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I discovered urban sketching in 2012 in Mauritius. Looking at those first drawings you could be forgiven for thinking there had been a bomb scare just before every sketch I made, as most of them are deserted. I regret this heartily now – all those Mauritians, well-known for their ethnic diversity, in saris, galabeyas, hijabs, shirts and swimwear that I missed. I visited again and sketched as many people as I could, but that first time I just didn’t know where to start. Sketching people moving isn’t always easy. Long after you’ve got your technique down for things that don’t move, you’ll find drawing people in motion is a whole new challenge. But as an urban sketcher, there are always opportunities to get in a bit of practice. I bring my son to the barbers about six or seven times a year, and I now use each trip as an opportunity to sketch. In this article I’ve put together a sort of “barbershop quartet” – in seven parts! – to show you my progression from wobbly scribbles to a confident gestural line in ink of people moving fast, as they go about their business.
You may already know a few tricks which make this easier, and nothing beats practice. If you are presented with an opportunity on a regular basis to draw someone in action, so much the better. Maybe you’re in a band, or work in a restaurant, or visit the same one regularly. You’ll get loads of opportunities for sketching people moving if you do. But, drawing barbers at work is a challenging middle ground between drawing a person making a repeated gesture, and drawing someone who’s going to disappear at any moment. Barbers move around the client’s head continually, so you’ll never get them for more than a few seconds, but they will return, and you’ll get another chance to get that line down.
Here’s one of the lovely chairs they use in the barbers – but without people in it, a sketch loses its heartbeat, so to speak.
I tried again the next time (all the while enjoying every minute that I sketched at the barbers, the waiting time flying past):
Here are a few other things that might help you sketch people moving.
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