An uncommon scribbler

"Common Scribbles" artist Michael Tsouras (photo by Tamar Atik/Toronto Observer)
“Common Scribbles” artist Michael Tsouras (photo by Tamar Atik/Toronto Observer)

Artist Michael Tsouras loves faces. So he started Common Scribbles in 2010 when he first attended Centennial College’s East York campus. The collection of more than 1,100 sketches of Torontonians’ faces have been gathered from various public locations, like cafes and even subway stops across the city.

Tsouras, 40, said he likes to “be on the down-low.” He also works fast, completing the cafe drawings in about 10 minutes and the subway ones within two to four stops before his subject gets off.

“As the weather gets better I’m going to do some landscape stuff as well in a sketchbook and I’m going to compile them in a book,” Tsouras said. “Originally, it was the stuff of a project. I would mostly look at how to draw someone as quickly as I could using a contour line and to test my visual skills and it just kind of evolved into this ongoing project.”

His tools? A fine-tip felt marker, a grey marker and a brush with an ink cartridge in it.

“I could study faces for a while,” Tsouras said. “Sometimes I get really weird looks on the subway — ‘Why is this person staring at me?’ kind of thing. But I’m always looking at ‘How do I express that line in a pencil or a pen? How do I translate that?’”

“To me, cities are kind of weird places,” he continued. “On one level, we’re surrounded by plastic landscapes; there’s hardly any nature involved. The only thing we have that associates our connection to it are trees and faces and even that’s changing. People are changing their faces like mad nowadays; they’re looking less human… and there’s nothing more fascinating than a human face, so maybe I want (people) to take that in,” Tsouras said.

Tsouras continues to work with David McClyment, who runs the fine arts program at Centennial’s East York campus.

“I remember my first meeting with Michael very well,” McClyment said. “I could tell within five seconds, on a selfish level, that I wanted him in the program. But that’s selfish for me; I wanted him for his energy and his thought,” McClyment said. “Michael is a very bright guy…. His work is very intense. He takes it very, very seriously and I mean that only as a compliment.”

Some of Tsouras’ Common Scribbles pieces are incomplete because either someone got in the way, the subject got off the train or Tsouras himself had to get off — but then he prefers to leave the sketches like that. He said there’s something special about knowing that’s as far as he’ll ever get on drawing that specific face.

“There isn’t one (face) that goes by that I don’t want to draw,” Tsouras said. So he doesn’t think his series will ever be complete.

“I think I’ll just keep on doing it for as long as I can,” he said.

Tsouras posts most of his pictures on Twitter (@MichaelTsouras) and onInstagram (@michaeltsouras).