I used to read the little newspaper from my husband’s hometown of South Pittsburg, Tennessee and chuckle at the captions that ended with, “Not pictured are…,” followed by an exhaustive list of names of folks who somehow didn’t get the memo that the photographer was coming. As I made this sketch, that caption came back to me. Because there were many people not pictured here… many people hovering at the edges of the spot I chose to sketch, people who very carefully avoided entering my field of vision. It was like someone had created a scene from Cinderella (pink lily pads in the shade-dappled stream, arching bridge in the sunlight, weeping tree swaying in the gentle breeze…) but had called in the wrong cast: ragged street people, prostitutes, drug dealers, drunks, quivering meth-heads. People who lurched out of the shadows but melted back into them if I looked up, people wobbling around the edges on junker bikes, people whose loud vocabularies were limited to various forms of the ubiquitous F-Bomb.
In the last year I’ve sketched in subways in Brooklyn, in city parks and poor neighborhoods in London, in villages in Botswana, but never felt as uncomfortable as I did in this park in the middle of sunny Santa Rosa, California. That caught me off guard. I learned years ago not to photograph in red light districts or shady border crossings – nobody there wants to be recognized or recorded. I decided after this sketching interlude that the rules for sketching are not a lot different. The difference between border crossings and this park is that you understand what to expect at the border crossing, based on many cues. Here, caught up in the Cinderella moment, evidently I missed the cues until I had settled in and spread out my art supplies. But given my stubborn streak, I was determined not to be intimidated, and to finish the sketch, besides which the bench was in the shade and it was a very hot day. I was also interested in testing my theory that middle-aged women like me are essentially invisible and universally ignored… which turned out to be the case, since no one ever challenged me. And of course all of those folks not pictured had no way of knowing that my drawings of people turn out to be pretty unrecognizable, more like cartoon characters, so they really had no reason to worry. Live and learn!