Mattias Adolfsson, SBS teacher, sketches in a Swedish forest.

  • Wear a big hat that shades your face (not so big that it draws attention to itself, though!)
  • Wear sunglasses–no one can tell where you’re looking.
  • Wear earphones… people usually don’t want to disturb you if you’re listening to music—whether you actually ARE, or not.
  • Stay aware of what’s going on around you—usually not a problem for introverts, I know.
  • Dress simply if you prefer not to be noticed. This might not be the place for the super-artsy, out-there look…
  • A small hardbound book or journal looks like a diary–and most people respect your privacy.
  • Use your simpler tools in public–a pen, pencil, and journal can be enough.
  • Work small! It’s unobtrusive and less likely to call attention to what you’re doing. (If you get out your folding stool, easel, and pochade box, on the other hand, don’t be surprised if someone asks what’s up.)
  • If someone DOES engage you in conversation, try to be polite—they usually mean well and may think what you’re doing is magic! Smile, or look vague, then get right back to work.
  • Look busy—concentrate—people hesitate to interrupt.
  • Remember, everyone else is usually busy doing THEIR thing as well. Look at how many people are texting or talking on their cell phones, chatting, talking with a friend, having lunch or tea or a drink in the pub, shopping, sightseeing, taking photos, or reading… most often they’re going on about their own business and won’t even notice that you’re sketching!
  • Sit against a wall—no one can get behind you and make you feel nervous.
  • If sketching people, just glance, don’t stare. Sketch them from the back or from a distance. Sketch when they look away, stop when they look back in your direction.
  • I’ve never had a problem with anyone noticing me sketching them. If they DO notice, I just smile and perhaps say “that’s such an interesting dress (or whatever!), hope you don’t mind” or some such.
  • Choose a booth, in a crowded place—sketch your food, fellow diners, or a cup of tea, like Liz Steel does. Booths feel private and protected and you’ll feel more at ease.
  • Try a sketchcrawl. There really is safety in numbers… and a group of like-minded people with more experience will help you get over your state fright.
  • Or just enlist a sketch buddy. Make it a social time for the two of you… you may feel more comfortable with a friend or a small group.
  • Remember, if someone DOES talk to you, you may have an opportunity to make a new friend with common interests. One of my most treasured friendships started in exactly that way.
  • And of course the best way to get over being nervous about sketching in public is… sketching in public. Get out there and DO it, we guarantee it gets easier.
  • Relax—and breathe!

These tips are from Sketchbook Skool fakulty member and drawing legend, Cathy Johnson. For more of her wisdom, check out her klass in “Seeing” at Sketchbook Skool.

Filed under categories: Tips