Wherever there be a parade of people, there's an opportunity for a writerly exercise. This is a quick and easy one, or rather, five. The idea is to look-- using your artist's eye, really look at individuals and come up with two words (or 3 or 4 or 7) to describe them. Yep, it is that easy.
It helps to write the words down, but just saying them silently to yourself is fine, too. The point is to train your brain to pay attention to detail and generate original descriptions.
As someone walks by:
1. One word to describe the shape of this person's hair; a second word (or two or more) for the color of his or her shoes (referring to a food item), for example:
knife-life; chocolate pudding
She had a knife-like bob and slippers the color of chocolate pudding
curve; pork sausage
His head was a curve of curls and he wore pinkish clogs, a pink that brought to mind a pair of pork sausages
sumptuous; cinnamon candy
She had a sumptuous do and spike-heeled sandals the red of cinnamon candy
stubbly; skinned trout
He had stubbly hair and tennis shoes the beige-white of skinned trout.
(By the way, it doesn't matter if the words are any good or even apt; the point is to practice coming up with them. Why the color of a food item? Why not?)
2. Is this person carrying anything? If so, describe it with one adjective plus one noun, e.g.:
She carried a fat purse
He leaned slightly to the left from the weight of a lumpy briefcase
She clutched a crumpled bag
On his palm he balanced a white cup
3. Gait and gaze
loping; fixed to ground
4. Age range
older than 10, younger that 14
perhaps older than 20
I would believe 112
obviously in her seventies, never mind the taut smile
a gold watch; a silver skull ring
feather earrings; a toe ring
eyebrow stud; hoop earrings
a wedding band on the wrong finger; an elephant hair bracelet
One need not use all this detail; the point is to generate it in the first place-- to get beyond stereotypes (eg she was a short Asian woman) and write something more memorable and vivid.
She had a knife-like bob and slippers the color of chocolate pudding. She carried a fat purse. Her walk was brisk, her gaze dreamy. Perhaps she was older than twenty. She wore a wedding band on the wrong finger and an elephant hair bracelet.
>> How to select the detail and avoid clutter? See "On Respecting the Integrity of Narrative Design: The Interior Decoration Analogy."
UPDATE: See the transcript from my talk
"On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfuhlung"