When I first started urban sketching it took me some time to feel comfortable (as in not self-conscious) sketching in public. Attending the Urban Sketchers workshop in Santo Domingo pretty much cured me of any residual reticence about standing and drawing in the middle of a crowd. I am always careful of my belongings as I sketch because sometimes I get really absorbed in what I am doing and am not too aware of what people are up to around me. It struck a chord when I read about how USK blog correspondent René Fitjen had all his beloved sketch gear stolen at the Brussels train station. And then while I was sketching today I had a bit of unpleasant incident of my own. I was in the middle of a fairly busy street, sitting on a bench, when a man appeared suddenly and stood in front of me, blocking my view and acting a bit confrontational. I think anyone who sketches outside ends up talking to people who come to peek over your shoulder and have a look at what you are doing. But this man was clearly aggressive and although he asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing, he stood too close and at one point he even tried to grab my sketchbook. In the end nothing came of the incident. I kept on sketching, trying to ignore him and eventually he moved on but it did leave me with a bit of a chill and it wasn’t only because I was sitting outside in 5° weather.

Winter Tree

26 Comments on “Passerby”

  1. Kathleen says:

    Shari, you’ve done such wonderful work and have been so brave in sharing your ups and downs, successes and failures over the last year. Don’t let this evil spirit block your sun.


  2. captelaine says:

    Very scary indeed… you should sketch with a buddy human or otherwise… myself I either have a dog tied to my waist… or my Springfield 9mm… I have a concealed weapon permit… and while I have NEVER had to even reveal it …. with my hand on it in my purse I have ordered people away and in 100% of cases so far they have retreated…. perhaps it is my attitude ( in spite of being a frail gray haired old woman) and maybe that hand in the purse, and fire in my eye is enough… as well as the growling little dog at my side… anyway, don’t go out alone… it isn’t safe.


  3. Linda Daily says:

    A beautiful sketch despite your intruder. I really felt for Rene when I read of his experience.
    I had a travel WC journal stolen some years ago and i still wonder where it is and what use it is to someone else. It pays to be a little wary when sketching alone but I wouldn’t let that stop me!


    • One of my students left a sketchbook on the subway. He did eventually find it from the lost and found of the Montreal Transit authority but someone had scribbled all over it. Why would someone scribble in it and then turn it in?? Let’s just hope the person who has your journal is enjoying it.


  4. Kate B says:

    I am glad no harm came to you but this is a cautionary tale. Many of us have little alternative than to,go,out alone but we need to remember to be aware of our surroundings.


  5. Michael says:

    This is a very lovely sketch, Shari. You capture the effect of light with a simple foreground shadow. You’ve concentrated and created a fairly complex series of tree limbs which are very realistic. And there are hardly any pencil lines visible to show how you planned this fairly complicated scene. Bravo! I can understand how you were fully absorbed in the painting and didn’t notice what was going on around you. Much as I’d like to try some of this plein air sketching, I am still too tied in taking pictures of a location and then creating a scene which reflects what I saw back in the comfort of my (warm) home. I guess you give good advice to anyone who wants to try sketching alone.


    • Thanks Michael. If you find it difficult to get out there to sketch my best advice is to go with someone else. It makes it so much easier when you are in a group. And there is a certain energy that your drawing gains when you work on site rather than from a photo. It is less controlled but more lively, I think.


  6. Mike Porter says:

    Creepy. Courageous woman to stand your ground!


  7. Hetterbell says:

    Your sketch is gorgeous, but I’m sorry to hear you had such an unpleasant experience. He sounds like he was rather threatening in his demeanour. At the time you don’t know what will happen, do you? I’m glad he went away and left you alone. I hope the next time you’re out sketching you have a much more pleasant experience. 🙂


  8. Genine says:

    such a wonderful sketch Shari and so glad you are safe. indeed a warning to us all to be more aware of our surrounding when we sketch. thanks for sharing.


  9. Chris Rusk says:

    It is strange to encounter people who choose to be contrary. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing or just plain rudeness. I am glad it went no further, you were brave to stand your ground, but it might have been safer to leave. Montreal is changing, we can no longer be as trusting of people as we have been in the past. Thanks for alerting us. Your sketch is beautiful, the lighting, the shade of the brick, the fabulous tree, I feel as though I am there. Thanks!


    • I would have had a hard time leaving quickly Chris. My stuff was on the bench around me, like my palette and my water bottle. Plus he was hovering right above me.
      Glad you like the sketch.


  10. Gail Katz says:

    Shari-as I was reading about your outdoor sketchoing and subsequent experience with that man, it reminds me of sitting on a bench in a shopping center several years ago when a total stranger came to sit down next to me very close. He started to talk to me and made it very clear what he was after. I cannot say that I was brave-I ducked into a store where I told the manager what was happening right outside his shop. He called security, but the man was never foumd. There are too many weird people out there-don’t sketch alone and bring a dog if you can. Beautiful sketch as always I love the architectural details and that gorgeous tree-Gail


  11. Lee Kline says:

    An important story and a good example of how we all need to be careful out there, Shari. Please be careful. Crazy people provoke easily – or they walk away. The problem is you never know how they will react. I think having a dog companion is a good idea. I do not think having a gun is, however.


  12. Valerie says:

    Love your paintings. I often set them as my background. While I’m rather new to the outdoor sketching I’ve been around the block more than a few times.

    Only have out what you are actively using. Put material away after you’ve used it. If the situation warrants, you want to be able to leave abruptly.

    If your water and palette are out and your instincts say to leave, leave. It is only stuff. You’d enjoy buying new materials anyway.

    You weren’t sketching alone. You were on a fairly busy street. You had chosen a good place to be. Don’t let a bad experience put you off something you love. File your experience under lesson learned and go out and enjoy urban sketching after the uneasiness has worn off.

    If I put off doing what I love until I found a person with time, resources, and interest I’d never live my own life. I’d feel dependent and powerless, not the capable, independent woman my mother raised me to be.

    That said, I make sure my phone is charged, I sometimes carry mace. I may not have a drawing partner, but I’m never isolated (unless I’m sitting in my van which is parked so I can’t be boxed in).

    Let’s keep things in perspective. Violence is 52nd on the list of things likely to kill you (25th if you are male) and that is almost always by somebody you know ( “List of causes of death by rate) .Stranger violence is so rare it still makes the nightly news and the front page of the paper. You are more likely to die driving to your sketching spot.

    You are way, way more likely to die of heart disease from sitting at home

    Enjoy your life while taking care of yourself,



    • Wow. Lots to think about in this. As you have probably read from my answers to all the comments, this has not stopped me from doing what I love,which is sketching outside. There is not much than can get in my way when it comes to that. But it has taught me to be a little less absorbed in the sketch and a little more wary of those around me. Or a little more observant anyway. Thanks for your thoughts Valerie!


  13. Elizabeth Urbanowicz says:

    An alternative to a real gun could be a CO2 powered BB gun. It is not considered a firearm and you don’t need a lisense to carry one. It won’t kill anyone but a shot from one of those hurts very much! In Canada it is not mandatory to have an orange tip on a BB gun, so you can remove it and it looks enough like a firearm to scare away aggressors that get too close.

    PS. I love the painting! Stay safe!


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