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September 29th is National Coffee Day and, in honor of that, I’d like to take things back to basics and talk about making art at coffee shops (or diners, parks, buses, zoos—anywhere in public). This month I drew, sketched and painted cups of coffee whenever I was out and about.

These drawings and paintings were each created with a single color or tool, and all of them are brown. This was an intentional exploration and celebration of various coffee colors. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of other browns from other brands and other types of media; I chose as many favorites as I could get done this month.

All this coffee talk brings me back to the coffee shop as a studio—as a place for creating that is not work nor home—and back to keeping my materials simple so I am ready and able to draw anywhere and any time throughout my day and my life. What follows is a list of some observations I’ve made during the course of my coffee shop adventures.

Note: When painting with watercolor, the coffee cup is not the same as the paint-water cup. The coffee will work fine to get paint out of your brush, but I do not recommend it as a pigment...

Sketching people that don’t hold still was a challenge at first. Now, I prefer it. With a stationary model, you have time to stress and fret over tiny details. With a moving model, you only have time to make your mark, leave it alone and move on to the next. It is very freeing.

When sketching people that don’t hold still and the environment they’re in, remember: the environment isn't moving. Make sure you get that guy’s jacket and hands down right before he is gone. The wall, tables and chairs near him and that planter in the corner aren’t going anywhere; you can draw those later.

When choosing your materials before you go out, be mindful of where you’re going and what facilities will be available to you when you get there. Are there tables and chairs? Are there enough tables and chairs for you? Even if the place is super-busy? Do they have water? Are you bringing few enough materials, or able to edit back what you brought so that you can work straight out of your lap if there aren’t tables free? Thinking this through ahead of time helps to make sure you don’t forget things or waste a trip—really, it helps defeat all the excuses of why you shouldn’t draw once you’ve arrived at your destination.

Finally, with regards to those people who come up to you when you’re art-ing in public that say things that are annoying or rude or stupid like, “Did you draw that?,” or, “Hey, my kid likes to draw to!,” know this: they’re not being rude or annoying or ignorant on-purpose. They’re intimidated by you. To them, you’re some sort of mighty wizard casting magic at the page. If adults, they haven’t been allowed to draw for years or even decades. They’ve forgotten the magic they once knew. They envy you. They look up to you. They want to be like you. They just don’t know any good ice breakers for talking to artists. They know nothing of what you’re doing nor how you do it. But they’re curious.

The interaction might be annoying to you or I, but for others, it could be life changing. You as an artist, with magic-pencil-wand in hand, have the power to encourage and inspire. You have the power to create artists as well as images. All you have to do is engage them when they talk to you, or even simply not dismiss their questions. Let them see what you’re working on. Explain what you’re doing and why. Try to inspire them to create their own art, just as I try to inspire all of you each month with this column. You could make an artist or even a new coffee partner.


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