10 May 2015

Underground sketching, drawing at full speed.

Commuting in the underground is not always wonderful. It beats driving any day however. At the very least it is a chance to spend some time with yourself (granted, a very squeezed yourself enveloped in humanity with all that implies). I actually have come to look forward to the trip because I can sketch the immense diversity of London types. For anyone that wants to emulate this activity, here are some things I find useful:


Often, I add some marker shading at home, not in the train.

You will find a wide array of models to choose from in the tube: young, old, well dressed  or messy, black and white and everything in between. While there is a lot of variety, most people spend their trip staring at their phones which makes for strikingly similar demeanor.

The page format is irrelevant but it should be comfortable to carry discreetly.
Eye-contact in the London tube is tantamount to assault so I try to chose someone to draw who is not too close or  directly in front of me -no matter how tempting the beautiful guy with the turban might be. I haven't gotten into any serious trouble but I've had the occasional gal deliberately turn away and the random guy give me dirty looks. If the subject is a child,parents might  or might not like you  doodling. The London crowd is a vocal crowd so you'll know. For the most part, people are complimentary and curious. When drunk, they invariably want you to draw them so avoid drunks like the plague.


If tsubjects stay long enough, you can make elaborate compositions.
It goes without saying, there is no telling when your model will  move or simply bolt out with no regard for your beautiful rendering. Don't linger, this is an exercise in speed, gesture and memory. As in life, nobody is too precious and they all are.

so many races and outfits. So many cellphones and earphones as well.

Guess what else moves. The train. Modern trains are a whisper but drawing in the Bakerloo line will test your limits so don't wait for full careening down the tunnel to add that perfect nose line. This might be the time to work on a particularly wiry afro for example.

The morning commute, not a good time to pull out the pencils.

Weekends and evenings have more variety anyway.

Snoring, kissing, reading, eating and breaking into song, all in the tube.
Equipment simplicity: This is not the place to  pull out an easel and take measurements with extended arm. Backpacks and clipping boards are not efficient. A simple pencil box and a notebook that fits in your pocket are best. That's it, quick and to the point. Add an eraser and pencil sharpener for emergencies.
Stations themselves have some unique features and depth.


 You learn to draw the figure through gesture, its pose and the pose of clothes. You also learn to reduce the figure to its most salient features and details without time for perfect outlines, shading or intricate skirt patterns. I try to make little portraits, not generic ones. A casual observer should be able to pick each character individually.  You'll discover that being selective with detail is much more important than adding every detail.

so many faces, so little time.

Don't sweat the wrong stuff.  Go for the next victim...er model.


Compose the page. Make the whole page look interesting to look at. This is actually fun. Leave some blank space, play with negative shapes, use contrasting figures and groups. Incorporate a bit of the environment if it helps to break the monotony or move from faces to feet to dogs  to suitcases. 


More than anything, tell a story, be tender, humorous, grotesque, nobody is paying you, so feel free to add, subtract and exaggerate. Give in to your inner cartoonist (carefully) or your inner novelist. Make notes, add stains, you are making art no documenting immigrants or taking the census. Have fun.
Can you find the dog? 



3 comments:

Marian Fortunati said...

What a lovely blog post!
I love what you are doing. Also some great advice, Jose!

Sounds like you've been doing some wonderful things while you're over there!

I used to enjoy reading a blog by Adebanji Alade. He, too, lives in London and he used to sketch while riding in the tube. He's quite an artist to watch -- just like you. Perhaps you'll meet him.

Hope to see you again in the near future!

Jose De Juan said...

Thank you Marian. I will look him up. Oh, here he is. :)) Good find. I'll research more about him. Thanks http://adebanjialade.blogspot.co.uk/

Judy P. said...

Wonderful drawings, and good advice! I do a little bit of this when waiting for appointments, picking up prescriptions etc.
"Compose the page, make the whole page interesting to look at" - I never thought of that, I will do this from now on, thank you!