Drawing a Crowd

A quirky illustrator forgoes smartphones and takes an old-school approach to documenting the Miami concert scene

WORDS Ryan Pfeffer
January 2019
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Go to a concert today and you’ll see a forest of upstretched arms aiming smartphones at the stage. Like it or not, it’s the norm. But what artist Brian Butler does at shows—that’s a much more uncommon sight.  

For the last decade, Butler has been honing an art form he calls “show drawn.” It’s pretty simple in theory: He arrives at a concert with his trusty notepad and pen. When the show begins, he starts drawing what he sees—both onstage and in the crowd—and challenges himself to finish by the final song, resulting in a pleasingly chaotic montage of the surroundings. 

“Some people heckle,” Butler says with a laugh. “Like, they’ll try to get you to draw their girlfriend or something.” One time the bassist from Weezer found the sight of Butler drawing alongside a gaggle of photographers so amusing he snapped a photo mid-show and later Instagrammed it. Thankfully, for the most part, people leave him be. Butler has become a bit of a concert legend in Miami, where he lives and draws an eclectic mix of performances.

At the time of our conversation, he had just drawn rock legend Marilyn Manson and reggaetón star J Balvin, a particularly fun one to sketch. “He had a two-story-tall tyrannosaurus rex open the show for him,” he says of the unusually complex production. “I love a good spectacle, but my music taste is super broad.”

The end of 2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of show drawn, which all started one night when Butler, bored and waiting for the band Gwar to play, tore down a concert flier and started sketching with a ballpoint pen he had in his pocket.  

So far, he’s drawn over 1,700 live performances across the country, including SXSW, Bonnaroo, Governors Ball and Ultra. He’s currently busy scanning a decade’s worth of sketchbooks for a retrospective exhibition at Simmons University in Boston, which will open in the spring, and has plans to attend iii Points, where he might catch Tyler, the Creator.

“You’ll be able to find me,” he says. “I’ll be out there with my sketchbook.” 

theupperhandart.com

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