Drawing attention

Of pints and pens
By GEORGIANA COHEN  |  October 24, 2008

SKETCH AND FETCH: SketchCrawl 20 organizer David Marshall’s on-the-spot depiction of last year’s event.

If you drop by a Cambridge bar this Saturday afternoon and ask the bartender to draw you a pint, be forewarned: the guy on the next stool might take you literally.

Such is the danger if one stumbles upon SketchCrawl 20, where both professional artists and casual doodlers will come together to amble, imbibe, and illustrate the scenes around them.

SketchCrawls began four years ago in San Francisco, when artist Enrico Casarosa embarked on a “drawing marathon” around the city. For future outings, he brought along others. Now, SketchCrawl has become an irregularly scheduled international event (Casarosa handles the scheduling and numbering), with people organizing at sketchcrawl.com to lead crawls in cities ranging from Vancouver to Melbourne to Phoenix. More than 60 cities are set to take part in this weekend’s event.

David Marshall, a Charlestown-based artist and Web designer who’s leading the SketchCrawl 20’s Cambridge sortie, got involved with SketchCrawl because he had fallen out of the habit of drawing regularly and wanted to “get the old ink out.” His first SketchCrawl was in December 2006 — just Marshall and one other artist. At SketchCrawl 16 this past November in Cambridge, Marshall recruited a handful of friends to join him. The best parts, he recalls, were the drawings contributed by waitresses and the conversations he had with some of his subjects.

“It’s the people that make it fun,” says Marshall. But let’s face it: sketching other people in public can be, well, sketchy. Marshall acknowledges there is an inherent invasion of privacy that comes with capturing someone else’s personal moments on paper without their knowledge. For Marshall, though, the potential for social interaction is worth it.

“[Drawing] is a very solitary thing,” he says, “but when you decide to go against the grain and make what’s supposed to be private public, it’s the closest thing we’ll ever have to what a performing artist has.”

Marshall has taken it upon himself to build local SketchCrawl participation, encouraging artists of all skill levels to join up. For him, it’s not about expertise — it's about enjoying yourself.

“One thing I think the art industry has done is create such a stench of pretension that you forget this is supposed to be fun,” says Marshall. “The beer and the laughing — that stuff helps.”

But by the end of the crawl, who knows if these artists will be able to walk a straight line, much less draw one.

The Cambridge edition of SketchCrawl 20 begins at noon on October 25 at the Middle East, 480 Mass Ave, and will head down Mass Ave toward Harvard Square.

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