Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Story Behind the Sketch

Monday morning, I sketched a corner of the Central Library from a bench on the second floor near the elevator. It was peaceful and quiet, with people occasionally walking by to one room or another. Several people  had  large backpacks or garbage bags, presumably holding their belongings. A parade of students,  older people, and a couple of families with small children all quietly passed my spot.  On a bench directly across the staircase from me sat a heavily clothed older man, staring vacantly.  Beside him was a woman who was mostly hidden beneath a large hood. They looked like they were probably homeless as well as dealing with mental issues. I only glanced their direction so I wouldn't cause them any more distress.

I was well into my sketch when I noticed two security officers and a woman, who appeared to be a social worker, talking with the couple on the opposite bench. The hooded woman was becoming more and more agitated and loud. Things were escalating and as I glanced over, the situation looked like the police would need to be called. Within minutes, two officers arrived and tried talking with the woman. By now she was screaming continuously and had moved to the restroom area, so the group was out of view.  As her voice got louder and louder, I decided it was best to quickly move from my area in case they were planning to go down the elevator. The police carefully took the woman down the stairs as she screamed and cried. 

Of course, I didn't closely watch the scene develop, but from what I saw and heard, all the professionals involved acted calmly and gently with a woman who was very distraught and out of control. 

I returned to the bench and after a few minutes, went back to my sketch. The woman's companion silently walked down the stairs. Two young women came by and one, glancing at my sketch, said to the other, "She's really good." 

A woman came by and asked to see my sketch. We talked for a bit and she told me she used to do beadwork before she had nerve damage in her hands. I asked her name and she told me D----. I told her mine. 

A man named P--- came by, introduced himself and asked about my sketch, wondering if I was going to use it to make something larger, like a painting. When I told him him, "No, it's just a sketch, he said, "So you're just doodling."

Another man briskly walked by and told me he loved my scarf. 

After a while, D--- came back and asked to see my sketch again. She asked if she could sit and chat for a bit. "Of course," I said. She told me she was homeless, which is what I had thought. When I asked where she was staying, she told me the name of the hotel, which was quickly going to use up her money. She had a place to stay that night, but she had heard it had cockroaches. I told her that I had talked to a woman who was homeless who had stayed in a hostel. We chatted for a bit longer and she told me some more about her recent experiences. I almost asked if she would let me sketch her; she had such gentle eyes, fragile features and delicate hands that held her unlit cigarette. It was nearing time to meet my other sketching friends and she decided to go talk to a librarian to find out about a hostel.

 Except for the the ink spot I made when I quickly grabbed my supplies to get out of the way, none of the important things that happened at the library are revealed in my sketch. The conversations, the police intervention, and my thoughts about how we deal with people who are homeless or mentally ill all happened beyond the margins of the page, yet they are what I'll remember when I look at this sketch. I don't think I improved my drawing or my understanding of perspective by making this sketch, but I had my heart opened a little wider. Urban sketching puts you right smack in the real, living world; that's one of its greatest gifts.

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