Tuesday, July 14, 2009

10 "Dos and Don'ts" for how to draw people while eating

Images of sketching people in interiors in London
- see Interior Landscapes - Drawings by Katherine Tyrrell

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I frequently draw people in public places while eating in public places as restaurants, cafes and gallery tea rooms. In fact I've drawn in cafes and restaurants all over the world - in the UK, Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. Lots of people tell me they'd never ever be able to do this. What follows are my dos and don'ts for being able to sketch people and interiors while eating - without it causing a problem for you.

Do let me know if you try my tips and they work for you.

  • DO tell the restaurant that you want to sketch when making a booking. This is the time for them to tell you you can or can't. If they don't say you can't then they can hardly object after you've placed your order! I mainly do this so I can make sure they know I'm on my own, won't be rushing and so they won't put me in the traditional 'bad table' for people on their own! I sometimes also tell them that their restaurant will feature on my sketchbook blog! That usually gets a positive reaction
  • DO tell them you want a good view as you intend to draw the restaurant. Be prepared to turn down the first table they offer you and indicate one which is better. I've always been offered better tables. I recommend back to a wall and in a corner. You then get an angled view. The bottom line is making sure you've got something to look at!
  • DO find out which restaurants continue to serve all afternoon. This connects with what time to turn up (see DON'T turn up when it's crowded below) For example, the National Cafe and the National Dining Rooms at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square are open all afternoon.
  • DO tell staff that there's no need to rush with the food and an interval between courses is OK. Otherwise you'll NEVER get any sketching done! Do remember to eat though! I always try and order something which still taste good even if goes cold. Of course sketching what you've ordered is also allowed!
  • DO leave a nice tip if you want to go back and do the same thing again. Being nice to the staff is ALWAYS a smart move! You'll find lots of the waiting staff will want to try and see what you've done. then they'll tell their friends and before you know it they'll all be coming over to admire your sketches! Remember people who can't draw at all are often envious ("I wish I could draw") and/or in total awe of anybody who can!
Images of sketching people in interiors in London
- see Interior Landscapes - Drawings by Katherine Tyrrell
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • DON'T be mean. You are probably going to take more time than the traditional customer so make sure you place an order which is commensurate with the time you think you;re going to spend occupying the table.
  • DON'T turn up when it's crowded or at really busy times expecting to be fitted in. I only sketch over dinner in the evening when travelling on my own. Most of the time I sketch at lunchtime or in the afternoon. I find the best times for being fitted in as a single sketcher is if I get there very early when I get the best choice of tables I'm likely to get) or turn up after the main lunchtime rush when they're always pleased to see another customer.
  • DON'T be too obvious about drawing the people in the restaurant. For example, I don't recommend sketching the people right next to you! You don't have their permission to draw them. However people often don't mind at all. If you get approached, don't assume they'll be annoyed. I've had people come across more than once to see how the drawing of them turned out. They're ever so impressed if you explain that you're an artist!
  • DON'T draw faces. If people can't be identified they can neither object nor can they be upset if your drawing of them isn't flattering. Which is why the people in my sketches lack features. I draw their bodies and posture rather than their faces. You can do a lot with a good back!
  • DON'T linger too long if they want to close up before the next service. If I know the place shuts between lunch and dinner then I always turn up very early.
You can find my blog posts about sketching while eating in Interior Landscapes - with food

You can see my sketches of people in interiors in two places on my website:
Do you have any suggestions for how best to draw people and interiors while eating.


  1. Thank you for that list Katherine!
    I always wondered how you manage to dine and sketch in restaurants without bothering the chef, the guests or both together.

  2. Katherine, just a note to say - I've linked to this post and your other one about drawing people - I was asked to do a 'how to' post on drawing crowds. I'm not as brave as you are when drawing in public, and I also do try for likenesses and mini portraits... perhaps that's why I get so nervous in case someone comes across and is offended at how I've drawn them! But excellent advice - I'm working towards being this upfront :)

  3. AnonymousJune 03, 2010

    These tips are really helpful, thank you. I know it's a year later but as a self-taught dabbler, I have a beginner tip. I never sketched in a real restaurant, it just didn't occur to me to do this, but I found it easy in other places.

    Try bars or cafes which also serve food. The staff there is expecting that customers will linger longer than a meal takes for various reasons, so ordering something will give you a lot of time. The majority of the other guests will be too busy to notice you. Those who do tend to be in a relaxed and cheerful mood so little problem. But be prepared to talk to and be nice to curious or bored people.

    Another good option are often places which have tables out of doors. Again, things are often more relaxed and informal there so no one will care too much what you do.


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