By Laura Frankstone in Chapel Hill, NC
I travel a lot. When I travel, I eat and drink at cafés and restaurants. When I eat and drink, I see other people around me doing the same thing. I see lots of the backs of people's heads. And I draw them.
You might think that the backs of heads is not a particularly fascinating subject and well, compared to drawing protests and parades and concerts and things, it probably isn't. Nobody, I'll bet, has ever swooned over such sketches, the way we can, for example, over really powerful reportage drawing.
When a person has his/her back to you they are at their most vulnerable. Unguarded, unaware, often lost in thought or conversation, they have no clue they are being observed and drawn. This is why I feel great tenderness to the people I draw this way. I feel an obligation to be even more respectful than I normally am when I draw other human beings.
There ARE, though, lots of things to learn from looking at/drawing the backs of heads. You can detect family relationships, as here in a drawing I made in a café in Berchtesgaden last month. These two HAD to be sisters... I could tell by their head shapes, the pattern of hair growth and the texture of the hair itself, their way of sitting so close to each other (these were loving sisters, which in itself is worth noting in a world where many siblings are not):
And then there is that often poignant kind of sketch, the solitary person at a restaurant. (Not that eating alone is pitiable! I do it all the time!) Here is a man at a restaurant in Munich, very involved in whatever delectable dish he had before him :
And sometimes, when a person has a distinctive enough look, you can recognize them as much from the back of the head, as from the front, as here below, at the first Urban Sketchers' Symposium in Portland, 2010. Guess who?
Sketching the backs of people's heads is easy to do in that this subject is almost always available. It doesn't require jostling for position, or making sure you are drawing as fast as you can. It is quiet, peaceful. It says, Here I sat. Here is what I saw.