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Connecting with Strangers by Drawing Them

Drawing live portraits is one of my favorite things to do. For 10 to 15 minutes, I have someone sit in front of me while I bring them to life as a storybook character, and in return, I receive some pretty amazing gifts.

It's hard not to smile when the person just three feet away from you is grinning from ear to ear. As your smile grows wider, theirs does too. In that moment, you both recognize the magic happening, and even more delight ensues. After this acknowledgment of awkward whimsy, we both know it's time for me to get to work.

I start my drawing with an oval shape representing the head, but it's the pieces within the shape that truly capture the essence of the person sitting for me. The next step is the eyes. I look at my subject's eyes, and they look back, often smiling. This eye contact lasts for a few moments before I move on to the next feature, but I always come back to the eyes.

storybook portrait done at Whyte Ave Art Walk 2023

As I piece together the features that I hope will resemble my sitter, we engage in conversation. There's no formula for chatting; all conversations are organic, with some predictable necessities, of course. Conversations ebb and flow over the course of the drawing. Sometimes, my model leads the way, and I get to talk about all the things that are important to me. Other times, I take the lead, trying to uncover what excites my visitor. Rarely have I had an experience where there is no conversation. In fact, I am often rewarded with an interesting subject and occasionally an exciting story that stays with me for a while.

The 10 minutes it takes me to turn a passerby into a storybook hero is an opportunity to connect with a stranger in a meaningful way. After all, we have been smiling and staring into each other's eyes. I can't wait for my next live storybook portrait event, and sadly, I only do a few each year. Perhaps that needs to change.

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