Tips on paying natural models

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Marilyn Hartley wrote, “This year I realized that country music is darn good! I took my drawing pad to a Pennsylvania tavern, blended in with the crowd, and, asking first, began to draw the musicians. People came over to see what I was doing. Everyone loved my efforts. With further permission, I took photos. I now go there often. The drawing practice is great. I feel indebted to the musicians and have given them a couple of drawings. I’d like to make a portfolio of these sorts of drawings to market further. What would you and other artists do?” Thanks, Marilyn. The best thing is to give as you have. Take the rest home and develop the ideas further and sell them. The musicians will understand. They are artists like you. Tip: Identify the band on the drawings you sell. Working with passionate folks acting naturally can be a creative hootennanny. Respect is everything. Tip: Share your blessing. Greater problems arise when you draw children, native Indians and foreign subjects. I don’t always believe in asking up front. The system of starting drawing first and leaving stuff around your feet goes a long way in alleviating fears and engendering curiosity. When you switch people from suspicion to curiosity, friendships are not far behind. Tip: The universe favors givers. Sketching in public can be more of a problem for males. Asking children and even mothers can send them scurrying. Women have often told me they do not have this problem. Tip for men: Take a female sketcher along with you. Regarding Native Indians, it seems like just a few years ago you could drive into a village or a pueblo with a case of Coke, give a bottle or two to the first kids you met, and in minutes have a crowd of happy, willing models. Sadly, nowadays this approach can brand you as a pervert. It’s a good idea to visit the Band Office first and tell them what you are up to. Sometimes they require a fee up front. Tip: Stand flagrantly around with the chief for half an hour to telegraph his endorsement. Some villages are pretty tight. One chief told me the totem poles (and the kids playing around them), were copyright, and suggested that I “scoot.” Tip: When in doubt, scoot. Too bad for them. Best regards, Robert PS: “Never force someone into a pose; it will never look natural.” (Ted Smuskiewicz) Esoterica: Working from life in natural situations is a shared invasion of privacy. Relaxed and in their environment, you are in a position to see their flaws. They, on the other hand, can find a miracle in your efforts. Share yourself and your gift. Both will be treasured like no other. “People,” said Bernard Poulin, “don’t often get a chance to stare at each other. They begin to tell you about themselves. It’s like a confessional. It’s a privilege to share someone’s life like that.”   Marilyn Hartley

“MiZ – Jim”
graphite drawing


“MiZ – Mike”
graphite drawing


“Coaltown Rounders”
graphite drawing


“Govinda Rose – Jason”
ink wash drawing


“Govinda Rose – Shawn”
ink wash drawing

              Sorties to Frenchmen Street by Paul Fayard, Clinton, MS, USA

assorted original drawings
by Paul Fayard

I found it quite serendipitous that on the same day that you published Marilyn Hartley’s query re drawing musicians, I received a request from the mother of one of the musicians that I have drawn as to whether the work that I did of her son is still available. I am a New Orleans native and frequently conduct sorties to Frenchmen Street to photograph musicians for my work. I never use a flash, always purchase the cd and always tip well. My titles are always specific as to the group, individual and or location. I am an art instructor at Mississippi Colllege in Clinton, MS and always make sure that my students check out your great site. There is 1 comment for Sorties to Frenchmen Street by Paul Fayard
From: Anonymous — Sep 28, 2010

LOVE your drawings!! Wonderful!

  Send a digital image by Curtis Long, Austin, TX, USA  

acrylic painting, 15 x 22 inches
by Curtis Long

I’ve occasionally given the fruits of my labor to the bands I sketched as a thank you for allowing me to enjoy their performance and be inspired by it and they’re always flattered. Naturally, I prefer to keep my sketches and paintings, so I will sometimes talk with the musicians after the show and get their contact info. They love it when I send them a digital image of the final work.   There is 1 comment for Send a digital image by Curtis Long
From: Janet Blair — Oct 05, 2010

your painting caught my eye,it speaks to me.I like every thing about it.

