At a certain point back in 2010, I decided that I wanted to get back into drawing and illustration. As the studio manager for a design firm, I spent a good amount of time looking at the work of different illustrators to add to my freelance stable, and one thought that lurked in the back of my head was that none of that work was mine. I dusted off my sketchbook, which I had for almost two years at that point, inked up a fountain pen, and started to scrawl away with my stiff and rusty hand. I pulled out a doodle from many years earlier, and decided to elaborate on it, which is what this drawing is. The focus was simple: have fun, spill ink, color in a big dark area, and merely create something to get me started on the long road back to drawing proficiency.
Full frontal/facial sketches are some of the most challenging sketches to attempt on the Metro; while I try to be discrete and respectful of the people I sketch, sketching people sitting directly across from me presents the greatest risk of being noticed. Generally, though, these people are either asleep or too fully focused on their devices to notice me. Of course, there’s always that other challenge; on-boarding passengers unknowingly blocking your view and pretty much ending the sketching session.
When sketching people on a busy commuter train, some days you just get lucky; this gentleman, with perfectly-coiffed hair, simple demeanor, and conservative wardrobe (including those cool wrap-arond earmuffs), slept still and poised for the duration of my commute. Best of all, my line of sight to him was at no time blocked as the train took on additional passengers.
Some more sketches of people on the Washington, DC Metro, and just in case you were wondering, no; people really don’t smile too much on the Metro (followers and guests of Sketchbook Warrior have actually asked me about this…) Without waxing anthropologically, I can tell you that the masses commuting into DC in the morning are usually vey tired, somewhat defeated, and stare blankly into space as they contemplate another day in the DC political battlefield. They may be virtually catatonic, but they sure do make for some great life drawing practice.
When sketching on the Washington, DC Metro, I sometimes come away with a nice capture of a full person, their detailing and personality, or even a rich color study. Other days, though, I come away with bits and pieces of people, half-drawn poses, or a mangled-mess of heads, hands, and faces. I have a name for pages like these; I call them “practice”, and between every page containing a Behance-worty sketch, there are tons of pages that look like the ones below, with the former not being possible without the latter.
Every Washingtonian riding the Metro commuter train on a daily basis is quite familiar with the drab interior colors of the older model cars. I did this sketch less as a life drawing subject, and more of a color study of the train itself. The carpets on the train are a mauve color, but lacking a mauve marker, I worked with the nearest color marker I had, which was purple. On the adjoining page, you can see where I took color notes, both of the lady and the train itself, as I colored this at home later that evening.
Here are two pages drawn on two different days, but I liked how they came together on the spread. For the sketch on the left, I used a felt-tipped pen to capture the individual, whom was holding onto a pole on the train, and I ended up sketching the line for the pole into the crease of the spine down the middle of the spread. Later in the day, I quickly sketched some cars behind him while I was sitting at a cafe. The individual on the right was sketched with a fountain pen. Overall, it looks like the both of them could have been on the same train, on the same day.
From the perspective of an urban sketcher riding commuter trains like Washington, DC Metro, smartphones are a wonderful thing. Not only do they render people to become still and poised life drawing models, but the mere holding of the device allows for great practice drawing hands, perhaps the most challenging anatomical features to draw.
More often than not, when sketching people on the Washington, DC Metro, I try to do the line work and coloring all in one sitting, which keeps with the spontaneous and honest nature of the subject. Sometimes, though, the subject’s coloring is too good and the time too short. In these instances, I take my markers, dab a few swatches off to the side of the page in general relation the color’s placement, and then finish the coloring later on.