It is August almost Spring, you can still swallow the cold air into your mouth and your eyes feel dry when your outside in the cold.
The Sunday morning light is still weak this time of the year, and the cold days are not over yet, still snowing in the Cape. The morning light shines nicely into my apartment.
It is a drive to Johannesburg where I and Charles go and sit at Rosebank Mall flea market where draw life people. We ride together to Johannesburg every Sunday to sell our stuff with his car which has a trailer. We save so petrol money and his wife normally put in food for us for when we get hungry. Charles paint landscapes and sell his already finished paintings opposite me. I do life models and with that kind of artwork you only have a specific amount of time to draw the subject and it is very stressful. The client really wants to have the sketch but doesn’t like to sit for half an hour. They would rather like to wander around the artworks and the food corner as to sit still for a while.
My first client was a blond young boy with very straight hair. He looks around and can’t sit still, his mother also tries to keep the child on the chair. I first started with rough sketches of him just to get the idea of where his eyes, mouth, and ears are and to get the shape of his face. I suddenly started to laugh and his mother saw I think it is funny. I said to her: “Children are hard to draw.” She smiled at me and said, “Yes he is a busy child and can’t sit still.” I called him over and said he must come and have a look at his drawing. He was very excited and he walked to my sketch board and he looks at his drawing which is slowly taking shape. I asked him: “Can you see it is you?”. He nodded with a smile and he looked with very much interest at the sketch. I said to him nicely to please sit still so that I can finish his sketch. He went back and get on the chair and his mother helped him. For a moment he looked self-conscious and I see he sit still so that I can draw him. It is if he knows all the attention is now on him. He looked me straight in the eyes with a smile and I can see he is ready to be drawn. His mother looked at me and I asked him. “Are you ready?” He looked at me and with a big smile he said: “yes”. “Ok let’s go”. I said. It was then easier to start drawing him. He knows what to do and that he must sit still so that I can concentrate on the sketch.
There are a lot of people this Sunday morning and some people stop and have a look at me and the child and pass on. I try to put the easel on a place where people can’t look over my shoulder because that distracts me. I use the Really method to draw the sketch, which is lines that you use to shape the face. It is complicated but with the time you learn it out of your head and draw the lines in your imagination. It gets easier with more and more practice, a circle for the face, a horizontal line, and a vertical line in the middle of the circle. That gives the basic structure of the brow line, the eyes, the nose, and where the ears are. I extent the vertical line to make space for the chin and the cheekbone.
Children’s faces look different than adults, features of a child’s face are larger than on an adult. So you need to look at that when you start with the face, there are plenty of differences between male and female as well so if you know the differences and capture it as soon as possible your sketch will look more correct or believable.
The sketch is almost finished just a few lines then darken up the shadows and the child can take a break. It took me around twenty to thirty minutes to draw a sketch and it is quick money. Some times there is a queue waiting, but today it is only a dark-haired woman standing. She looks at me with her brown eyes and I looked back on the sketch paper to finish up with the child’s drawing.
It is actually not necessary to advertise my work, I have a framed sketch with a photo and a real sketch of that person and people can see what I can do and how correct my work is, there is a price with the framed artworks so there is not a lot of conversation which I appreciate. It keeps my mind on the work.
I looked over to Charles and see he sold a painting. I am glad, he struggles by times to sell his work but if he sells something he makes a good profit.
The boy started to fiddle again and I called him to have another look at his pencil sketch which I am drawing of him. Very excited he comes over and has a look at the sketch. I can see on his face it is all smiles and he look impressed. His mother also came over to have a peak and she smiled at me. “It looks good,” she said to me while she is looking, “Thank you,” I said.
The dark-haired woman is still standing and waiting, this time I can see she also wants to see the sketch. She smiles at me and I said to the child: “boy go back to your chair give me just a little more time, it is almost finished.” Very happy he went back and his mother helped him back on the chair again.
The sun is getting higher and the day is still long. I still need to work hard and hopefully get a few customers for a portrait sketch.
I looked at the boy and said to him: ” I am finished you can have your sketch.” I signed the artwork with the date and his mother looked relieved and walks over to come and see the drawing. ” What do you think?” I asked her and she nods and said it is good. The blond hair boy comes and stands next to his mother and he looked impressed. I took my board with the sketch and turn it in the direction of the dark hair woman so that she also can have can quickly look at the sketch. She could see I know she is curious to see. The lady paid me and she gives a smile and said thank you for my patience. When she walked away with her child she said to him something of framing the artwork. I could not hear clearly what she said but I hope she will frame the sketch.
I greet the dark hair lady friendly and she went and sit on the chair, she looked at me and ask: “Do I sit correctly?” “It doesn’t matter” I replied. “The way you sit is no problem for me.” She smiled again and pull back her hair so that I can see part of her ears. Her makeup is very subtle on her face and she has a dark scarf that covers her neck. I would love to see her neck, women’s necks are slender and graceful, and now she hides it with the scarf. I wonder if I can ask her to take off the scarf so that I can get a part of her neck in the sketch.