  Hit on by closet exhibitionist by Rita Cirillo, Denver, CO, USA  

“Come Upstairs if You Dare”
original painting
by Rita Cirillo

What about the opposite problem. Recently, I was painting in Denver at the 16th Street Mall and a guy came up to me and said, “I want you to paint me… nude.” While I don’t like to turn down work, this is very off-putting. First it becomes a disturbance in the force, because it feels like being hit on — which at this point in my life, does rock my world. Secondly, it disrupted my painting zone. The worst part was that he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and persisted. I finally told him if he really wanted to get naked in public to approach the Denver Art Students’ League to work as a model. There are plenty of good artists there who would gladly paint him nude.     There are 3 comments for Hit on by closet exhibitionist by Rita Cirillo
From: Mary Bullock — Sep 28, 2010

My response is EEEUUUUWWWWWW!!

From: Liz Schamehorn — Sep 28, 2010

I couldn’t help laughing at this! Exactly the same thing happened to me in Toronto while I was out painting in the old distillery district. He was a well-dressed thirty-something. I was a grey-haired 51 in painting clothes! Although somewhat flattered, I did exactly the same thing as you, and directed him to the local art college. He wasn’t interested, and finaly drove sadly away. I’d love to read some other plein-air painting encounters.

From: Liz Reday — Sep 28, 2010

I wish I had a dollar for everytime a guy comes up to me when I’m painting outside and asks to be painted, then several seconds pass, then the request that he (it’s always he) be painted nude. Usually it’s meant as a joke and I just laugh along because it happens with such frequency that I already know what they’re going to say before they say it. But they usually say it to get attention & make conversation. It’s surprising how many folks just want attention at a time when we’re least likely to want to be interrupted. That’s plein air!

  Female artist welcomed by Bernice Sutton, Duncan, BC, Canada   While on vacation in Turkey, noting the drawings in my small sketchbook — people would stand or sit for me for 10 minutes or so — and I would offer them the sketch torn off my book. One man in turn offered me a small painting (I sketched his son). He was doing oil paintings in a public square, small jug that was from a potter, and a glass eye — blue with white dot and yellow to ward off evil! from a peddler of a variety of trinkets. They grinned broadly to see themselves in their pencil sketch — and the need for language never occurred to any of us! Yes, I guess it was easy being a female artist. My fellow travelers couldn’t get over the reception that I was given to and for my sketches. Certainly artists are universal in this world.   Secret drawing class by Gabe Shaughnessy  

original drawing
by Gabe Shaughnessy

I once taught a group of middle school kids a murder mystery drawing class. The object of the game was to discover the person who was trying to draw you. Their goal was to create a recognizable likeness of you without you noticing. The kids loved it and it taught them a few tricks for secretly drawing people in public.       There is 1 comment for Secret drawing class by Gabe Shaughnessy
From: Anonymous — Sep 28, 2010

As a former art therapist, I probably wouldn’t call it a “murder” mystery drawing class…but this is such a wonderful idea! Susan Kellogg

  Drawing in a concert hall by Caroll Drazen, Philadelphia, PA, USA  

“Ignat Solzhenitzen”
original drawing
by Caroll Drazen

I really appreciated your advice about how to capture the welcome, as well as the images, when using live models. I often sketch at concerts, and am amazed at the variety of reactions from my neighboring concert-goers — from surreptitious sideways glances to frank comments during intermission. Drawing in a concert hall has a lot of advantages. Musicians repeat movements and gestures, so you can wait “until it comes around again” for even a quick drawing. Also, there is usually just enough light to see (as opposed to theater and dance, where there is rarely enough house light during the performance). One thing to mention, though — be careful about your drawing style and instrument. There is enough general noise in a bar or outdoor music event to mask your scratches, but I often have to stop even light pen or pencil marks during the very quiet slow movement of a classical music performance. My favorite instrument is a Rotring Art Pen, which uses only water-based cartridge ink. I can’t easily add wash later. There is 1 comment for Drawing in a concert hall by Caroll Drazen
From: Caroll Drazen — Sep 28, 2010

What is missing is the end of my letter. I asked about whether artists who do on-site pen and wash sketches use the pen line first, or the wash? I can’t use a wash at concerts, but would like to add it later, if my pen didn’t take just water-based ink cartridges.

