Sunday, December 8, 2019

Practicing People of the 21st Century

I’ve been jonesin’ for life-drawing practice while Gage Academy is on its long winter break. I try to sketch real-life people whenever I can, but I want a way to practice from home, too. Encouraged by the fun I had sketching from a newspaper photo a few weeks ago, even though I generally avoid it, I decided it wouldn’t be so bad to resort to working from photos if I use the images only as gestures. In other words, I’m not trying to reproduce the photos; I’m viewing them as short poses.

I remembered a book I got a few years ago after Ed Harker showed how he was using it to practice drawing people: People of the 21st Century, by Hans Eijkelboom. This fascinating book is a collection of photos taken by Eijkelboom from the ‘90s into the current decade – thousands of people that the photographer has captured on urban streets, mostly in the Netherlands but also elsewhere in Europe, Asia and North America. What makes the book visually interesting is that he has arranged each page into a grid of images based on unifying themes, such as men wearing striped shirts, women wearing pink tanks, people in yellow raincoats, people in blue raincoats, people in fur. Even if you never draw from it, the book is intriguing to look through.

Written by David Carrier, the book’s afterword says (with a quotation from the photographer): “Taken individually, Eijkelboom’s small photographs are as banal as their subjects. He uses repetition to communicate awareness of difference: the closer you look at any page of this book, the more diverse you will find the people who are dressed in similar ways. ‘Everybody has the skills to relate to what is surrounding him,’ he says. But only art shows you how to see clearly this everyday reality, which is right at hand. ‘What is more beautiful,’ he asks, ‘than a human being who tries to be an optimal human?’ He is infatuated with this ordinary world.”

I just flip open to random pages and pretend these people are walking by as I try to capture their poses as quickly as possible. Fun and strangely relaxing!

By the way, this is the way the binding on the book looked when I bought it.

It drove me crazy because it wouldn’t stay open while I was sketching, so I took it to my neighborhood FedEx store. For a few bucks, they chopped off the spine and replaced it with a spiral – best book hack ever.


  1. Fantastic post but I don't think you should feel the need to excuse yourself for drawing from photos. I've just said that in this post:

    Hope you don't mind. --- Larry

    1. We're of like minds. ;-) I didn't mean to sound apologetic -- I just don't usually enjoy drawing from photos!

  2. Whoa! You are in my mind (so scary fornyou!). I was just trying to think of ways to find people to practice loose gesture sketches, tried google (meh)and was about to leave for the library. Decided to check you out first and there is my solution! Still going to library but now to look for a picture book!

    1. Hope you can find this book in your library! I wasn't able to find it in mine, so I ended up buying it. But I'm sure there are others that will fill the need. Actually, I wish there were a book of nothing but great sports photography! I have no interest in sports, but athletes take on some of the most amazing gestures that you'd never find on the street.


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