Research point – people watching

Go and do some people watching… record your observations in your learning log.

I headed to our local town Stowmarket on a Friday, late August, at about midday and sat outside two different cafes and watched people go by.

I was surprised at how much I did notice in the space of an hour and a bit. Lots of ideas for poses and how to compose a street scene could come from this exercise. There is no such thing as the standard person!

The way people walk

  • Some people (mostly the younger ones) have a purposeful stride, looking straight ahead with their heads up.
  • Others (mostly older people) shuffle along more slowly with their back slightly arched, neck and head down, eyes looking to the ground immediately ahead.
  • Many people have slow, lumbering walks as if in some pain.
  • Some young people walk with their hands in the top of the jeans pockets… this causes shoulders to hunch.
  • Some people have a spring in their steps.
  • One man I observed walked as though he had no bones in his body – his arms and legs moved around like an octopus.
  • For a lot of the men, the beer belly seems to lead and the body follow.
  • Women in high heels stick their bottoms out as they walk.
  • Some men walk with a macho swagger with their legs wide. One man’s legs were so wide I could so the  large part of the market square scene between them!
  • Groups of young people walk so that elbows are almost touching and seem to move in unison, a bit like a school of fish.
  • The movements of children are much more exaggerated than those of the adults. It is as if the energy is bursting out of them.
  • One young boy was swinging both arms forward and then both arms backwards as he walked.
  • A toddler was hanging on to his mother’s leg and twisting round and round as she chatted to someone.
  • An older gentleman was walking very sedately with his hands behind his back.
  • I noticed a very stocky, heavy man limping, with irregular gait and bandy legs and a man leaning on a crutch.

Bags and things people carry or push

  • Handbags can be over arm, over shoulder, strap across body or held in the hand.
  • People often balance out their weighty carrier bags which makes the body look quite square, almost as though they are carrying pails of water with a yoke.
  • Loaded down with bags, people can look like despondent beasts of burden.
  • Bags and plastic carrier bags add flashes of colour to a street scene.
  • Rucksacks.
  • Pushchairs abound and people lean with hips at an angle to them when they stop to chat.
  • Child with a pushalong trike.
  • One old lady was clasping her bag to her side as if afraid it would be snatched.
  • Several people were holding letters to post.
  • Some women had their purses in their hands.
  • I only spotted one person smoking and he had a roll-up between his fingers.
  • Licking ice creams.
  • Holding a very big and colourful golf umbrella tucked under the arm.

Hair, faces and chins

  • Men, especially the older ones, tend to have very stocky necks that can make a quick glimpse of face and neck look quite square.
  • Women tend to have more delineated necks. But I did notice that people have become very much bigger than they were a decade or so ago… and there are a lot of double chins and stocky necks on both men and women (me included!)
  • Children’s skin tends to be smooth and their facial features much less clearly defined than adults.
  • One woman had a wonderful mad bouffant hairstyle that was starting to unravel in the wind.
  • A pony tail can be a very neat and elegant, or wild and messy thing.
  • Most young women had long hair – lots of hair pins keeping it in place.
  • Even though it wasn’t very sunny lots of people were wearing sunglasses. Some had their sunglasses on their heads.
  • Young women continuously patting their hair, making sure it is still in place.
  • One lad was walking towards me, staring at his phone, his hair was so long and floppy I couldn’t see his face at all.

Clothes and shoes

  • I noticed plenty of contrast between smartly dressed people who had popped out of their offices to get lunch and other visitors to the town. Many people were very scruffy with shirts hanging out and dishevelled clothing and hair.
  • I spotted one man with his hands tucked inside the sleeves of his hoodie. It wasn’t cold.
  • It was a sunny day, about 20 degrees. Some people were wearing sleeveless vests and shorts and others coats, longsleeves and scarves.
  • Many people (men and women) were wearing flip flops which make people walk in a flat footed way.
  • Hands twitching, pulling the edges of cardigans together.
  • Man wearing a chunky gold chain and silver bracelet.

Things people get up to in small market town

  • Roller-skating, skateboarding.
  • Trying to trip each other up (kids).
  • Staring at mobile phone, phone held at ear.
  • Picking nose.
  • Looking at watches.
  • Chatting in small groups, gesticulating and pointing.
  • A child was swinging a chain, not sure what it was exactly.
  • Group of youngsters cycling around in a small circle.
  • Mum giving her child a very broad smile, talking with an exaggerated movement of the lips.
  • Pregnant lady stroking her bump as she walked.

I did try to sketch but people were on the move all the time and I only succeeded in doing some very messy scribbles in my sketchbook. I found I could remember overall poses but not detail.

Reflection on this exercise
I was surprised at how much I got from this. I have some wonderful images in my head of the lady walking while stroking her pregnant tummy, the man whose legs were so wide I could see the market square between them, people walking like water carriers with balanced carrier bags in each hand.

I can see how bringing some of gestures into a street scene involving people could bring it to life – women patting hair, pulling edges of cardigan together, pointing, and gesticulating for example.

A fascinating mini study of Stowmarket man, woman and child!



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