Want to try creating art in a public place, but feeling a bit nervous about it? Have no fear—just follow Jane Davenport’s expert advice from the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. She has helpful tips and tricks to help you prepare for your outing, pick a destination, find a muse, and so much more. You’ll soon be a pro at making art on the go!
Café Creative: The Art of Capturing Life, by Jane Davenport
I love to sketch while I’m on the go. Whether I’m off to a local shopping center or on a grand international adventure, I find the perfect spot to sketch is a café. By drawing what’s around me, the places I have sat and sketched are burned into my memory. When I look at my journal pages, I recall not just what I was sketching, but also the environment, the trips to and from the place, the weather, sounds, and smells. I highly recommend sketching and painting as a way to sink into your surroundings and build your creative confidence.
Practice before you go
Many people find creating art in public intimidating. Practice will build your confidence, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there.
If you hope to sketch while traveling, try it out locally first. This will warm you up in a place where you’re already comfortable, and help finesse your tool selection. Ideal places can be at home, waiting for an appointment, or at a favorite coffee shop.
The lighter you pack, the better. I have a very small pencil case, my own Mixed Media Journal Girdle, which attaches to my sketchbook. I can fit my travel kit in it with ease. My kit usually includes two of my favorite fountain pens, a colored pencil, and three paint pens. But I do like to mix it up, so I often slip a rarely used supply, such as an oil pastel in a non-favorite color, in with my go-to tools.
If I have no time constraints, I add a small palette of watercolors and a water brush to my kit, so I can paint in watercolor, or add some selective color to a sketch. With just a small tin of watercolors you have access to the whole rainbow. (FIGURE 1)
Keeping your travel kit simple means there are fewer choices to distract you, it’s lighter to carry, and there are fewer things to lose.
Pick your spot
Sit in a spot with a wall at your back, so you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder. When I’m at a café, I like to sit for a moment, place my order, and enjoy the ambience before I take out my tools. Once I have the lay of the land, I look for possible subjects and get a feel for the rhythm of their movements.
I often wear sunglasses and a hat when I am in creative mode. That way people can’t see me drawing them. It’s important not to make anyone feel like they are being scrutinized or stared at. I’ve found it’s rare that people even know I am sketching them.
Notice what you notice
Once you feel comfortable and ready to start working with a moving target, relax. Make mental notes of what catches your eye. What stands out to you? A color? Someone’s hair? A hat? Start with what your eye is drawn to first. Work intuitively. Don’t worry about rules, composition, or the end result.
Get comfy and warm up
I like to start by taking my pen for a walk with a contour or outline drawing. (FIGURE 2) Here are some tips:
• Keep your eyes on the prize. Practice spending more time looking at what you are drawing than at the page. With your head staying fairly still, just move your eyes from the subject to the page.
• Don’t lift the pen from the paper. Let your lines be loose; scribble the rough shape of your subject.
• Sketch in waterproof ink so you can add watercolor later, and build a lively abstract version of the café.
• Or, sketch in water-soluble ink so you can easily add a wash of water to make a soft shadow.
• Sketch with a colored pencil for a completely different look and drawing experience. Experiment.
• Pick something that’s on a table as your first subject if you’re not ready to start with people.
• Work quickly to capture the outside edges of your subject. Remember not to lift the pen.
• Pretend you are confident, even if you are not feeling that way!
• Scribble in shadow areas to add darkness. If your subject lingers, try adding some details to your drawing, such as clothing or table items. (FIGURE 3) It’s always a race to see how much you can capture before a person moves or leaves.
• People are always moving. Just draw what is happening; the lines will have more energy.
I find that my warm-up pages hold wonderful drawn stories. Sometimes they are a mess, but that doesn’t matter, as it’s part of the process. A warm-up helps me focus and get into the creative task at hand.
Take color notes
I love to make a quick color study with my watercolors. Start with the color that draws your attention. I started with one red chair, and let my paintbrush capture the shape of the chair grouping, adding a little blue to the red wash to make it darker in some areas, and more water to make it lighter in others. (FIGURE 4) From there, I found other red elements in the scene. Once I captured all the red, I moved on to another color and added those color notes to my page. I find taking color notes like this makes me look at a complex scene objectively, noting the various elements in stages.
• Create a “container” to hold moving subjects. The container can be café chairs, foliage, walls, windows, and more. These containers act as a reference for size and perspective and can also hold your attention and ground the drawing.
• Paint in silhouettes; don’t get caught up in details. You can add them later if needed.
• Once you have a container, try to capture subjects as they move through the scene. In this example, a waiter was putting up a café umbrella. I loved his waistcoat, so I captured that. The waiter was only in position for a few moments, so I had to work quickly and confidently. Then I added silhouettes of people in the background. (FIGURE 5) These sketches don’t have to be detailed. The shadowy shapes tell the story.
Be your own muse
Don’t forget to include yourself in your drawings. In this sketch, I started with a color note of the Eiffel Tower in watercolor, where I had shared an impromptu champagne moment with my husband. I didn’t have time to draw all of the details, so I took a photo and then added details with my pen while we were on the Metro. I drew in our feet months later, using the contour line technique. (FIGURE 6)
TIP: I recommend attending life-drawing classes. There’s no better way to build confidence and knowledge of drawing people and capturing movement. Practice develops your self-assurance in capturing life around you quickly.
No one has ever been anything but flattered if they notice me drawing them. I have never had someone get upset or worried, so there is no need to be concerned. Try and keep your observation on the down-low though, as you don’t want to be caught staring.
Stay relaxed. Breathe. Order your favorite drink. Tip the waitstaff, and sink into the moment.
Jane Davenport is a professional artist, online workshop leader, and the author of Drawing and Painting Beautiful Faces. Jane’s Mixed-Media art supply collection with American Crafts™ is available in the U.S. and Canada at Michaels stores, and on her website. Jane’s website features a free mixed-media workshop series of tips and techniques. Visit her website at janedavenport.com.