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Meet the artist behind all those sketchbooks at Café Stella in Norfolk

There's a longstanding trade in place: sketchbooks for the café in exchange for free coffee for retired cartoonist Walt Taylor.

NORFOLK, Va. — Café Stella in Norfolk is a special environment. 

From the delicious smell of roasting coffee beans to the eclectic decor, perhaps the most unique thing about it is the tightknit community of customers.

One man, in particular, has been coming to the cafe since it opened.

Retired Virginian-Pilot political cartoonist Walt Taylor has been coming in to sip coffee and doodle sketches of the Café Stella customers for decades, he said.

"You know it stuns me to see how many hundreds of people I've drawn here. But everybody looks - everybody's a little bit different, you know? Is a little bit unusual," he smiled. "That's what makes it fun. If everybody looked the same, that would get boring really fast."

There's a longstanding trade in place: sketchbooks for the café in exchange for free coffee for him.

And he delivers. 

Taylor has produced half a dozen binders full of sketches of people who have visited the café over the years, whether they're having a quiet bite while reading a newspaper or enjoying drinks with a group of friends.

"I get to pick and choose who I draw and, and people are just being themselves, you know? It's just fascinating," he said. 

The restaurant is right across the street from where he lives, but it's the people that make Café Stella feel like home for Taylor.

"I have family, but they live way out in Ohio and places like that. So, this is where my friends hang out, this is where I hang out, it's just, it's home to me, you know. I don't know how else to put it," he said. 

"I'm really fortunate that I can walk across the street and meet all my friends here."

Even though he comes in once or twice a day, if you don't know him, he might keep to himself. 

He said if people notice that he's drawing them, that ruins his chance.

"It's just more interesting to me when they're just being themselves," he said, "And sitting having coffee or doing something weird with their hands."

His goal is always to capture the element of a person that makes them unique. That's not always the bridge of a nose, or a sweep of their hair, or the curve of a smile line -- it changes for each subject.

He wants people to be able to point to his drawings and recognize their friends.

"Once you get really into drawing people, being an artist and picking out what's unusual about them, then you realize, everybody has something distinctive about them, that makes them different from other people." 

He said the work is fun for him, and he loves that it can make other people smile.

You can flip through half a dozen binders of Taylor's work by visiting the café on Colonial Avenue.

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