  Paying off your own kids by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada  

original painting
by Brigitte Nowak

For years, when my children were young and knew no better, I used them as models for my paintings. This ranged from asking them to undertake a specific pose or activity (running, swimming), to capturing their natural movement, exuberance or pensiveness. I still go back to the occasional sketches or frequent reference photos from those days when seeking a particular essence or feeling. As far as payment, that was simple, though perhaps, slightly exploitative: I fed, clothed and sheltered them.     Sol Schwartz sketchbook by Joan Polishook, New York City, New York  

“A Chautauqua Moment”
watercolour painting
by Joan Polishook

I have been sketching musicians for many years in my journals (which I carry along with me most all of the time). At the Wildflower Music festivals every year, I have amassed a collection of drawings, many of which have been autographed by the performers; copies of several which have been sent to the musicians as requested. I hope to incorporate my sketches into book form in the near future. With that in mind, I would like to share with you a favorite book entitled Drawing Music the Tanglewood Sketchbooks, by Sol Schwartz first edition May 2001. Its pages are full of beautiful renderings.   Assigned to sketch in hotel by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Bill Skuce

Veteran painter Carl Schaeffer, a staffer at the Ontario College of Art, called me into his office one day during the second month of year one at the Art College. “Are you related to Lou Skuce, the well known cartoonist who worked for the Toronto Telegram?” “Yes,” I said, although I’d never met this second cousin of my father. “Well, you should be just right for this… a convention at the Royal York Hotel wants a student to go and do caricatures of participants. Schaeffer proceeded to tell me where to go and to whom I should make my introduction. “Take something to sketch with!” said Schaeffer. That weekend, I made numerous drawings of people standing chatting to one another in a crowded room at the hotel, handing each completed drawing to the subject as a gift from the company sponsoring the convention. I was a terrified kid at the outset, but one who gained a great deal of confidence in the process of completing the two-day assignment.   Patronizing attitude wrong by Lee Mann, NM, USA   In this recent mailing, I was stunned by the statements concerning Native Americans. Good manners mean ALWAYS “asking up front.” Here in the Southwest, several tribes/pueblos have not only banned cameras, but also drawing materials. Why? ……..not because of “perverts” but rather because of the long experience of having their privacy invaded, their customs disrespected, their requests for respect and privacy violated (by tourists, anthropologists, archaeologists, artists, photographers, and others). Their sacred objects have been hauled off to museums, basements of universities, and private collections. Bodies of their ancestors have been dug up and hauled off for “study.” Their celebrations and feast days have been invaded by disrespectful voyeurs who have no interest in learning the true meaning of what they are viewing. Respectful attendance includes no cameras, no drawing or painting, no binoculars, no talking, and other commonsense behavior. Several years ago while having a studio in a tiny quaint “ghost town,” I was enjoying my morning coffee on the front porch swing when a bus load of Japanese tourists stopped in front of my gate and started leaning out of bus windows to photograph me. I felt like an animal confined in a zoo. Is curiosity and ignorance an excuse for violating privacy? For having no respect for a person’s (or people’s) life style? I found the statement patronizing about taking “a case of Coke” and handing out a can or two to “the first kids you met.” Patronizing………as if we’re better than they are…….It smacked of feeding treats to the dogs….. not to mention that their mothers might not wish to have Cokes handed to their kids…… what of the possibility of diabetes or other health issues?. (My own son has diabetes & I certainly would not want a stranger to hand him a Coke or candy.) This recent email from you reveals an insight that I find disturbing. Therefore, I will be unsubscribing to future mailings. Hopefully my reply can open some eyes and instill the beginnings of sensitivity to respect for others, their customs and beliefs, their life style and the privacy of their lives and living spaces. Ignorance can easily be overcome with education……. through the Internet, books, classes….. there is no excuse for patronizing attitudes or actions towards people who look or act differently from ourselves…. and for “using” them as models without their open permission. There are 13 comments for Patronizing attitude wrong by Lee Mann
From: Deb — Sep 27, 2010

I must concur with Lee. How can we lament that First Nations children and their families can no longer be bought by the White Man’s trinkets? While I’m not about to unsbuscribe, I was quite horrified by what I perceived as a really racist comment from an artist whom I had previously admired. Robert, you may know a lot about art, but my recommendation would be to steer clear of such poorly conceived and very offensive social commentary.

