I draw a lot of people in public places. I try to not stare, glancing here and there not making eye contact, my gaze never resting on them but for a few moments. I work in places where it’s busy, I chose these locations so I blend in and people are less likely to notice me. I prefer to draw people who are otherwise occupied with their computer, cellphone, digital contraption or books. They stay still longer than people who are talking and interacting. I don’t usually make people uncomfortable. It’s rare I get made as I’m sketching someone. Occasionally an observant student will spot me but the average person, not so much.
Saturday I wandered into my usual watering hole looking for a few faces to sketch for my thank you ATCs. I did a few failures as people moved around a lot and the place was quieter than usual. A couple walked in and I did my typical assessment for sketching. It was clear that the woman was incredibly ill; her gait was slow and deliberate, a wig covered her scalp, limbs too thin through her sweater, and her partner’s nervous look as she walked alone to the table.
As she sat down she noticed me looking. I admit more than anything I wanted to draw her. The contours of her face and eyes were the most interesting that had come into the cafe since I’d been sitting there. I could tell my momentary glances were making her uncomfortable.
I look at my drawing people in public places as a sort of personal journalism but I could not justify adding to this woman’s pain. Clearly she could feel my momentary glances at her, no matter how I hid them as if I were sketching the cafe tables or my cup of coffee. Perhaps she was hypersensitive to people looking at her perhaps I was less delicate than usual. Whatever it was, I couldn’t nor can I justify making someone in pain more uncomfortable.
At some point we must draw the line.