The Joys of People Watching with Hannah Warren

Hannah specialises in deceptively simple, colourful and characterful illustrations with limited colour palettes and strong lines. She tells us what she loves so much about drawing people IRL, how capturing a moment as it happens impacts the line work, and how observational drawing inspires other aspects of her practice.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

What do you like most about watching and drawing people?

I just find people endlessly interesting! No one is the same. I really enjoy living in a big busy city and the anonymity that allows me to watch all these different situations and moments play out. If we can bear to look up from our phones for a bit and look around there is so much to see. I think it does give me more empathy in a way, maybe observing the diversity of human experiences and perspectives… how we relate to one another, or, quite often, don’t.

Where do you think your enjoyment of this pastime comes from?

I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer and am very annoying to go for a coffee with because I’ll zone out and then into something happening in the distance. Can’t help it. May as well lean into that behaviour and make something out of it!

How does drawing unwitting people in real life differ from posed drawing, using reference images or still life?

It’s more real for one. And unique. And you have to draw quickly so the urgency and energy in the line is always going to be different to sitting at my desk with reference imagery in front of me. Then you get the fun exaggeration of poses and even feel the weight of something, or maybe the person’s leg is way too long curled under them but it doesn’t matter, it adds to the character. It’s also great to observe what people are wearing as fashions change etc; how this adds to their individuality, helps tell a story of their day and themselves. I’m in the business of visual storytelling and this is my content.

And how does it differ between pencil/pen & paper and digital tools?

I love to draw with a soft pencil, sometimes a brush pen. There isn’t any “Apple Z” (not gonna lie, have tried to do this!) There is also something special about making a drawing you have told yourself “no one will see this, this is for me” and that is very freeing. I try to keep that “freeness” of the line in the digital, worked up illustrations I make.

"Watching people and drawing people will always be my favourite. I mean that in the least creepy way possible. Don’t call the police "

- Hannah Warren on getting curious and the joys of observational drawing.

People always describe the “practice” of being an artist - at art school we’re told to draw, draw, draw. This observational drawing really feels like a practice akin to what we’re taught to do early on. To what extent do you think practising this skill feeds into or impacts what you do professionally?

Absolutely, it’s all practice and skill building. I think one tutor said that a drawing is 80% looking and 20% seeing what happens on the page. So draw draw draw! But look even more! I think this does help me create characters that are grounded in reality, who help tell a story, whether that’s for a client or for myself.

Have you ever used any people you’ve drawn IRL as characters in your brand work / as inspiration for your brand work?

Probably subconsciously! What we witness and experience will naturally always find its way into our work. I also have a habit of drawing my partner into my work a lot (sorry Tom) 

Any projects that stand out as being inspired by your observational drawing?

I think the work I did for Vestre was aided by my observational drawing. And then a personal project that was an example of capturing two very different moments in London Tobacco, tobacco, tobacco and Bubbleman!! Both very different scenes of disconnect and then joyful connection. People on their phones, ignoring each other under a squashed vintage tobacco advert / poster. The second, children playing after the Covid lock downs with giant bubbles on the Southbank, finally free of their lockdown “bubbles” - loved capturing both these moments.

See Hannah's Portfolio here.