Girl 99

I don’t usually write notes in my sketchbook but this one was just too good. I was riding a crowded subway on my way into town today, minding my own business, doing some people sketching in a very small book. I could tell people were glancing at me drawing, but when I picked up my head there was a burly man glaring down at me. I smiled to break the ice, but the smile was not returned. Instead I got this: Est-ce que c’est légal, ce qui vous faites? (Is it legal, what you are doing?) Bien sur, I said. Je crois que non (I don’t think so) was the reply. Mais oui, I said as I smiled again and shrugged my shoulders. And with that the metro came to a stop and the menacing stranger threw me a final  Je crois que non and left the train. I could tell the other people around me were just as shocked as I was, and perhaps relieved too, that the subway had stopped at just the right time.

I know other sketchers who have had issues occasionally, often while drawing on trains, when the person they are drawing turns to confront them in anger. But I wasn’t drawing the burly man, I was clearly drawing a girl on the other side of the train so I’m not quite sure what the offence might have been. Bad drawing, maybe, but drawing in public, I don’t think so.



34 Comments on “Girl 99”

  1. Huyhuyhuy skary !

    Je crois Shari, que ce monsieur devrait dessiner un peu pour qu’il arrête d’être de mauvaise humeur!
    Et… De quoi se mêle -t-il ??

    Ps/ I missed The Manchester inscriptions last saturday, I arrived 2 hours too late. All the workshops with you were gone !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. laurjen55 says:

    Maybe he was thinking of photography without express permission.


    John Wimber (on praise): I’ll take the encouragement, but I’ll pass the glory on.”



    • I guess maybe he was, but it was odd since I wasn’t even drawing him. I would have been able to understand that.


    • joanielpauze says:

      Even photography in a public place is allright. It’s for the usage (publication) that one need authorization except if it is in the public interest (journalism), although that one begin to be problematic.


      • Thanks Joanie. I have learned a lot about this issue recently. You’re right about the permissions but they seem to me to apply to photography more than drawing. It seems that many people deal with the same issues as me.


    • Even photography in a public place is ok. It is for the usage (publication) that one need authorization, except for journalism and public interest (although that one is beginning to be problematic)


  3. Sze Mui says:

    Similar thing happened to me in France. I was sketching a house by the side of a quiet lane. I noticed a woman next door looking at me me from her garden. 10 minutes later, she drove by on her way out and stopped to tell me that I have “no right” to do draw people’s houses! I tried to show her my innocent sketches and she told me to “allez montrer vos talents ailleurs!” What nonsense and rudeness! I was shocked!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rosjenke says:

    He was probably jealous you weren’t sketching him. I would have been honored if it was me.


  5. miatagrrl says:

    You were supposed to pull out your Creative License and inform him that it is, indeed, legal. 😉


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nicely handled. It’s important to stay calm in those situations. Lovely drawing too.


  7. Kathy Weber says:

    I’ve had people be angry at me because I was painting a landscape and a (very small) bit of their house was in it; another who thought that since his boat was in a painting that I did (of a bridge and a number of other boats) that I owed him money if I sold the painting; I’ve had cops kick me out of neighborhoods because I was sitting in my car sketching but apparently I looked like I was preparing a break-in. Maybe more art education would help, I don’t know. Love your work!

    Kathy Weber



  8. Lise G. says:

    Interesting subject … I think that would be important to know if yes or no we are right to draw someone without asking people for … Perhaps it’s like take a photo of someone … clearly photo is no … drawing ???


  9. There are so many strange people out there… don’t bother, shrug your shoulders and keep on sketching!


  10. By reading comments, I see that there are confusions over rights to personal image (droit à l’image). I am not a lawyer but a photojournalist. We’ve been dealing with this issue for some time, mostly in Québec and France.

    A few people mentioned that it is against the law to photograph people without their consent. While the ethic of doing so might be arguably, the law doesn’t prohibit photographing persons in public places, even in Québec and France where the “droit à l’image” is very strong. What the law says, is that if you publish (book, exhibition, newspaper, magazine, internet) a picture of a person without her consent, if this person is recognizable and in the forefront of the scene photographed, you might be heading for some legal trouble unless it is in the public interest to be informed (editorial).

    So IT IS legal to take a photo of anything and anyone, as long as the picture is taken while you are in a public place. No permission is required. It is what is done AFTER with this photo that could not be legal. The phrase to remember is that IT IS NOT LEGAL to publish without his consent a picture of a recognizable person if that person is being the focus of the photo and if it was not taken as part of an event of public interest (ex: a protest rally).

    For those that read French, photographer Francis Vachon has a excellent blog post on the issue.’image-au-quebec/

    Of course, does all this apply to sketches and drawings? If the “droit à l’image” would include sketches (and I repeat «IF» because “droit à l’image” is for photograph) , the parameters of publishing and “recognizable person that is being the focus of this picture” might be a guideline.


  11. Judy Sopher says:

    I think that is a concern for those of us who are shy about sketching in public. I can see where some people would think it is an invasion of their privacy while others enjoy it.

    I must add that I am enjoying all the French. I studied it in college but almost never hear it here in PA.


    • Hi Judy, it’s been such an interesting process to read the comments from this post. So many people have had similar experiences, haven’t they?
      Glad you enjoyed the French. I hope I didn’t make any errors!


