This week many people are drawing, or trying to draw, 100 people in five days. Run every year by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel, this is a popular annual event. It’s no small coincidence that the two people leading this charge are two of the fastest sketchers I’ve seen and a pair that place a VERY high premium on sketching quickly. I don’t say that as a negative, just a fact.
I still remember the first time someone suggested that I draw people on the move. I was sketching with a couple people, both my betters, and they said, “Let’s go downtown and draw pedestrians waiting for the light to change. I didn’t see my face at the time, but I’m sure my expression was “Are you nuts?” The thought of drawing a person, a whole person, as 15-20 seconds was so far beyond my comprehension that I knew it was a joke. And it was a joke… when I tried it that first time.
Sadly, the people who do this stuff regularly think it’s normal and so they don’t talk much about how people who don’t find it normal can do it. I thought, rather than just another rally cry for the event, I’d mention a couple solutions that some use to do this. I should preface this with the important fact. All of these approaches are done by people who, if they have the time, can draw very detailed people. There’s an old adage that if you can’t draw something slowly, you can’t draw it fast. I think that’s true.
I’m going to describe “capturing” a character with the full knowledge that the results aren’t going to hang in the Louvre anytime soon (grin). You’ve got to be ok with that before you launch into the 100 People Challenge.
Draw the bare minimum
The first thing you have to understand is that you’re not doing Sargent-level portraiture. You don’t have time. Many add two things together to accomplish the task. They draw their people very small and do little more than draw lines for legs and arms with a round ball for a head. I’d call this the stickman approach except that most grab for drawing something a bit more complete, where the arms and legs are positioned, bent appropriately, and so you can easily see what the character was doing. This is a really good approach if you’re happy with these simple results.
Loosy Goosy approach
Artists throw around the term “loose” a lot. With no solid defnition of the word it’s said that we should all be this, so we’re not “tight.” My guess is that a lot of the great artists of our past would take issue with this but that’s how the modern world rolls.
Anyway, a lot of artists, realizing that there’s little time for drawing leg and arm musculature accurately in the few seconds they have simply abandon the idea entirely, drawing arms and legs heading off in the right direction but not necessarily with proper geometry. They keep everything “loose” and are ok with that, no matter how “tight” they might do their next studio portrait.
Sweat the small stuff later approach
This takes on different forms depending upon the artist. Some will draw an action line defining the subject’s orientation and then add only a few points defining joints, clothing boundaries, etc. Some will go over these drawings with more ink later, correcting errors. Others will do a complete contour of the subject while thinking about how color will help them complete the figure.
Still others will do a continuous, or nearly so, pencil sketch, all the time thinking of what they’re going to do with color to bring the character to life. There is no one better at doing this approach than Marc Holmes. He is so adept with both pencil and brush that it’s a joy to watch him draw characters.
All of these approaches require that you’re planning on working on your drawings later, probably at home. The hard thing for many is drawing while thinking color, light and shade, etc. placing lines to indicate shadow borders, etc.
Make sure you’re drawing someone who will stay put for a couple minutes (grin)
The master of this approach is Alvin Mark. His targets are people eating, people on buses, people on trains, anywhere that people stop. His ability to draw precise contour drawings of people, reflecting not only their personality but their weight and its balance, is uncanny. But he chooses his targets wisely.
So, these are some of the ways that people accomplish the task. What I haven’t said is that it’s a LOT of fun and the more you do of it the easier it becomes. I’m still not good at it and may never be. I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet and so my “skills” aren’t amenable to quick sketching. When sketching people I guess I’m closer to a “loosy goosy” sketcher than anything else. I’ll let you decide. These are the sketches I did yesterday, during the first day of the event.