From: Terry — Sep 27, 2010

I, too, was astounded at this disregard for an entire group of people! Every year I go to Phoenix to the Heard Museum for the Indian Market and Fair. There are about 600 artists who show their work there. The quality is mostly superb, the people are always kind and courteous, allowing me to sit on the cement and watch them weaving or carving. They answer all my silly questions, and we each seem at peace with one another. There is a fellowship in it that is very special to me. Offer “a case of Coke”??? I dare you to look into one of these artist’s eyes, deeply, and then offer him or her “a case of Coke”.

From: Karen — Sep 27, 2010

I think Lee’s comments on your statement about 1st Nations people was a generous gift to to you… An opportunity to reexamine your perspective,question your values and re-check your composition. If we can’t see the hurt we do,how can we change?

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Sep 28, 2010

This comment stunned me as well, Robert. It nearly brought me to tears of frustration. I often take some of the things you say with a grain of salt, feeling that you are deliberately yanking our chains to get us to think. I don’t feel that way about this one. I hope you take Karen’s suggestion, and think about what you can learn from examining the assumptions behind your words. You said that “respect is everything”. Where is the respect in your statement “Too bad for them”?

From: Sarah — Sep 28, 2010

What strikes me about Mr. Mann’s letter is his sense of righteous grievance against relatively harmless comments. No one objects to artists painting picturesque Christian churches, or street scenes, or athletes engaged in games, or a farm scene that appeals. It is Mr. Mann himself who is patronizing, with his conviction that his group is entitled to demand special treatment. It’s not surprising that he threatens to “unsubscribe” to Mr. Genn’s letter–God forbid that he would read an opinion different from his own. He does have a point about Coke and the possibility of diabetes in a recipient of the offering.

From: Jan Ross — Sep 28, 2010

I certainly respect and appreciate the comments regarding ‘patronizing’ any group one wishes to photograph/paint, however, I’d like to add that I have asked permission to photograph Native Americans at their festivals or ‘pow wows’ explaining my reason for doing so. Everyone I’ve encountered has been gracious and flattered. Later, when the work was completed, paintings have been purchased by the individual or his family, featured in the work. This experience led to their sharing more about their history, traditions and beliefs as well as new friendships. Respect was all I offered, no sodas or candy necessary.

From: Anonymous — Sep 28, 2010

I think some people are being overly sensitive. The magic words here are “years ago”. We are an evolving people. As a child I played cowboys and indians with my brothers…..I probably shot and killed hundreds of Indians with impunity. Would I play that game today ……NEVER……would I allow my grandchildren to play that game…….NEVER. I think that you should take the comment in the context that it was intended…..that things have changed in the world. Hopefully for the better. It was maybe a good thing to call Roberts attention to it (although I was taught that one NEVER corrects the teacher in public) but by cancelling her subscription, Lee does herself a disservice.

From: Annie — Sep 28, 2010

When are we going to get off this PC binge? I lived in NM for years and am a western artist who can remember that 30 years or more ago I would go to festivals etc with a pocket full of change and photograph Native Americans with the intent of painting the results. I even had “braves” ask me to wait until they mounted their ponies so I could photograph them. Pretty hard to resist the beautiful colors in their “regalia” and the marvelous light of NM. It suddenly became evident that a ten dollar fee and the yellow sticker on your camera made photo taking OK. If they had wanted secrecy they would have padlocked the gate. Still have good friends at Santa Domingo pueblo whose friendship I value who sell their silversmithing to tourists during these “festivals”. There are living artists who paint the Native American almost exclusively. Do you really think they pose without getting paid? Get real!

From: Rose — Sep 28, 2010

I am glad Lee Mann vented his feelings. We live in a free world and everyone has to do what they have to do to follow there path… But a little respect and consideration goes a long way.

From: Liz Schamehorn — Sep 28, 2010

Sarah, why do you assume that Lee Mann is Native American? If you had read the letter you would have noticed that he/she uses “they” when referring to native peoples. There should never be a sense of entitlement when entering someone else’s space. Ask first. Whatever the answer is, accept it with good grace. That’s not “PC”, it’s just good manners.

From: Anonymous — Sep 28, 2010

What’s wrong with this? As children in eastern Europe, I and my friends would do anything for a bottle of coke – that really happened…probably similar with native Americans. Why is it a bad thing to say what really happened? I think that this comment by Mann doesn’t make any sense “their customs disrespected”…artists paint cultures out of respect, not disrespect. We can apply our talent to many subjects – we pick to paint cultures for a reason. What’s disrespectful about that? Some artists can afford to pay the model, some can’t. Those who can’t try to find another way – sometimes works, sometimes not. NA has gone nuts with PC.