“Miss can I ask you to take off your scarf, I would like to draw a part of your neck in the sketch.” She smiled and took off the cashmere wool scarf and placed it on her legs in front of her with her hands on the scarf. She does not have a problem if I asked her something, she just gives her cooperation. I see her blouses button is closed high up to her neck. It might be because it is still cold and she likes to keep her neck warm with the scarf which is now lying on her legs in front of her.
Her facial expressions show me she is relaxed and calm and I feel I can capture that emotion on the paper. Her mouth has a slight smile and I look at her for a few seconds before I start to draw the first lines, first I started with the circle of the forehead. I see her hairline is a bit high but she have a lot of hair and you can see she gives good care of her hair.
A lot of things went through your mind when you work with your subjects. By times you wonder if that person is married, single, divorced, or have children. What kind of work is she or he doing, where he lives and where they studied and about things? Sometimes you feel like starting a conversation but that I luckily learned not to do. In the beginning, I was very curious to know the person but later on the person become a human and later just a subject to complete. Something dies in you if you work so closely with people. You don’t recognize ugly, beautiful, fat, or thin anymore. That does not matter. All that matters is to do the work correctly as possible and get it done before the client gets irritated with the long sit.
When I was younger I dreamt of going to France and draw people on the street, and also do sketches of people eating and drinking at restaurants. That never happened because it was too expensive and I was not sure if I will survive and make a living being there on my own.
My sketch slowly getting in shape, I look for a while at the sketch, stand back and look at the model which sits in front of me. She looked me in the eyes and I said to her: ” I just like to have a look at the sketch.” She smiled and I picked it up and shows her. With a friendly voice, she said: “It looks good.” She smiles again and I continue.
The time is running out and I get eager to get this sketch done, luckily she sits still and it seems to me nothing rush her, she has enough time. Maybe she enjoys the day out of the house. I look at her left hand but see no ring, so I reckon she is not married nor engaged. Also, it seems she came alone because there is nobody with her and she is not in a hurry.
It is the end of the month and the people like to spend their time walking through the little stalls with all the crafts and artworks in, some enjoy the food and drinks. People like to spend money on stupid things like bracelets and bookmarks and old stuff which they can’t buy at any secondhand store.
Opposite me it seems Charles is doing good today, he sold another painting and he waves at me. I am glad he is doing good, there were a lot of times when he sells nothing, but his work improved and he has a family which he needs to look after.
He works on the press machines at the factory, where I am a designer of medals. He does not do a good or clever job but at least it is a job, and he can earn money and support his family. Tomorrow we need to be back at work from seven the morning till five in the afternoon. It is a long day and in the winter the factory is very cold because its structure is made out of a corrugated iron sheet. So it is very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. It is not only the weather which is a problem in the factory it is also the noise of the press machines, but it is banging the whole day, in your ears, and there are a few of these machines working day and night. So the Sunday break away from the factory is actually very nice and by doing something different than the normal what we do in the week.
The sketch is almost done, “do you like to have a look?” I asked her, “yes she said.” I took the board with the sketch to her and she has a look, “It looks amazing. I like your style.” “Thank you I said. I am glad you like it.” I walked back and said to her, ” Just a few final touches then I am finished.” It took me another few minutes and I sign it and give her the sketch.
She looked happy and she paid cash, it seems to me she has a lot of money and spends it well. I think spending money on a portrait sketch is money well spent. It is something that you can put on your wall and a lot of people can appreciate it for a very long time.
I thanked her for the money and she walked away into the crowd, and then it is time for me to go to Charles to get something to eat. We had a few words and a slice of bread because we don’t normally spend money at the flea market. The food is very expensive we normally buy cooldrink for us, which is also very expensive.
While having a quick snack another client comes and looks at the framed artworks. He asks, “Do you frame it?” “I can but that will take longer and I have to deliver and it is going to cost a lot more”. I said to him. He looked again at the sketches and said he would like to have one. While he was sitting and I was busy drawing him he was busy chatting with me. He is from the UK and is in South Africa for business. He flies through last night and arrived this morning at eight at the Oliver Tambo Airport. By times I could not really hear what he said because of his accent and I try to concentrate while he is busy making a conversation. Slowly I deepened into my work and ignore his conversation and he saw that and he stops talking. I felt a bit bad about that because you can see he would like to chat because maybe he feels lonely and tired of sitting in the hotel alone.
Every day when I am here it is different people sitting in front of me. They have their own story and way how they sit and turn their heads. All these faces drive you by times crazy because sometimes it works and there are times that the sketch is a disaster. Then you need to please and explain because the person sits for a while and you can’t just start over again and keep him or her for another half an hour.
I am slowly getting tired and the day is almost over, it is time to go home. I wink at Charles and he nodded it is time to go. I am glad I made a few bucks and it is cash flow money for the week. I started to pack up my stuff and get everything ready. Charles does the same, normally we make turns, the one goes to the car while the other one watches so that nobody can steal our art.