young man seeing

This morning I’m watching a young guy sketch people on the subway.  I’m an observer of an observer.  I’m captivated by his surreptitious search for detail and the subsequent concentration in getting what he sees onto the page of his sketchbook.

I get to imagining what the young man’s eyes are seeing in the short amount of time he has to create the images.  Line?  Space?  Plane?  Perspective?   Or is he, like I so often am, imagining what lies beneath the surface – what is it about that changing furrow in a brow, that curl of a lip, what thoughts are washing over that face looking at itself in a window’s reflection? 

The artist is young enough that I can guess he is still at the point of the former, working to strengthen his skill before attempting to convey the layers of his subjects’ humanity into his drawings.  But then I also expect that the more an artist becomes accustomed to seeing, the more evident those layers become.  So what is going on under those lines and planes must be evident at some level of his consciousness.

As I watch him, aspects of tunnel walls and station platforms move in shifting formations in the window behind him, and people move in and out of his space with that air of muted resignation that morning commuters always have.  What I see is a young man in a bubble; a bubble in the middle of a busy transit system, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of a big city, amongst thousands of people, most of whom are working very hard with various means to ignore and avoid the unpleasantness of experiencing each other.  And I feel grateful to have encountered this one person who is striving to do the opposite – to see them.

And for that, the young man seeing is beautiful thing number 27 of 101.


Are you finding it?


  1. Marilyn March 22, 2011

    This is beautiful; observing the observer, and so beautifully written.
    It is so true that most people try to avoid all contact – eye contact, verbal contact, emotional contact – with others as they go about their busy lives. A friend and I walk early morning, when the day hasn’t really started, and others are out walking too. It is always possible to tell which ones are on a one-off-have-to-walk-somewhere-early people and others who walk regularly even if we have never crossed paths with them before. The ones in the first category avoid all eye and verbal contact and only grudgingly will reply (grunt) to our cherry hellos. The second group, regular walkers, respond well or are the ones to speak to us first. But later on in the day, all revert to passing quickly and silently, the friendliness doesn’t last all day!

  2. Jennifer March 22, 2011

    Yes, I find that in my walks too Marilyn – you can tell the ones who will avoid contact from 20 feet away. My mother is an inveterate walker too, and she insists on saying hello to everyone even if she knows they won’t return a hello back.
    Funny that the friendliness doesn’t last all day.
    Years ago I worked in Detroit, Michigan, which is right across a short river span from my (then) city, Windsor, Ontario. Detroit has gone through considerable hard times for many decades, and the city was remarkably different than my own city I left behind each morning. During my walks from the tunnel to my office on the Detroit side, every person I met in the street would say hello to me. I was incredibly heartened by this. It’s true that Americans are less reserved than Canadians, but given that city’s history, I was always inspired by the warmth of the people.

  3. Monica March 25, 2011

    Funny, I often end up observing those that are observing… such as street artists. Something about their concentration, their focus. It’s mesmerising to me.

  4. Jennifer March 25, 2011

    Hi Monica,
    I love street artists! Indeed, I think they have much to teach us all in terms of their ability to focus in.
    Glad you visited.

  5. Susan Tiner March 25, 2011

    This reminded of my sketching days long ago. I never got beyond the stage of trying to reproduce lines and depth. It’s interesting to think about how you might learn to see more and convey it. I too love observing observers :-).

  6. kiralık devremülkler March 26, 2011

    thank you. i love to read this type of information posts. again thank you…

  7. Jennifer March 26, 2011

    Yes,that’s the hardest stage, I suppose, eh Susan? I’d love to know more about the process… the creative process is of vast interest to me.

  8. Jennifer March 26, 2011

    Thanks for visiting!

  9. Selma March 27, 2011

    It always makes me do a double take when I see someone actually looking at and taking note of the world. For a moment I wish I could be them just to know what they are thinking and seeing. You describe the scene so well.

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