From: Bah — Sep 28, 2010

The author of this comment is stereotyping Japanese as inconsiderate and invasive people – isn’t that a pot calling a cattle black?

From: Patsy — Sep 30, 2010

Defending those who are perfectly capable of defending themselves, should they find it necessary, is patronising in itself. It insults their intelligence and maturity. Lee Mann infers that the Native Americans whose private ceremonies were invaded, sacred objects and dead bodies “hauled off”, etc., had no control over this. Maybe in Victorian times, when the “savage” was seen as less than human, but much has been done to right this wrong. In more recent years, the chief was probably paid for what was taken. The anthropologists, archaeologists, artists, and photographers probably had a great interest in the culture and history of the people, which was why they were there in the first place; in fact, imagine how little we would know today about other nations throughout the world if this sort of thing had never happened? And those who nowadays ask for a fee if they’re photographed or painted have simply seen a business opportunity! Besides the immediate monetary reward, they realise that the more their photos and paintings are seen by others, the more visitors they’ll get and the more business will be generated. Duh. And why shouldn’t those Japanese tourists take photos of a typical scene in a quaint (clearly recognised as such by the tour operators) village in America? Don’t tourists do this constantly in Japan?

  Rewarding the willing subjects by Michael Fuerst, Urbana, IL, USA  

“Gloria Rubel, Keithmas, Dec 23”
original drawing
by Michael Fuerst

In the University community of Illinois where I live there are appropriate venues at least three times a week. I just show up and sketch performers or audience members at the various local musical venues or coffee shops. This is a hobby I have been doing this for a couple of years and I make little effort to sell my efforts. I usually do not tell people they are being sketched, but do often get caught in the act — more so now that I’m often recognized locally as the artist. Since I often work in dimly lit places and have a scribbly style and erase a lot, my favorite medium is a Derwent water soluble 4B pencil. If I am working in good light, watercolor or water soluble pencils might sneak in. Most people are flattered about being sketched. The curious sometimes often come over to look, and I answer any questions and offer to let them peruse my sketchbook. Often the curious are children — so drawings from local sessions with a paid unclothed model stay in a separate sketchbook. I jokingly tell the curious that if they watch too long they will end up in my sketch book. Adults usually chuckle and soon leave, but children sometimes volunteer to pose. I only sketch children in environments when the child’s caregiver is nearby. The caregiver quickly notices what is happening, and often comes over, or is retrieved by the child to look. I never ask permission to sketch a child. I never take photos. The sketches take 20-60 minutes — but sometimes end early if a subject audience member decides to leave — although I just finish the sketch using my imagination. If a subject asks, I give them the sketch. If they don’t ask for the sketch, but seem to like it, I offer to email them a scanned, then Photoshop enhanced version (limited to contrast and brightness, to compensate for my poor lighting, and occasional removal of stray marks). If I can find the email of a performer who is sketched, I often email them the sketch once corrected — especially if they did not know they were being sketched.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Tips on paying natural models

From: Dave C. — Sep 23, 2010

I know whereof you speak Robert. I love to do paintings of little kids playing, mostly in an impressionistic sort of way. And there is a park not far from my home that has some water features the kids play in. But, I’m smart enough to leave my camera and sketch pads in the bag and not record anything. Which is an incredibly sad commentary of the state of things in this country. I guess it’s just as bad in other countries, too.

From: deidre scherer — Sep 23, 2010

“I feel indebted to the musicians and have given them a couple of drawings. I’d like to make a portfolio of these sorts of drawings to market further. What would you and other artists do?” I think we need another step to her question. If the artist wants to profit from the recognizable likeness of another person -especially multiples such as a book cover or prints -I think permission is required. Some folks establish their own economic identity with their own face such as a writer, poet, musician or actor. Approach and treat everyone with the same respect? Use a simple model release? This is a golden opportunity to answer basic legal questions that all artists need to know. With many thanks for your forum, Deidre Scherer

From: Karen Svoboda — Sep 24, 2010

Respect is everything. There are some cultures, particularly in the Middle East, that do not wish to see any images at all, and so discourage interlopers for getting/taking them. By our standards of freedom, this may seem harsh and limiting, like the institution of the burkha, but that is what they want and require right now.

