SKETCHING PEOPLE IN SITUATIONS – The thought process behind the drawing


Sketching has become more than just representing on paper what is in front of me. When I am drawing people in a particular setting or situation I see myself as a story teller. The drawing evolves one stroke after another much like a story that unfolds. Its success depends on a number of factors such as my mood that day and the manner in which the figures are staged. Since I work with permanent markers and waxed-based pencils mostly, I cannot and do not adjust or correct the drawing in progress. Much like a short story, there is usually a central figure or figures. I usually draw an entry point into the story. In this case it is the man in the sunglasses. Then I plan movement through the scene. There is usually interaction between the actors. If I draw a solitary figure then he is communicating with a device, reading or listening.

To illustrate my point, I have added a commentary about a sketch I did recently at a restaurant.  Hopefully, it will help to illustrate the point I am making about my role as a visual story teller. As the observer you can then imagine and construct your own story from the clues I have left.

Au café du Musée

A few days ago at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts I ate at the Museum’s restaurant. While drinking my coffee I sketched what was in front of me. I sat on the upper level of the split-level room. I had to concentrate intently to render correctly the relative size of the figures and assure myself the perspective was correct. I started the sketch by drawing the figure in the sunglasses intentionally outlining the other two figures in order to not draw as much attention to them. It seemed like he was doing most of the talking. That is symbolized by the fact that his conversation partner has her back to us. Moreover, we are more likely to see him as the main character since he is leaning into the scene and is drawn in more detail. The stronger diagonal hatching of his clothing contrasts with the lighter tones elsewhere. Notice how the horizontal, vertical and oblique shapes of the furniture behind him all converge towards him. His right and arm hand lead our eye back into the scene and point to his conversation partner. The two coffee cups form a link between the couple. The chair placed directly above the couple acts like a visual block to keep us in the conversation. Nevertheless, we are curious to find out about the secondary conversation going on the upper level.  Call it a sub-plot. In order to send us back to the main scenario notice the head of a man wearing a dark cap in the background walking behind the counter. He is moving left towards the central figure. Following his lead and moving along the top of the counter, right to left, we are led back down to the main figure.

Raynald Murphy


About Raynald Murphy

Passionate plein air painter and sketcher. Watercolor being my favorite medium I also use various dry media to express myself.
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