I walked out of the Performing Arts Library just before closing. I’d gone to get a change of scene from my cluttered apartment and to do some writing. Both objectives accomplished, I left feeling good. Not only had I been rather productive, an unexpected bonus of walking around the Sesame Street exhibit currently on the library’s ground floor was absolutely delightful. I stepped out into the crisp night air of Lincoln Center. A man approached me.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I was sitting at the table behind you inside. I started sketching you.”
Only in New York, right? He showed me his sketchbook, revealing his view of the back of my head. Now, the back of my head is not very familiar to my eyes. I only really ever see it when I get a haircut and the stylist wants me to admire her blow out skills. Still, I’d say it looked just like the back of my head.
“You can keep it if you’d like,” said the man. Of course I wanted to keep it. No one’s ever sketched the back of my head before. As far as I know anyway. He dated and titled his sketch “Late Evening“, then ripped the page out and handed it to me. “I know you probably don’t have time, but if by any chance you have a moment to sit, I’d love to sketch you.”
“A front to go with the back?” I laughed.
I can’t say I’ve never been asked to sit for a sketch before. About a year ago a college-aged looking kid asked if he could sketch me as we rode the subway together. I regretfully told him the next stop was mine and considered it a missed opportunity. This evening in Lincoln Center, I had the time. I was supposed to go see an improv show that evening, but it had been canceled at the last-minute. My night was up in the air.
My initial reaction was to say no. What if he’s a sketchy sketcher? He was a middle-aged man, about my height, with hair like Harry Potter’s- jet black and unruly. His demeanor was calm, his face kind, he introduced himself by name and said he was an artist. My mind was entirely torn, was this cool or creepy?
In New York City, it’s safer to assume the worst of people. In this moment, that made me sad. I wanted to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, hated that my mind so quickly jumped to suspicion. I was in a well trafficked and well-lit public place, what harm could be done? So I said yes and sat for 20 minutes with a stranger, becoming more and sketched out- on paper.
“I can’t draw just any one,” the artist said as he penned my outline, “Many people are dull, boring. You have great energy. I could feel it from you sitting in front of me before.” It was a nice complement. As he sat looking at me and working his pen over the paper, I asked him about his art. We talked about the beauty of my hometown San Francisco. The small talk made me more comfortable but I knew it wasn’t ideal for his drawing.
Finally I took a breath and allowed silence to hang in the air. I allowed this man to look at me, closely, in a way that is so rare today. The amount of attention was so concentrated it was almost overwhelming. For me, an actor and an only child, that’s really saying something. It felt intimate, vulnerable, like he could read secrets sketched in the faint lines on my face.
There’s strength, beauty, and humanity in vulnerability. It was wonderful to be reminded of that on this evening in Lincoln Center. Only in the past few years have I become okay with vulnerability. Before that I avoided the feeling at all costs, it terrified me. Sitting for this artist was really a testament to how far I’ve come in accepting a feeling a once grossly misconstrued as weakness.
This alone was well worth my time, even before he handed me the finished sketch. Here you have it, with a title perfectly capturing 20 minutes of small talk with yours truly: “An Evening in San Francisco and New York“. he let me keep it. Pretty cool, right? Glad I gave him the benefit of the doubt and that I can say sketchers don’t have to be sketchy!