Monday, January 12, 2009

Sketching Etiquette

approx. 5" x 6" graphite in sketchbook
Another sketch done while watching the New Year's Day football game

Since I have been telling myself for some time that I am going to start sketching more, I have decided that I better become a bit schooled in sketching etiquette. It seems to me that dedicated, experienced sketchers sketch anywhere and everywhere, but being a more amateur sketcher, I sometimes worry that I might offend.

Case in point, this past weekend I decided to try sketching in church. It seemed like a good idea. I knew I'd be there for nearly an hour, and there was plenty of subject matter if you don't mind sketching the backs of peoples heads, so why not?

Apparently the answer to that questions is because your child will be appalled and act as if your bad behavior is going to result in you being struck by lightening any second. Since I didn't want to set a bad example, I put the pencil away. I think she might have been overreacting a bit though since I obviously lived to tell about it.

So my first questions about sketching etiquette is...

1. Is it inappropriate to sketch in church?
I asked hubby and his opinion is that it is okay when we are sitting but not when we are kneeling. I'm guessing he'd so no during the standing parts too, but he didn't specify at the time. Child #2's actions clearly stated that she thought sketching in church was sacrilege pure and simple. What do you think?

A follow up to question #1...

2. Are there other places where breaking out a sketchbook would be a bad idea?
Okay, so there are some obvious places like in a public bathroom. (I say public because I have seen sketches which were drawn during a bath. Not that I'd ever be that brave. I'd give myself a matter of minutes before that book was wet.) And I'm not at all comfortable sketching in a doctor's waiting room. But I would sketch in other waiting rooms, like a dentist or hairdresser.

I know that a lot of people sketch while they are in pubs or coffee shops. My manners question for this location...

3. Is it impolite to sketch in a pub if you are dining with other people?
Here my concern is my ability to take part in conversations while I am sketching. I can listen while I draw (which is why I didn't think drawing during church was disrespectful), but being an active participant is another story.

If the answer is only sketch when you dine alone, the next question becomes...

4. How do these people manage to dine alone so frequently? Are they eating more than 3 squares a day? (Okay so that was two questions, I guess I'm not a purist.)

Taking this line of thinking in a slightly different direction...

5. If sketching in pubs and coffee shops is allowed, at what kind of eatery does this activity begin to be frowned upon? For example, if you went out to a very fine restaurant in your best fancy dress and were served a seven course meal by waiters wearing white gloves, I'm guessing you wouldn't whip out your sketchbook and ask the waiters to pose. So where is the break point? I've never seen a No Sketching sign posted in a restaurant.

You can see that I so need a Miss Manners of Sketching to guide me. Just until I learn the ropes and outgrow the possibility of embarrassing my children. Of course... that might take a lot of fun out of life... so maybe I'll just wing it instead!


Anita said...

hmmm interesting.
I am not sure I would sketch in church but see absolutely nothing wrong with in coffee shops, when I am alone. When dining with other people - not sure I like that either, unless they are also sketching! I think the answer to 5 for me is coffee shops, libraries, bookshops are fine if I was on my own. A restaurant - I don't think I would.
Nice sketch! Did you show him?

Jeanette said...

Interesting question Stacy and I don't think there is any one answer to your questions as there are so many variables involved.

1. Your child's reaction is likely based on previously being told to pay attention in church and by sketching she probably thought you were breaking the rules by doing something else. As for me, well I never go to church, except funerals and the occasional wedding so it doesn't come into play much. But if the sermon's boring (and most are) why not sketch a few people while you're there?

2. The location and occasion can play a factor in drawing. Funerals are a no no for me. I don't want to capture people's grief. Doctors and dentists' waiting rooms, hospitals, coffee shops, any public place is fair game. I don't have a problem with sketching in any of these places.

3. I don't often sketch while I'm with a group of people socializing, as I want to concentrate on them. To sketch, I can't talk or listen well, I need to concentrate my efforts on that task. As for whether its impolite, that again depends on what level of participation people want from you and how well they know you. With family, no problem, they know me well enough to know I'll draw and not take offense. With a business client, I'd be shot most likely. :)

4. Dining alone is very frequent for many people. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have eaten lunch with others in the last 3 months for instance.

