I am thrilled to be able to share this interview with you. Rick is such an amazing artist. He hangs out in Cafe le Select, a famous old Paris cafe where he draws the patrons, capturing the character of his subjects and exaggerating it, just a little (OK sometimes a lot!) so we know them even more thoroughly. And he is a really nice guy too. I can say this because I had the pleasure of meeting him in his cafe haunt a couple of years ago. He showed me his Paris and I loved it! Now he is going to show us all how and why he does his sketches.
Why do you sketch?
Because I just love to draw. I could come up with some intellectual “arty” reason, but there is none.
When did you start sketching?
I started carrying a hardbound sketchbook (approx 8 ½ X 11 inches) in 1973, my first year of college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn , NY . Since then, I always carry a sketchbook. As I write, I am on book number 261. I have filled just a couple of smaller sketchbooks, but I prefer the larger size.
What is your favourite subject and why?
My favourite subjects to draw are people. I am a caricaturist. I enjoy the process of exaggerating features and sometimes giving myself a good laugh.
How did you learn to draw people?
I always drew people. When I was a kid, I’d copy drawings from MAD Magazine and comic books. I would do caricatures of celebrities, family and friends from photos. I don’t think I “learned” how to draw people. It was just what came naturally and it was the most interesting subject for me. I just got better at it as I grew as an artist
When you are sketching out and about, do members of the general public speak to you? How do you deal with sketching in public?
When I draw in public, I always try to draw in secret. People usually don’t talk to me.
Also, people don’t know what they look like, so I certainly don’t want them to see a caricature I have done of them. A couple of times, not by my choosing, some of my subjects were shown their drawing. The results weren’t pleasant.
Sometimes when I am drawing people, I could be inches away from them and they never know it.
Even when I am in public drawing non-people drawings, I keep to myself. If someone looks and makes a nice comment, I will thank them and go back to work. I don’t invite people to start having a long conversation with me. I’m working.
How do you choose your subject matter?
If I am drawing people, at the café, on the metro, etc. I always look for a face that interests me and can be caricatured. Sometimes there aren’t any, so I’ll just pick someone
When I draw buildings and other subjects, I will just walk around until I see something that looks interesting to draw.
Maybe the subjects choose me, instead of me choosing them.
Can you describe your process of creating a sketch?
Pencil to paper and draw. I never do a light sketch. I never erase. When I draw people, most of the time, I start with an eye and go from there. If the drawing isn’t working, and I know it from the first line, I just turn the page and start again.
I never finish up drawings at home. However, when I draw at the café, Le Sélect, sometimes I will finish the subject and go back the next day and add a background. But, it has to be live and on the spot. For me, the act of sketching doesn’t work in the studio at my drawing table.
If I am drawing a building or scene, I basically have the same process. I would start with say, a window, and then just go from there. Even with those kinds of subjects, I never erase or do a light sketch first.
When you are sketching people, how do you deal with the fact that they are always moving?
Draw very very fast!
Actually, if I get down the first couple of lines, I really don’t need them anymore. Sometimes at the café, or on the metro, the person I am drawing has gotten up and left. I will leave the drawing as simple line, or sit there and fill in tones, darken lines, shading, etc.
When I draw people at museums, my trick is to follow them from painting to painting. I’ll stand right next to them or behind them. By habit, especially at a museum, people will normally go back to the same pose when looking at a painting. So, I just wait. Actually, I can say the same for people at the café. Eventually, they will go back to the same pose, naturally.
If I am drawing people walking around, well, sometimes the top half is from one person and bottom half is from another person. Who will know?
How do you hide your large sketchbook while you are standing next to them sketching them?
I don’t think I am consciously hiding my sketchbook when drawing. It is such a part of me that I don’t even think of it as standing out. If anything, I sometimes pretend that I am writing something or taking notes. Just so the person I am drawing doesn’t know what I am doing.
How close do you like to be from your subject?
It really doesn’t matter. I can be inches away or across the room. It all depends on the situation and who I am drawing.
Do you ever sketch from photos?
Yes, of course, but I wouldn’t call it sketching from photos. I’d call it doodling. It is a completely different style.
Does sketching tie in with your other work? If so how?
One thing sketching does is it keeps my hand moving. Sort of like a musician practicing or an athlete in training. If I don’t draw, I get rusty. So, it keeps me ready for my illustration work, which is done in my studio.
One interesting thing and it didn’t happen until my move to Paris in 1995, I have been hired as an illustrator to do reportage. Instead of sending a photographer, a client has hired me to go and draw what I see. It is actually very exciting and scary at the same time. Before I moved here, I never thought that my sketchbook drawings would become part of my illustration profession.
Do you have a favourite sketching medium?
Sanford Design Ebony Pencils. I’ve been using them for almost 40 years, for sketching and my finished illustration work. If the company goes out of business, I am screwed. I do have a lot of boxes of pencils in stock though.
Can people buy your art and if so, where?
Yes, almost everything is for sale. I do have a link on my website for my café Sélect drawings, prints and cards. But, my illustration work is also for sale.
What are your top 3 tips for readers who want to sketch people in public?
1. If you are nervous about drawing people in public, as I said, never let them know that you are drawing them. When I am drawing someone, I will draw them, look around, look at someone else, look back at them and I’ll draw some more, look away, look at my feet. I get very animated and I guess, at times, I look insane, which is probably why people don’t talk to me. If I have any thought that the person I am drawing has caught on and knows, I will turn the page and move on to someone else. I just don’t want to be confronted, especially since I am doing caricatures of them.
2. If you are worried about the likenesses of the people you are drawing, don’t worry about it. So it doesn’t really look like the person. Nobody is going to check up on you. It is just the process of drawing people that is exciting.
3. If someone you are drawing comes over to see the drawing, deny everything and run as fast as you can!
Great advice. Thanks Rick!