to use a seemingly innocent interest to draw me into a lengthy political discussion as I sketched the pier. And I cannot sketch on an airplane without my seat neighbor offering unsolicited comments, sometimes in another language. While these experiences can be fun and entertaining, they're also distracting when they carry on.
So I'd just like to make a public service announcement: If you see someone sketching in public, just pretend they're on a laptop, and act accordingly. If a person is typing away in a coffee shop, you don't ever get to know what they're doing. It's obviously important enough, though, that it couldn't wait till they got home. Or maybe they couldn't stand doing it at home anymore. They might just be e-mailing their boss, or editing their résumé or updating their blog, or they might be writing the latest teen-zombie-romance novel. They might be writing about YOU! You may be burning with curiosity that you can barely control. But nobody jumps in and tries to get involved. You just...let them do their thing.
|girl studying outside Starbucks|
The difference in people's behavior around a sketchbook, IMO, is that most see it as a "leisure activity". It doesn't occur to people that artists are actually "working". To some, who insist that it's so interesting to watch someone draw, this is enough to warrent an interruption. I doubt that very many poets, composers, novelists or playwrights, upon noticing a stranger peering over their shoulder in public, would say that "flattered" would describe their first reaction.
If sketchbook-talent-voyurism is really how you get your kicks, there are tons of videos of people doing drawing demos on YouTube...
This is not to say do not ever talk to someone while they sketch--particularly if you know them. I personally like to listen to a book or chat idly with a friend while working, especially once I'm further into a drawing, after I've made all the brain-intensive compositional decisions, and I'm just filling it out. I can multitask, there are just some times when I probably shouldn't.
|tree in city market, Savannah|
The point is we artists NEED to sketch....one way or another, and not just in isolation! Nobody wants to do business with sunlight-deprived hermits who are near-sighted from running too many Google image searches. Museums, airports, festivals, and sporting events are all good places to sketch; the crowds are usually big enough or busy enough that people don't notice you too much.
This is as much a reminder to myself as it is advise for aspiring/fellow artists.
Don't let the attention scare you. Get out there and sketch already, kids!