Learn to Sketch, People Sketching, Sketching

Quick People Sketches – 6 Tips to Get Started

I find quick people sketches difficult. People move, I get proportions wrong, likeness goes out of the window. It makes me feel under pressure too; someone might peep over my shoulder and laugh. Yet I just love drawing people.

Why? I am not particularly fond of uncomfortable situations but when it comes to sketching people, going beyond your comfort zone is rewarding.

Pub Sketch by Sophie Peanut
I drew a quick outline of this pub scene in pen and coloured in with watercolour.

Why I like quick people sketches

When you haven’t got much time there is no space for judgement. I like how capturing a fleeting moment forces me to a place where drawing becomes automatic. There’s no time to think or stop. I just look and draw. If time allows I add light, shade and colour.

Yet going to this place of flow isn’t aways straight forward. I don’t sketch life-like jaw-dropping portraits in seconds – mostly there’s a nagging voice in my head when I draw: -‘Does she really have a nose like this?’,’What the f***k is this? A person? You must be joking?’.

People Cafe Sketch - Sophie Peanut
Cafe break on a Sunday Walk.

Working with a pesky inner critic

I listen distractingly and carry on drawing, the nagging comments grow fainter until I can’t hear them anymore… I am then free to sketch and let instinct take the lead.

While my inner critic is right -the nose is too big, the eyes wonky and no real-life person looks like this, it misses the point.

Drawing is not (as far as I concerned) about flawlessness or sheer technical ability. Drawing is about storytelling and experiment, about a moment in time, about emotions, memory and about who you are as a person. Like life – sketching is messy and imperfect and all the better for it.

The ‘mistakes’ that happen when your work quick are what give your drawing character.

Quick people sketches - Ink sketch by Sophie Peanut
Sketching the kids while waiting for a pub meal. Filled the blacks in with a brush pen later

Tips to get started sketching people

1- Take a deep breath and dive in

Sit in a cafe, park or on the train and draw.  If your subject gets up and leave, just move onto the next one and keep going until you have a page filled with small drawings. Don’t worry about the results. As you practice your drawings will improve and you’ll learn which techniques work best for you.

2- Practice at home

I don’t recommend drawing exclusively from photos, but they are useful to learn where the features are positioned on the face and a good practice tool when used together with drawing from life. Freeze the screen when you watch TV, take pictures of your friends or use and app like Sktchy* to practice drawing people and study facial features.

*Sketchy is a free app where members of the public upload pictures to inspire artists to draw them.

Cafe Sketch by Sophie Peanut
Cafe sketch – Stop on motorway services on way to Birmingham – Experiment with crayons

3- Life drawing

Life drawing allows to practice in a controlled environment. If you can not attend a life drawing class, ask friends and family to sit for you for 10 minutes or so, or draw a self-portrait using a mirror.

4- Let go of perfection

Remind yourself you are learning – the process matters more than the result. You can’t expect quick drawings to be flawless. They will be lively and have character though. Remember to look back at your drawing a few days later. Drawings I was disappointed with when I made then, often don’t look half as bad a few days later. So step back and take  time to see your work’s qualities rather than just its flaws.

People sketches by Sophie Peanut - Out for dinner with the family
Sketching while waiting for our food and at the end of our meal

5 – Try new techniques

Start drawing with a pen or pencil. As you gain confidence, try and experiment with watercolour, pencils, markers to add shading and colour – until you find your favourite tools.

6- Practice, practice and practice

Finally there’s no magic pill. It takes time to build a skill and drawing people is no exception. Practice as much as you can, even it is is just a few minutes at the time. Cafes, bars, restaurants, parks and other publics spaces, trains, planes, waiting rooms are all great places to draw people. Draw your family when they watch TV… your skills improve as you fill your sketchbook pages.

Quick people sketches in the park
A page of quick people sketches in the park. Most sketches are not finished as people moved away.

Additional resources

Lynne Chapman’s sketching people is one of the best books I have come across on the subject. It contains heaps of useful information and is beautifully illustrated – worth a read if you are looking to improve your quick people sketches.

Quick People Sketches - 5 tips o get started by Sophie Peanut

3 Comments to “Quick People Sketches – 6 Tips to Get Started”

  1. Chuck Beattie

    Thank you for your inspiring article. I am a new artist 72 years old and both anxious and excited to learn how to capture people. if you can point to other resources i would really appreciate it. I am inspired by the sketches i see from court proceedings and trials. I ask myself, how does one capture those images? I am in awe.



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