Why you should draw on the bus: part 2

November 8, 2010
The best and least expected byproduct of my daily bus-art practice is its effect on my view of people. Time and time again, in the early days, I would look around me, failing to find someone both interesting and ripe for a drawing. (The only rule of bus drawing is that the subject doesn't catch me.) Resigned, I'd begin sketching a dumpy little nobody purely for the technical practice, secure in my sense of superiority and boredom.

I never have that experience anymore. Why? Because every time I've drawn someone with that frame of mind, they've humbled me. I don't want to sound sappy, but I've had some pretty wild changes of heart.

I remember last November, I settled on a very young woman in a ratty pink parka, glasses, and her nose so deeply in a book (Eat Pray Love, which I hadn't myself enjoyed much) I knew I'd have plenty of time for my sketch. She had a very quiet presence, utterly unremarkable. In fact, I thought -- horridly, I know -- she looked like she would pass into adulthood and out of life without leaving a mark (one of my own fears, I confess).

No matter, I gripped my pencil and started in on the eyes, where I often begin. The glasses, which were wireframe. I began to notice how serious she was. Then, her oval face and her severe hairstyle. She was very still. By now she didn't seem so much unnoticeable as steady, still-waters-run-deep and all that. Next, the horrid parka.

As I stared at its high collar, I began to see something else superimposing across it. A few more lines on the hair, some shading, and then I realized what it was. She looked like a queen. She looked young, incredibly serious, a person of immense responsibility. Suddenly the ponytail was a bun, the parka collar an Elizabethan collar, the stern little face -- nobility. The drawing went on only a couple of minutes more, and then she was gone.

This experience has repeated itself several times, albeit more gently. And, sadly, normally I can't reproduce what I see with my eyes onto the page. (In fact, I hope people don't catch me at it, and ask to see the drawing, which usually so poorly represents them.) Sometimes I make little notes: "this man wasn't nearly so stuffy!" "I think I saw the most beautiful woman in the world today." I draw them again, from another angle, and again, until they leave. If your day job is dull, or too much same-same, your daily art will never be.