About a thousand people walked by me as I sat on the ground in Piccadilly Circus on London one afternoon in July and did the sketch for this piece. People stop to take pictures of you while your sketching, look over your shoulder, and generally treat you as just as much part of the chaos of the scene when you’re doing that. To say I was nervous as heck would me an understatement, but that’s half the fun, right?
We have returned from our travels.
We spent three weeks visiting three countries in western Europe: England, France and Italy, and at the core of those travels was a wee bit of sketching.
To say it was the focus of the vacation would be false. It was a family vacation with some sketching squeezing into the gaps when possible, and as such I brought along just enough of my sketching gear to consider it a worthwhile effort. Paints, pens, brushes and just two sketchbooks, one vacation-specific in which I’ll likely not draw anymore and just set it aside as a souvenir, and then also my urban sketches watercolor folio into which I put another ten or so drawings over the course of the three weeks.
This was one of the latter. A sketch into my general collection of watercolour urban scene sketches, and to make it, yes, I sat down on the concrete at the edge of Piccadilly Circus in London, England, and with my pen in my hand and my book on my lap just started to draw as fast as I could go.
No one wants to make a scene when they are trying to be creative. I mean, no one who isn't literally performing for the crowd. And I mean no one who is trying to sit at the edge of the action and just quietly be out of the way drawing. In a crowded place full of action and tourists and a jumble of people and activity, a guy sitting on the ground sketching it all is almost certain to become an object of attention. Me and my sketchbook are one hundred percent in someone's vacation photo collection. People walked over and looked over my shoulder. People stopped to take pictures. People waved their hands at their friends to get them to come look at the guy sitting on the ground sketching. I'm not sure if the distraction made the final result better or what, but it certainly made me work faster and looser and with less attention on some of those things that sometimes cause me to double think and hesitate. There was no room for any of that, literally or figuratively.
Of course, I waited until safely back in the hotel to pull out the paints, and flicked open the photos app on my phone to find the reference photo I’d snapped from where I sat (luckily I remembered to do that, what with the circus chaos around me!)
And the pressure from eyes of the crowd, and the nudging from my family to get up and move along with the vacation, and the pressure from myself to not overthink or overdraw or overwork any of the picture, I stood up after about twenty minutes and tucked my book and pen into my shoulder bag, and we moved along.
“What was your favorite part of the trip?” People have been asking since we returned.
“Oh, the food and sights.” I reply, because its relatable and mostly true. “I did some sketching, too.” I add. And as understated as I make it seem now, yeah, those moments because of the adrenaline rush of the crazy vibe swirling around and through my pen, I somehow think those moments will stick in my brain for a long, long time.