5. Again, its down to occasion and setting and how you feel as the artist. There is no rule about the star rating of a restaurant that permits you to sketch or not. And I can never imagine anyone, especially in a finer restaurant daring to question your sketching. In fact, they'd likely encourage it.

Fine dining is usually reserved for special occasions and then you revert back to how much you need to concentrate on the people at your table.

It really boils down to your own confidence and comfort level Stacy. People draw in all places at all times, in all circumstances. There are no rules, only those that you create for yourself.

You have to ask yourself why you'd be comfortable sketching people at the hairdresser but not the doctor's waiting room. Or in a coffee shop but not a restaurant.

I think its self made rules that you have created based on your own values and ethics, not anything that society imposes or others have said in response to your sketching in public.

So do what is comfortable for you and as you grow in confidence, you'll expand your sketching circle to include places that may not have been so comfortable to you in the past.

Stacy said...

Thanks ladies for your thoughtful replies!! My questions were formed half in jest and half in frustration over a lack of good sketching opportunities. Given my current life stage, I am rarely alone when I am out eating or on vacation or anywhere that I think would make a good sketching location. I know I need to make time for sketching, just like anything else, but was feeling a little stubborn and goofy so came up with my etiquette questions - much like a child whining "why not" when their parent tells them no. :D

Jeanette, I did wonder if other people were able to sketch and socialize at the same time. For me, either one requires too much focus so it excludes the other. And often I won't sketch when I am out, even with family, because I don't want to miss out on the fun. As for why I'll sketch while waiting for a hairdresser but not a doctor, I don't want to make sick people uncomfortable if they see me sketching and worry I am sketching them. And as for dining in a 5 star restaurant, I'd be too busy watching the other diners hoping to get clues on table etiquette to even think about sketching!!!

Robyn said...

I'm with your daughter, Stacy! I would be waiting for you to be struck down. I haven't gone to church since I was a tiny girl attending convent school. Those were the days of the Latin Mass. Like Jeanette, these days I sadly attend funerals and sometimes weddings but I totally missed out on the idea of churches becoming more laid back. As a result when, years ago I had to direct some film in the big St Mary's cathedral in Sydney I was shocked and embarrassed by the way the cameraman prowled around taking light readings and generally treating the place like a football stadium. I was astonished he wasn't struck down!

I visit a lot of churches these days because in Italy they are beautiful, peaceful and full of art. I still feel inhibited about taking photos and sketching.

Restaurants - I'm usually too busy feeding my face.

Public transport - too terrified of being caught by the subject.

Colourful events - too darn slow to catch anything!

I really must do better!

Keep going, Stacy you have at least started!

Jennifer Rose said...

1. no, but I've never been to church unless it was for a funeral, but if a person was a devout person, or was afraid of any punishment, then they probably shouldn't. but you could also argue that its a gift from what ever god you worship and your practising what he/she has given you.

2. yeah I think a funereal would be the only place I wouldn't sketch.

3/4. no I don't think it is, I can still talk to people and draw. and most people that I would go out with know that I draw and don't bat an eye when I do in public. If its not a friend I am with, and if it is a customer, unless its a customer wanting to talk about drawing ideas, drawing would be out.

5. If I'm paying that much for a meal I figure I can do what ever I want :p (well of course this doesn't include streaking :p)

Stacy said...

Oh my goodness, now I'm starting to feel guilty. I had better say double prayers tonight before bed. :)

In my defense, it wasn't like I was sitting there with a sketchbook and a whole arsenal of supplies. I had one small piece of paper folded into a 2" by 3" rectangle and a pencil that was shorter than the palm of my hand. I doubt anyone besides my family and the people directly behind me even noticed. (The sketch in this post was NOT done in church. It is a sketch of my father-in-law from New Year's day.)

Jennifer, I have to say I liked your answer to the church question best. If God gave me my talent for art, maybe he's happy I was practicing. You gave me hope, unlike Robyn who has now made me fear a delayed strike! Yikes! ;)

Kellie Marian Hill said...

