Sketching Etiquette Q&A / 17June2012

etiquette (ˈɛtɨkɛt/ or French: [e.ti.kɛt]) is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.  

Q: . . . . when out and about with my husband (who thoroughly supports my artistic endeavors) I sometimes feel that my sketching can be akin to other asocial activities such as using a cell phone or texting. Have you felt this way?

A: Yes. I have felt that way. Let's face it: sketching is not a genuine group activity. Even when you are out with your regular sketch group or are involved in a Sketchcrawl, each person in the group is off 'in his own world' while sketching. Such is the nature of the intentness that happens when you concentrate and are enjoying yourself.

It may feel as if you are deliberately excluding your companions. Which you ARE. Which is what you mean by the term "asocial". Right? But this is GOOD. See below!
Q: Do you limit your sketching to times when you are alone?
A: Yes! Separate yourself from your companions. Otherwise you may not feel comfortable sketching while they are just hanging around, watching you balefully, sighing loudly, and waiting. But you don't have to vanish for hours! This separation can be handled in any number of gracious and thoughtful and friendly ways:
-- "Hey, guys. Why don't you go take a look at the dinosaur exhibit. I'll meet you in a half an hour at the cafe on the ground floor."
-- "Go on to the elephant building. I'll stay here with the reptiles. Come back and get me in twenty minutes."
-- "You all stay here in the cafe and eat your cheeseburgers and fries while I go over to that fountain for a while. Take your time and come find me when you're finished eating."
-- "Why don't you order room service breakfast in the room this morning, dear? I want to go for a quick walk. I'll be back in an hour."

-- "I'll stay here on this bench (or in this cafe, having a cup of tea) while you hike up to the overlook. Don't rush! I'll be sketching."
-- "Those ice cream cones are pretty messy. Sit here and finish them while I go check out that garden. When you're all done with the ice cream, come get me."
-- "Why don't you go take a look at the stuff in the gift shop? I'll be right out here sketching from this roof deck. Come get me when you're done."

Q: How about when traveling with non-sketchers and your desire to capture and record your journey? Do you work out an agreement with your travel partner about how much time you want to spend sketching or watercoloring?
A: No, nothing so formal as an "agreement". I just make sure to get away to sketch regularly and seamlessly, in and among all the group or couple activities. I play it by ear. But if the dynamic of your group calls for a more formal arrangement, by all means make sure the conditions are understood and ratified by one and all. "Sweetie, remember that we all agreed to let Mom sketch by herself for a little while after lunch."

Q: Do you get around this by taking photos then sketching later? 
A: Absolutely not! No. The whole point of travel sketching is that I do it on the spot. Call me stubborn but I am keen on this. In the evening I may go back to a sketch that I made earlier that day and add some color or title lettering or annotation or a frame or whatever. But the core sketch itself is always done "in the moment". This is the joy and the fun of travel sketchbooking!
Q: Can you sketch and carry on a conversation?
A: Well yes, in an emergency. But trying to converse while I am sketching takes my attention away from the scene and my ability to get it down in a satisfying way. Concentration is essential! As I said, sketching is a solitary activity.
Q: Do others with you just ignore your sketching, like ignoring someone who is knitting?
A: "Others" being my travel companions? No, because I am not "with" them while sketching. See above.

Strangers? Yes, most of them ignore me if I'm not too obvious.
Q: Is it okay to sketch during a meal?
A: I dislike rules about what is or is not "okay", but I'd say, yes, it's okay. But not in nice 'white-tablecloth' restaurants. Those kinds of restaurants will get nervous that your ink may stain their nice table linen and they may ask you to stop. No need to embarrass everyone. But by all means do sketch in cafes, coffee shops, tea shops, and other less formal eating establishments.
Q: What about sketching in a situation such as a performance, where you would like to draw but do not wish to divert attention from the activity occurring?
A: Yes, sketch discretely during performances! Make absolutely sure you are situated so as not to distract the performers or others in the audience. For instance, if you're in the front row, don't sketch. Use common sense.

Do not sketch during an opera at the Met or during a National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kennedy Center, where your seatmates may be skittish about you getting graphite all over their mink stoles. Same kind of "rule" as not sketching in fine restaurants. See above.

That said, outdoor music and dance festivals are excellent sketching venues. The lounging and grooving audience at outdoor concerts is just as picturesque as the performers are! See the Hogarth sketch at the top of this page. Great stuff!
Q: What other "Sketching Etiquette" thoughts or suggestions do you have for these types of situations?
A: Do not give up what you love. If you are determined and consistent and considerate about your sketching, your husband and your children and your travel companions will eventually come around to accepting it graciously. It will become part of the group dynamic. It will become an integral part of what you do during family and group trips and outings.


Some additional suggestions:
== Look at Russ Stutler's Where, when and what to sketch: spectators, family trips, public transportation 
== Attend one of Susan Abbot's Traveling with Your Sketchbook workshops. ( She covers all these topics very thoroughly. Be on the lookout for similar travel sketching workshops in your city. Travel sketchbooking workshops are becoming more and more popular.
== Look at some of Paul Hogarth's books. Drawing People (1971) is full of advice on how to sketch with people all around you. His autobiography is good too: Drawing On Life (1998). And the illustrations are better quality in the newer book.
== Look at Travel Sketchbooking, here on my blog.


(The sketch at the very top is entitled 'Bruce Lacey at 'The Establishment' (1966), done by Paul Hogarth; 14" x 7", graphite in his sketchbook.)

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