From: Michael Gore — Sep 24, 2010

The business of charging for photos in Pueblos is out of hand. Acoma and Taos Pueblos are two of the expensive ones that I know of. Ten dollars per photo, monitored, is not uncommon. In some of the Pueblos, it also depends who you meet at the gate.

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 26, 2010

I’ve painted two Native Americans: one Navajo and one Pueblo. One shunned my attempts to photograph her, the other was indifferent after I paid him (I would gladly have paid him more if I had more cash on me at the time.). I will never sell either painting. First because I like them, and second, I don’t think I should benefit from their heritage and unique persona. To be considered: street photographers don’t obsess about this issue. They snap away and don’t bother asking for disclaimers or paying their subjects. Remember the photo of the GI kissing the nurse on the street when WWII was over? It is an iconic American image and the only beneficiaries were the photographer and Life Magazine. Celebrities and actors’ photos are all over newspapers and the Internet and they aren’t paid either, the photographers are. If anyone should be compensated for their image, those who make their living through their physical presence, it is them. Personalities, Presidents and First Ladies, the famous, all have their image plastered over plates, mugs, dolls, and “limited edition” whatever. I doubt Elvis or Michael Jackson received payment for any of the glut that flooded the market with their images. I once attended a workshop and one of the four paid models was a Native American young woman. I didn’t quite finish my painting and asked if I could take her photo so I could complete it. She refused. That question probably should have been resolved before she agreed to model since there were quite a few images of her at the close of the workshop. That unfinished painting is still in my attic. If a painting is a work you plan to sell you might want to follow Norman Rockwell’s lead and pay standard wage for amateur models. And if all that still bothers you alter the individual’s features enough even he or she wouldn’t recognize themselves if they walked past your painting in a gallery.

From: Marilyn Hartley — Sep 27, 2010

After making prints of my drawings I brought them to the owner of the tavern to pass on to the respective players. The tavern owner’s sister said she is good friends with one of the performers and would see to it that my drawings are received by the musicians themselves. The wife of one of the performers asked me what I would charge for the drawing I did. The mother of another young guitarist was so excited about my drawing of her son; I signed it and gave it to him on the spot. My thanks to Deidre Sherer who wrote to me with her suggestion to have a simple model release ready for such occasions. If my subject does not understand my purpose for wanting to draw or photograph then I would ask them to sign the release. But in these instances I believe the musicians understood that their images would become part of my repertoire. I had introduced myself as an artist and they happily gave me the freedom to draw and photograph them.

From: Naomi Hansen — Sep 27, 2010

I’ve found the release scares some people off–they think you stand to make a lot of money from them and get curious and confrontational. Actually, friendship is golden. I frequent the same tavern where I am a known quantity and everyone knows I am harmless (and poor). The owner tells each band “We have our resident sketcher and she is harmless.” This statement attracts them to me.

From: Alex Freeman — Sep 27, 2010

Sketching from life exposes the vulnerability of both parties. Artists understand this. The rest don’t.

From: Dennis Weller — Sep 27, 2010

Only certain people have the opportunity to look closely at others–doctors, lovers and artists.

From: Abdul Ahad — Sep 27, 2010

Too bad for them. When I think of the opportunities I have had and the times I have been turned down or given sour looks, I realize many of our cultures are simply not open, and will not accept the friendly, talented hand of appreciation, I weep, because it is not becoming or useful for mankind to be this way. There is no progress in shutting out.

From: Tray Ives Finlay — Sep 27, 2010

Everyone has the right to try to make a living. What we do not have the right to do is to upset others. Manchester, UK

From: Melanie herbst — Sep 27, 2010
From: Charles Dick — Sep 27, 2010

We have entered “The Age of Communication.” Smash and grab is not appropriate any more.

