Thursday, 6 August 2015

Capturing people in action and crowds

Straight after my workshop with Ching I went into an afternoon workshop with Marc Holmes. The focus was on capturing people while they went about their business of doing whatever they do. Essential stuff for urban sketching as you can't ask them to pose for you.

We started off sketching each other very rapidly trying to capture the "head shape and hairshape" and soon moved on to capturing the hands. Again a handy trick. Get the hands down immediately after the head and then even if they move away you can fill in the rest later!
So we were sent off into the market area in front of the chinese temple on waterloo street. In twenty minutes we gathered back. I had these 6 people with head and hands which meant I had captured them doing whatever they were doing.
Raffle ticket seller, fruit vendor packing plums, old man sleeping and a cobbler working on a shoe while smoking his pipe.
An essential part of the workshop was also how to use two kinds of pens - one thin for the initial quick capture and then work with a darker brush pen for shadows and highlights. I wasn't very familiar with the use of the brush pen and really felt myself struggle with the darks.

The final part of our workshop which I found the most exciting by far was how to quickly capture a crowd scene. It's funny how different this workshop was from the previous one and yet in some ways the same. The idea of a foreground, a focus with more detail and then getting the depth and background with perspective and alternating darks for contrast. Except instead of buildings it was a whole horde of people on the paper.
We had to create a point of interest by quickly capturing one or a group of people in the foreground. Sketching what they were doing and getting in the head and hands first. Adding depth by putting in a whole row of heads behind that. Again, the trick is to look at people here and there and sketch them in. It doesn't really matter if the person on the left is finally on the right by the time you captured them.
Accessories like bags, specific kinds of shoes add character and by adding bodies and alternating dark shapes between the whites at the back one can very quickly achieve a sense of a crowd while also having a few authentic people about whom you are telling the story. Above is a scene of two sketchers meeting after the workshops in the crowded market and swapping notes while the rest of the busy shopping crowd mills around them. Below is a guy in a wheelchair talking to an old lady with the shopping stalls behind them.
Marc Holmes has pretty much distilled people sketching to its essence in this workshop. I really enjoyed the structure where each exercise built on the previous one and watching him stand there in the bustling market and demo one great sketch after another is a memory that will stay with me.


  1. without attending his workshop i have learnt so much out of this blog!!..thanks for a detail description ..treat to read and see..i am enjoying your blog..keep it up.

  2. Hey! I always feel great to be here. Kind of soulmate vibe in terms of art. Thanks Kalpana :)

  3. Thank you Sanjeev Joshi! Hope you keep visiting :) and Tara Nair thanks!

  4. Wonderful -- you've really captured the shapes of the people and you've got great focal points and background shapes in the crowd sketches!

  5. Excellent knowledge sharing. .lot of details. .thanks Kalpana. .

  6. Suma, how generous! Thank you. And rathina Shankar thanks! I'm so glad if others find it useful!

  7. This is such an informative post! Thank you. You are certainly lucky to have attended this workshop and I'm sure your sketches will be even livelier from now on.