Recommended Drawing Exercise - Sketching People in Public


Sketching People in Public is the act of trying to capture a person, by quickly sketching them. This can be done either while people are walking around, allowing you to focus on their motion, or while they’re sitting around, allowing you to try and capture their essence.


It’s an incredibly freeing exercise, if you can get over the fact you won’t be producing works of art. Sketching People in Public, will, over time

  • improve your hand-eye coordination
  • improve your ability to see the world as shapes
  • improve your ability to feel the gesture in things

This exercise will really loosen you up, allowing for more expressive and confident lines. It’s also kind of cool realising how different everyone is too. Even people standing around will stand totally different to the next person. You don’t really notice these sort of things until you start studying people this intently; I find this side of the exercise fascinating.


I’ve not yet had the courage to sit in a cafe and sketch people, I’m a bit too self conscious for that at the moment. I therefore focus on trying to capture people in motion. Meaning, sketches are only about five to twenty seconds long. Yes, you’re going to need a lot of sketchbooks for this exercise :) There is very little time for detail, it’s all about asking yourself, what is the most important feature of this person, and than trying to capture it before they’re gone.

If you were to sit in a cafe and sketch people, I would imagine you’d have a bit more time to start adding tone and detail, but either way, you have no idea when the person you’re drawing is going to vanish out of sight. So both ways are challenging, as you’re limited for time.

You only need a sketchbook and pencil, nothing fancy. I believe it’s important to find a place where you feel comfortable, you need a good view of people but you don’t want to feel exposed. That’s key! Sometimes I sit in the wrong place and I just can’t relax, it shows in my sketches too. I find it best to sketch people walking away from me, this way they are less likely to see me sketching them.

I recommend using a soft pencil lead, such as a 2B or 4B. This will allow for freer, faster lines. You will also have the added ability of being able to produce darker darks, to create contrast more quickly. A great way to add emphasis when people sketching

Here’s another lil Sophie Tip: Try to position yourself so you can see cash machines. People have to stop to use them, so you will have about twenty seconds of them standing still; perfect time to sketch them :)


The images below show some of my people sketches.


Very much so. Firstly, it’s fascinating just watching how people move, you learn so much, but it is so rewarding when you manage to capture a persons essence. My hit ratio is very small, I would say one in ten at best. The thing is, it doesn’t matter, they’re over so quickly that you just keep turning pages, becoming lost in the moment.

You start to notice how people are all so different, and you start wondering what they’re thinking too, or where they’re going. You see someone walking along with a big box under their arm, what’s in the box? You start making up stories lol Sometimes someone will walk by and you think to yourself, ‘Oh man I’ve got to sketch you.’ The worst is when this happens but as soon as you put your pencil on the paper, they round a corner and go out of view :(

It’s nice to just be outside with nature too. Watching birds flying around, clouds moving, bees going from flower to flower as if on auto pilot. All this stuff is going on in the world around us all the time, but we’re moving so fast in our lives we become oblivious to it. This exercise connects you to the world in a way I’ve not felt before.


I thought the same thing. In 2014 my Art Teacher recommended I try people sketching as a way of loosening up. I had never thought of doing this, and honestly, I didn’t really think I would be brave enough to do it. I wanted to at least try, so I found a bench in town, crept over, sat down, stuck some music on and guess what? I wasn’t scared like I thought I would be. In fact … I was actually really content, and before I knew it, hours had past.

It’s funny though, when people notice you drawing them, you feel like you’ve just been busted doing a robbery or something lol People Sketching is such a fun drawing exercise.


– George Santayana