From: Susan Holland — Sep 27, 2010

I like Dennis Weller’s comment: “Only certain people have the opportunity to look closely at others–doctors, lovers and artists.” It reminds me of the wonderful saying ” a cat can look at a king.” But we are not cats, and everyone is a “king” until he or she lets you into the sanctuary of their privacy. Some tribes think of your taking their picture as stealing their soul! “May I?” is a kind thing to ask, in the same way as you might ask if someone else would kindly take YOUR picture (say at a vacation place or whatever.) Sketching musicians at a public market works if you put a bit o’ money in their instrument case. They are there to be part of the “show”, and they hope to get some pocket money out of it. But to paint the customers? Only very sneakily. I would be uncomfortable with someone painting me…and certainly would not assume another person would be automatically glad to be used as a subject. Moving targets are another thing altogether. It’s wonderful to sketch people walking by — you cannot invade their privacy in the few seconds it takes, and it’s the most wonderful practice! Sit on the steps of the courthouse or museum and sketch the folks! You won’t have to ask because they will be moving past you. So would the people in a rodeo or circus or supermarket. Don’t try to paint their kids, though. Nope. Daumier painted people on trains. I wonder if he asked first? Probably not. I’ve tried it and gotten away with it. But only sleeping people. The ones that are awake will catch you looking. You will have to move to another subject if that happens, or you might send the wrong message. Such an interesting question. Here’s another idea: sketch the people on TV! Get an interview going and try to sketch the “talking heads.” It’s great practice.

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 28, 2010

Some years ago on a train bound for London, I drew many people in the carriage as I normally did and didn’t think anything of it. That evening on the way back home on the train, I continued to be engaged in drawing someone near me when suddenly a large group of people from further down the carriage advanced on me and in a friendly manner asked me if they could look at my drawings. It turned out that they had been in the same carriage on the outward bound trip and had noticed me and they actually got on the same train deliberately! (?!) The whole carriage became engaged. (Extremely unusual for the British!) I gave many of them the sketches, since they were so overwhelmed and appreciative, but actually didn’t want to do so. (This was just before digital images were common). Always torn between wanting to please – not wanting to seem to be an elitist and the need for people not to consider artwork to be cheap or free. On another train occasion – while drawing some people – I was horribly aware of seeing below the surface of their images to their personalities – and I really didn’t like what I saw. It put me off portrait drawing/modelling/painting for a long, long time. Many people tend to be unselfconscious while travelling and not realise how readable they are if observed. Another time, I sketched an extremely ugly woman asleep (I think she must have had some bone deformity) who was dressed in a very old fashioned way and whom I imagined might be someone’s precious secretary who had been with them for 20 years and a wonderful person as well, because there was this amazing light shining through her features. I believe I was right, because when she woke up, her face literally shone with some inner light. I made a sculpture of her head. I certainly didn’t ask for her permission (didn’t even think of it in those days).

From: Karen R. Phinney — Sep 28, 2010

A few years ago while I was taking drawing classes at a Craft School, my teacher said that she was putting my name in for court room duty, to draw the accused and others in the trial……I was thrilled that she thought I could do it! (And it was a bit of a sensational trial at the time.) I had managed to catch the likenesses of some of our models and so she felt I had what it took. It was an enormous boost as I felt somewhat unsure of myself. Someone else was chosen, but what a neat opportunity it would have been! To think your drawings would end up in the paper, or perhaps even on TV. Practising on the public would be a good primer for such a job, for sure!

From: paula cravens — Sep 28, 2010

When someone is kind enough to let me take photos of them for painting reference, I try to get their contact information and send them a jpg or small print. Sometimes they have to wait a couple of years but they seem happy to receive it.

From: Nancy Lennie — Sep 28, 2010

Plein Aire sketching is a great way to learn about a community. I do workshops and take a small group out painting the town. One great place to paint is the market, it’s a natural still life and also has lots of people. At one of these outings a student was sitting on the curb doing a watercolor sketch of the market door way when a little boy ran up — peeked over her shoulder — and then ran away. He went home and got his mom to come and look. At that point the mom commissioned her to do her house. A line formed of interested people who wanted a painting of their homes. This was such a confidence boost for this beginner. So rather than focus on people, try action packed buildings such as a market place. The next idea came to me when doing a workshop in Hawaii. I happen to have a very talented Hawaiian daughter in law who dances the hula so we played the game of hold that pose as she danced to the music. We sat around her on the grassy hill overlooking the pacific ocean and felt the breezes and she danced. Each one of the students had the chance to say stop. When that was said she froze in position for about a 3 to 5 minute sketch.. the poses were not contrived.