      • Judy Sopher says:

        I’m sorry my reply wasn’t complete before it went thru. May I add that I too am shy about drawing people for fear of invading their privacy. And I think this has intensified since people take videos of anything and anyone and post it online.


  12. Janine says:

    I am also still shy about sketching in public, even after three years of drawing. This is why I try to sketch as discreetly as possible, not so much that I don’t want to invade the privacy of others, which of course I don’t, but that I also want to protect my own. I use a very small sketchbook and only a pen or pencil and I try to keep it down in my lap or behind my bag where no one can see. If I get the sense that a person I’m sketching has become aware of it or is getting annoyed, I stop. It’s not really worth pissing someone off. At the next train or bus stop or wherever, I just start the whole process over. It leaves me with a bunch of incomplete sketches, but that’s okay. I would always rather avoid a discussion with a stranger in public.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good way of doing it Janine. Discretion is certainly the best advice. It took me a long time to draw people in public places, but I guess I’ve become less shy over time and maybe not as discreet as I should be. Maybe the sketch should have been behind my bag instead of on top of it. Great to hear from you!


  13. Angela Williams says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I belong to a community choir, and often during the time when the other sections are being taken through their parts I have used the opportunity to sketch, people have been curious and interested and encouraging. Recently we have had a new choir leader, and on the second occasion I was sketching, I was taken aside at the end of the session and told that there were some people who were not comfortable with me sketching, so I immediately said I would not do it again. Of course my situation is a little different as I see this group each week, whereas the train is a constantly changing set of people.


    • I can understand that Angela. I don’t usually sketch people I know. First of all because I know their faces too well, but also because if what you draw is not flattering or a good likeness, there may be issues. The only time I’ve ever seen people feel totally comfortable being drawn is at Urban Sketcher events where everyone is drawing all the time, and anything is fair game.


  14. Marie-Ange Le Flèche says:

    I draw people on the train for about two years and I have never had any problems. I live near Paris and so far I am the only one doing this. It’s pretty rare in France. I try not to set the people I draw. but whatever happens, I will not let my sketch book and my pencil!


    • Bonjour Marie-Ange, I do that too. In airports, in trains, in waiting rooms. The usual reaction is curiosity but rarely anger. After a few days of reflection I have come to realize that this might have been an angry person. Thanks for writing!


  15. Kris says:

    Shari, I took drawing classes from and instructor who said, that as a young man, he would draw in public places without really thinking about it. He was sketching a rather large, not at all stylish woman while waiting in a bus station. She demanded to see his drawing, and because he was young and foolish, he gladly showed her the rather unflattering drawing. She was so outraged she began beating on him with her handbag!


    • Yikes, that’s a very funny story. That’s why I don’t draw people I know! But I do like to draw on the beach and those are not always flattering portraits. It’s easier to hide though, on the beach. When you’re facing the person on a train, it’s harder to be discreet. That’s also why I like to drawing sleeping people on trains. They don’t move much and they can’t see you drawing.


  16. Rose says:

    I’ve run into that problem numerous times: (1) Parked on a residential street with mini-ranches to sketch a ranch and the police came by to ask what I was doing and leaving politely after I showed him my sketchbook (2) Sketching a merry-go-round in an amusement park and being told I can’t do that. (3) Sketching a building in a shopping center and being hassled by the guards, (4) Once even while sketching near a creek when the people who owned mining rights came by to demand if I was panning for “their” gold and calming down after I showed them my sketch, but subsequently putting up a “No Trespassing” sign. Plus any number of other times. Sometimes I wonder if that’s one reason artists travel to places like Mexico where no one seems to care that you are sketching or taking a photo.

    However, I certainly would like to have some clarity about this. What exactly is a “public” place? A shopping center which may be privately owned? A public street where I may want to sketch a private building? A tourist attraction where I’ve also been told I cannot sketch because they sell postcards of the place?

    I do like the idea of a “Creative License”, and I think I will print one up for the next time I get hassled.

    I will also say that some people are angry no matter what, and some are not only nice but very interested in what I do. It’s the angry ones I worry about and where I wonder just what my rights are. And then I also wonder why artists can use Google street views even if they are views of private property, since Google has given them the rights according to a site called “Virtual Paintout”. Does that mean Google can take a photo of MY property and allow someone to use it for artistic purposes without my permission while I can’t as an individual? It’s all very confusing and I suppose until the courts make firm decisions it will stay confused?


    • Wow, you seem as intrepid as I am, although I have yet to be stopped by police. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I was yelled at once for drawing someone’s trash, but it was in nice canvas bags and the light was interesting.

      As far as I can tell, the laws may differ depending on where you are. In Quebec anyone is fair game to be in a photo as long as they are in a public place and not the sole focus of the photo. And the law here describes the likeness as an “image”. I take it to mean photo but does that include a drawing? Of course if you are drawing someone and they become angry, I would certainly stop or move somewhere else to draw. Fortunately in my case the angry person was the one who left. And yes, it’s still confusing.


  17. Mary McLaughlin says:

    Shari – I found both your experience and the entire discussion very helpful. I’ve been very shy about sketching people in cafe’s or waiting rooms – I’ve considered myself a stealth sketcher. Your experience with the angry man was just what I’ve been afraid of happening to me. However I draw strength from the community here of like minded souls who love to sketch in the moment and are willing to take a risk for the sake of doing what they love. And by the way, I love that you sketched someone’s trash because you saw the beauty in the way the light fell on it. Thank you for your blog – it feeds my soul – no exaggeration.


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