Last week I spent a good few hours sitting in a small box just big enough to house myself and some art materials. Hunched over a drawing desk with no concept of if it was day or night, I worked non stop to produce art on demand; no it wasn't artist abuse, but Sketch-O-Matic, quite a unique and gratifying experience for all concerned!
The booth appeared in Cornerhouse over a week ago and before the project had properlly begun it attracted curious people eager to find out what was behind the curtained off area and what would happen when you put your money in. But the real fun began on the first night of it's 10 day run as the word spread that Sketch-O-Matic had to be experienced to be believed. In fact so successful was the venture that every time I looked there was someone's legs visible beneath the curtain as they sat patiently for their art work
The basic concept was that of a photo booth but one where an artist replaced the camera. The functions were all the same, the but the mirror inside was one way, meaning I could see you, but you couldn't see me! After paying your suggested £1 you had to wait for around 5 minutes then stand outside to receive your portrait through the slot.
From my first stint I knew this was going to be lots of fun. The fact the sitter can't see you as you draw them made a huge difference to normal life drawing or quick sketching; It allowed the artist to totally get stuck in with no thought to being observed as they worked. Plus it meant the sitters acted more like they were having a photo taken.
There was no telling who would step inside next, from little boys to stately pensioners, beautiful girls to bearded eccentrics; I loved the challenge of getting features and characters down in the short time I had, and I totally loved the fact there was often a queue of people waiting for their turn to be immortalised in the Sketch-O-Matic booth. It was a very intense situation working so quickly and to high demand but equally satisfying to hear peoples sounds of appreciation they got the portrait in their hands.
The most surreal but amazing part of the whole thing for me was that, stranger or friend, the sitter had no real contact with me as I drew them (sometimes the sitter wouldn't even know who was behind the mirror looking at them) but the encounter felt very intimate all the same.
I had a couple of go's sitting on the other side of the booth to see what it was like and although I sat looking at my own reflection, I caught glimpses of movement and the rustle of paper through the mirror and it was quite thrilling to know that someone was making me the subject of their work. It beat the cold and empty experience of using self automated machines, convenient they may be. As we move further and further away from actual social interaction on a daily basis, there was a simple charm about the Sketch-O-Matic which accounted for it's popularity. I totally understood the appeal! I would have gone in more often if I could. One Cornerhouse employee had 12 portraits by different artists and counting half way through the project...!
If you missed your chance to be sketched or play muse to an instant poem, lets all keep our fingers crossed that this wont be the last we see of the Sketch-O-Matic, I for one will miss that booth.