Thursday, July 17, 2008

The sketchers

Paris_Pompidou-Sketchers, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

Outside the Centre Pompidou there is a row of sketchers who call out to passersby, "Hello, you're beautiful, you want me to draw you?" The charming come-ons often succeed in drawing the tourists into the sketcher's studio--a pair of folding stools--where the sketcher chats amiably with them, massaging the subjects' egos as he works the hidden canvas.

It's over pretty quickly. With a brief flourish, the sketcher makes his final stroke and turns the artwork on the tourists: a gross caricature of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower, wearing a beret and holding a baguette. The tourists laugh, invariably, simultaneously delighted and embarrassed by their exaggerated features on the paper.

The sketcher rolls up the paper almost immediately, hiding it again before the embarrassment has a chance to overtake the delight. The tourists hand over some Euros for the art and continue on their way.

Alone amongst themselves, the sketchers often bicker--over the speed of their drawing, over their position in the row, over the aggressiveness of their pitch. But really, it's all over money. The sketchers probably didn't picture themselves drawing cartoons of tourists when they were studying in art school. But it's a living, and no one's getting hurt, even if there's a good chance the artwork will just end up in the back of a drawer somewhere.

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