From: Jan Bushart — Sep 29, 2010

Painting en plein air is just like life in general. You do not know how people are going to react. If you handle yourself well and treat others with respect and are on the same level with them, then I find they usually are happy to be part of your artistic experience. On the other hand I have been physically threatened twice while painting a scene with no people in it. I live in Hawaii and I do make my living painting. I have found that people can have a bad attitude about making money. I have been threatened a couple of times and had my painting assaulted once. I try to fit into my environment as well as possible.

From: Janina Cushman — Sep 30, 2010

I found this particularly interesting as I often have trouble taking photographs, feeling sensitive to people’s privacy. I wish I had time to paint more, but then I’d have to change my lifestyle and become very selfish.

From: Richard Thurman — Sep 30, 2010

Because I am innocent, I feel okay about capturing life with photography. A telephoto lens is valuable.

From: Mary Carnahan — Oct 02, 2010

“As children in eastern Europe” – We didn’t move into Europe, realize we couldn’t enslave the Europeans, and then engage in a campaign to vilify and kill them, finally physically moving them into ghettos which were mostly in the least inhabitable parts of this country. Never mind that we have still run right over them in the 60s and 70s, when it comes to mineral rights. My husband, as a child, had to sleep with a shotgun under his pillow, because they never knew when the local white community was going to visit and destroy property or try to hurt them in a display of aggression. It’s not “PC” to address ignorance (by that I do NOT mean stupidity). As a woman I don’t actually care what words you use to address me as long as there is some kind of basic civility. My husband, a Lakota, was the same way about being called “chief” or a redskin. You look at the intent. So would you want a stranger to pull up in a car, hand out cokes, and use your children as models? Native parents would be pretty much the same as you in that regard. “Maybe in Victorian times” – As recently as the 1070s, the shootout at Wounded Knee happened largely because the U.S. government, in its quest to integrate Native Americans into white society, forcibly adopted children — like my husband, who had a perfectly good family, and was put into an incredibly abusive white family that was paid to take care of him. We also supported local strong men (thugs) the same way we have propped up people like Saddam Hussein, because they enforced our control of the population. Please read some history. This is not an ancient matter. These days we mostly just resent the Native Americans for not being okay after decades of trying to survive in remote, impoverished places. When my husband came back from Vietnam he faced the double whammy of being a combat vet and being an Indian. When we married, in the 1990s, we encountered equal numbers of people who thought Indians were worse than blacks in intrinsic value, as people who thought he must be magical because he was Indian. He had developed a very compassionate attitude toward all of this, but it was very much there.

From: Anonymous — Oct 04, 2010

Yes dear, it has happened on all continents many times over. The point is that art should help in the war aginst rasism. The more we mix and learn about each other, better the chances…at least I hope so

From: Marlien in South Africa — Oct 05, 2010

We formed a drawing group in our area, together we arrange a model ( girl next door, garden worker, grandma or grandchild of one of the artists) everyone in the group pays R20 for the model, which is not much, but together amounts to a nice amount for the model (who is a little flattered to be asked to pose for us any case). Nothing is fixed and every session varies according to circumstances. I coordinate the meetings at different locations, maybe at one of the artists homes or at the models home, whichever is preferred. I also coordinate the way the model poses ex. few short poses for different exercises, and two half hour poses. This is a new experience for most artists in the group who never had the opportunity of a figure drawing class, there is no embarrassment of a nude figure (in itself a wonderful experience), for these sessions we prefer interesting clothing, hats, and other props. There is no embarrassment of bystanders that might cause stage fright. We take pictures as reference for further paintings. We give critique on each others drawings. We have so much fun! It is really recommendable.

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Rose Among Silks & Mosaics

watercolour painting by Jocye Popein, BC, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Rae Aeberli of Mt View, AR, USA, who wrote, “When my daughter was in the hospital for cancer surgery, I took my sketchbook with me. I drew portraits of all the nurses who wanted to pose and gave the drawings to the nurses. I am convinced that she had better care because of this.” And also Jytte Frost who wrote, “I have been thinking of going out and shooting a lot of pictures of people and happenings, buildings, great doorways. As a society we have ruined it for ourselves by wanting to get paid for everything.”    

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