Using a Sketchbook: Drawing in Vietnam

It can be nerve-racking, plucking up the courage to whip out your sketchbook for the first time in a public place. It's best to just get it over with: once you've started, it's fine. Here's what I was sketching in the photo above:

Any attention you get is generally very positive. Remember: most people don't draw at all, so however worried you are about your efforts, most on-lookers are likely to be impressed.

And you do get used to being observed. I now really enjoy the opportunity to share the moment with strangers, particularly if we don't share language, so wouldn't otherwise 'meet'.

These photos were all taken in Vietnam. The first time I found the nerve to draw people close-up, the lady above came and watched, with a huge grin. When I'd finished, she seemed to be asking me to draw her, so I did, then I broke my usual rule and gave the drawing to her.

Here, I'm sketching some roadside poultry traders: the baskets on the backs of the scooters were full of live chickens. Some hung from their feet from pushbikes, like panniers. Women crouched on the floor, weighing tethered chickens with hand-held, metal scales. I started on the periphery, but quickly got drawn in by people’s attention. There was much giggling about those I had drawn.

I sat beside a river in Hoi An, to draw some squatting women working on a jetty (eclipsed here by my onlookers). It must have been the school’s lunch hour, as I quickly attracted a handful of little boys in uniform, who talked animatedly to one another, obviously about me. I wished I could understand and talk to them.

This photo was taken a couple of minutes later...

I showed them the rest of my sketches, then tried to draw one boy, although he seemed to have no idea that he should keep still!

This last is in the Mekong Delta. I'm the one in the conical hat. I'm looking through the dark opening bottom right. More than fifty people were sitting in the shade of a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by flat, woven trays. These were 2-3 feet across and contained round things, the size of marbles, which they were shelling with paring knives.

I soon had an audience, as you can see, peering over each others' shoulders to watch me draw. Somebody indicated that the marbles were ‘longan' (he wrote this carefully in the corner of my sketch) and gave me one to taste. It looked like a tiny, discoloured lychee, with less flesh but a more concentrated flavour.

To see more of the sketches I was doing, and more photos, see Illustrator Eaten by Python!!! or go to the Vietnam sketchbook on my website.

If you fancy having a go, there is a post on my main blog, with loads of 'hot tips' about drawing people in public places.

If you want to hear more about how I draw, take a look at one of my short videos, or take a peek inside some of my other sketchbooks, such as those from my travels, to countries like China, Namibia, Australia and various other places all over Europe.


Sarall said...

u.u' I've tried it and I just can't do it (yet...). It's so frustrating...

Even if I don't have public, just people walking close by, I can't continue any longer :(

Currently I'm living in Groningen (The Netherlands) where people bike more than walk (luckily); and bikers turn fast their heads to look at you, but don't slow down or stop. Here I feel more comfortable, but still not enough to really enjoy it.

Lynne the Pencil said...

Do persevere Sara - it opens up so many more possibilities.

Perhaps it would be easier if you were drawing with a friend, or even in a group, to share the attention?

Unknown said...

I've been sketching in the Science Museum recently. Many people were photographing the exhibits. I took photos of my subject too - but by drawing it, I understood the structure more. I was more embarrassed about taking photos!

It must have been wonderful to have your drawing skills to communicate in Vietnam and your sketch book must be full of unique pictures.

Unknown said...

I love your Vietnam sketch book, Lynne. Have you used any of the drawings you did then?

Unknown said...

oh and your other sketch books are gorgeous - the buildings look amazing. I'm a little jealous - I had to go to the Natural History Museum to draw my giraffe!

Lynne the Pencil said...

Thanks Sue!

I don't really use any of my sketchbooks work. It's partly that I don't want to sully what I consider 'fun' drawing with 'work' status. It's also though because, to be honest, I'm not sure what to do with them!

It's true about getting a feel for structure when you draw. You have a more intimate relationship with the subject all round.

Veronica said...

This is hilarious! I haven't laughed out loud at a blog before, thanks so much! I just love the sequence of you and the schoolboys - first a few then a crowd! Exactly the reason why I find it sooo hard to draw in public. I've just discovered your blog and it's fascinating stuff.

Lynne the Pencil said...

So glad you've found me and are enjoying it Veronica!

It's not usually quite so interactive as the Vietnam trip - in Britain people are generally far more 'British' and quite coy about looking, as they don't want to attract attention to themselves either.

Where are you based?

Veronica said...

I'm near Aberdeen, Scotland. I'm finding your blog really interesting - don't you just love the internet?! I must pick your brains sometime about your work in schools - I was asked to do a festival in Stornoway this summer, but as I've never done it before, I really didn't know where to begin. Shame, as it sounded like fun.

Lynne the Pencil said...

Veronica - take a look at my post:

It's aimed at people in your position. The post before it might also be helpful.

I was terrified the first couple of times too, but it's well worth it and it's nowhere near as difficult as you think it will be. Go and see a few other people do festival events for similar books to yours (how about a trip to Edinburgh Book Festival?) to get a feel for what they do too.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

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