Hehe, love the post! And since Im all for sketching, under almost any corcumstances.... I think your daughter probably reacted the way she did either because she thinks that at this point in her lif everything you do should embarass her- or in retribution for you telling her to be respectful and pay attention contless times in the past :)

Church would be an absolute yes for me. As would almost any situation when not out with a group- out sith the spouse, well, he usually understands.

Of course, that attitude means I have, at times, been asked to stop sketching. Once I was even asked to surrender my sketchbook- we compromised by my tearing out the offending pages.

And if you dont often dine alone... theres always bars :) Lots of pretty shiny things, and of course alcohol. Looking forward to seeing what you do!

Kellie Marian Hill said...

ugh, just noticed my horrendous spelling. I apologize :/

Robyn said...

You still okay, Stacy? ;)

bluelilac said...

Dear Stacy
This question made me think too much! I can't write a book here of response to each of your questions.
Being an Anglican I have on the occasions of boring sermons done a bit of doodling at times. I try to be inconspicuous.
There is a blogger artist named Paula Becker who is always sketching in her Church in Montreal and Texas. You can find many church sketch posts of speakers at lecturns and the backs of heads on her website.

As far as sketching in restaurants or coffee shops I have the feeling that as long as you are ordering something and not taking up a table for too long it shouldn't be a problem. Writers do it all the time so why not artists?

I rarely sketch outside because I get so uncomfortable when people pop up behind me to watch. It can be unsettling especially in quiet park or country settings. I have been quite scared at some of the characters who popped out of the bushes.
I doubt I have answered your questions. But I'd say if you want to sketch, it is a free country, and why not do it. But take your camera along with you when outdoors. Not in church maybe, unless you are hired to take pictures or to sketch an event.

And I think sketching in social situations where friends are chatting together etc. isn't quite polite. Unless they expect you to sketch them. But that's just me.

This is just my two cents of unqualified opinion.
Big smile for a great question.
Big Hug.

Mary Jane

Stacy said...

Kellie, thank you for your support! I was really starting to question myself, and I'm normally a "do the right thing" kind of girl. As for my daughter, she not yet at the age where she is embarrassed to have a mom so maybe my messages of "be respectful" and "pay attention" are getting through!

Robyn, I'm fine...just a few singed hairs on the back of my head. I think it was a warning shot. Nothing a good haircut won't fix. ;)

Thanks Blue! I hear what you are saying about people popping up behind you to watch you sketch. A few years ago I was sketching in an airport. My nephews were there too and once they realized what I was doing they wanted to watch. Well with them watching my sketching abilities went right down the tubes!!!

Debbie said...

Stacy -I feel as if I have met a soul sister. I go to a Baptist church and my sermon notes page is filled with drawings of the backs of peoples heads. I find that sketching helps me focus and remember things. So relax,draw and pray is my motto.

Anonymous said...

Well you know I was so tempted to sketch at my friend Yvonne's funeral. Her paints were up on the coffin, and paintings on easels at the altar. As soon as the thought of sketching struck me, my first thought was ' what would Yvonne think', and then I couldn't help but picture little Yvonne curled up in a ball in her coffin with her hands in her mouth to stop herself giggling. That picture has never left me, and I think it's a good one to have. I didn't sketch. Some people may have been offended, but not the ones who really knew Yvonne I think.

d_art said...

Kind of stopped by here by accident while looking for sketchbook tips since I keep a sketchbook everywhere as well.

1. I suppose it's like wearing bling bling at church. If it's too distracting to other people (like you draw so well that others stop paying attention to the sermon) then I suppose it could be an issue.

2. Funerals, Weddings, or anywhere that involves full support of another. Although, I do take my sketchbook to birthday dinners sometimes, but mostly so I can draw the birthday person and give the person something memorable as a gift.

3. It might be impolite if it's a dinner date of some sort (unless the significant other wants you to sketch him/her). As for pubs, I kind of like sketching there. One time, I got a free beer from the bartender after he asked me to sketch him. It was my friend's birthday, so I gave the beer to him.

4. Eat small and slow. Chew frequently. Preferably not hot foods that get cold faster.

5. Buffet. 'Cause you can be there forever.