Saturday, June 25, 2005

On My Sketchbook and Becoming a Tourist Attraction

Interesting things happen when you sit down to sketch in a public place. It’s hard to do at first because you have to get used to shutting people out enough to focus, but not so much as to be rude if they ask you questions. Mostly they just talk amongst themselves. You become something of a tourist attraction because people sketching in public is more like something out of Masterpiece Theatre or books about explorers and pioneers.

Once when my husband and I were traveling in England, we went to a wonderful little town called Hay-on-Wye that is on the English-Welsh border. We had traveled there for the used book stores, but in the middle of town is a partially ruined castle. Since it was evening and the book stores were closed, I planted myself on a bench across the street from the castle and began to sketch it. It wasn’t long before I was the center of attention for a group of Japanese tourists. As I sat there and sketched, they chattered, pointed, and took pictures. I simply smiled at them and went on sketching. I imagine I’m in three or four Japanese vacation scrapbooks. In my mind I imagine them pulling out the pictures of their vacation and when they get to the part where they were in Hay-on-Wye, there I am, sketching the castle.

Recently I took a train ride in Leadville, Colorado. The train heads up the mountain toward an old mine and just before reaching it, heads back down the mountain. A little after heading back down, they stop the train at the old water tower so that people can get out and walk around to look at the train, tour the engine and caboose, and look at the water tower. I had decided when we were going up that I wanted to sketch the water tower when we stopped there while going back down. So, when the train stopped, I found a rock, sat down, and began to sketch quickly since I had less than 15 minutes. I recall that people milled about, but they were mostly interested in the train and water tower. But, my husband who gets a kick out of people’s reaction to me when I’m sketching, says that I drew a fair amount of attention. More vacation scrapbooks with me sketching, I guess.

About three years ago, we went on a trip with my family to Yellowstone. I was looking forward to that trip because I had good memories of going there when I was a very small child. One of the places I sat down to sketch was Artist’s Point, because it has a phenomenal view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. As I took my time to do a good sketch of the view and to add color with paint, I heard the voice of an older woman close, but a little behind me. “See, she’s sketching. You can do it, too,” she was saying. I turned to look and there was an older woman with a girl who looked to be about 10 or 11. Grandma and granddaughter? I smiled. The young girl, who was holding a typical 8x10 sketch pad and a pencil, was looking very nervous. Sketching in public can be unnerving and I decided to be reassuring. “It’s hard at first, but start small and don’t try to draw a masterpiece,” I said, or something along those lines. Then I commented that I found it easier to do it in a smaller sketchbook, because it was less space to fill and therefore less intimidating. Then I showed her my Moleskine sketchbook. Grandma approved and said they would have to get one like that, so I pulled the little pamphlet out of the back pocket of my Moleskine and gave it to her with suggestions on where to find them for sale. I got done with my sketch not too long after and left. I’ve always hoped that the little girl sat down and at least attempted a sketch. If she did she probably found it hard and was probably very dissatisfied with her efforts, but we all have to start somewhere.

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