There’s a guy in Liverpool spending his lunch hours sketching strangers in coffee shops.

We get up, we get ready and we all find different ways to get through the day. We find happiness within chaos and balance within variables. Some find solace in privacy and silence and some escape through the company of others. We navigate our way through the labyrinth of life in our individualistic ways, but one thing the majority of us share, is a trip to the coffee shop. A coffee shop is much more than a coffee shop, it is a place where both extremes can retreat and where the one constant is good coffee. A wondrous place to reignite, wind down, find new love, say goodbye to old and to more often than not, escape.


Enter Sam Trafford, a man who doesn’t fall under the former categories of why he visits a coffee shop. Whilst most of the people are looking down at their pretty pieces of polycarbonate, scanning through the latest newsfeed that throws a variety of “epic fails” and kitten videos, Sam is looking at his for a different reason. He uses his lunch hours to draw strangers he sits across from at coffee shops. He captures them with a child-like synesthesia, his pallet is a mix of vibrant neons that are often used as the backdrop for each encounter. They almost seem to represent the aura Sam gets from each person.

We caught up with Sam to find out how it all happened.

Tell us some things about you, what do you do?

I’m a LJMU graduate in Graphic Design, with a specialisation in Illustration. I’ve worked for the past decade as a Web Designer. Web Design is closer to a science than an art-form now, and because devices are getting smaller there is less scope for decoration. So I’ve tried to find other ways to stay creative and keep drawing.


How did this all start?

At Art College you’re encouraged to keep a sketch book on you at all times, and draw whenever possible to develop your skills. We used to draw people in cafes, pubs, buses and waiting rooms. The only difference is that I sketch using my Smartphone now, and use Instagram as a gallery or portfolio. I don’t go to cafes with the expressed intention of finding people to draw, it’s just something I started doing while enjoying my lunch break coffee.

I moved the portraits that I drew in cafes from my old Instagram account to a fresh one, so I could frame it as a focussed ongoing project.


How do you draw the people?

I use the native S-Memo app on my Android Smartphone to draw. It’s very primitive and I like the fact that it is impossible to go into too much detail or overwork anything. It is difficult to select realistic colours, but I like the naive quality that you get because of this.

I tend to draw about 10% from observation, 90% from visual memory. It isn’t important for me to capture an exact likeness of somebody; I just want to capture their demeanour, mood and style. I get a quick impression of a person and then retreat into creating an image, it’s a discreet process.


Have you ever had anybody notice you draw them?

No, never, it isn’t that difficult to be invisible these days. Cafes used to be places for daydreaming and people watching, nowadays all cafes are internet cafes, people connect with the world by looking down at their phone. When I used to draw with a sketchbook, people would often ask what you were doing, and sometimes stand behind you and watch you draw. If you sketch on a phone or tablet, people assume you’re on social media.

Next time you’re in a coffee shop, make sure the majority of your room gets your good side as you never know, the next Instagram post could be you. Make sure you follow his work here.