For months now, a quiet figure has been sitting on stoops throughout Warrenton with a sketch pad in her lap, rendering the town's old buildings in pencil.

People stop and peer over her shoulder. Some of them stop to talk. Others leave with quizzical looks on their faces. The figure is Maria Nicklin, a local artist who is creating a guidebook and calendar from her drawings.

On its face, this isn't novel--artists have taken a crack at all manner of local life in Fauquier County, and the local boutiques are filled with paintings and drawings of fox hunting and horses. What is different about Nicklin's work is that it deviates from the realistic styles that typify some of the other art.

Nicklin wouldn't say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing--she is self-deprecating to a fault. "They're just a bunch of dorky drawings," she said.

Local merchants have responded enthusiastically to the portrayals of their buildings and have been paying to have them done.

"It's very flattering what she does, and I'm very happy to be included in her body of work," said Joyce Hall, who with her husband, Steven, owns Sarah Belle's, an antiques shop on Main Street. "You feel like she's fond of the item she is applying her art to."

Indeed, Nicklin, 33, is an Old Town Warrenton native and the daughter of a local physician. She said she wants to "capture the character" of a Main Street that finds itself battling to preserve its identity in a time of increased retail competition. Along with drawing the buildings, she researches their histories in an effort to know her subjects better.

That might explain her motives but not her style, which differs from even her own work from earlier days when she was an art student. She was a graphic designer for a time for a local newspaper, took a job in marketing at a computer company, then quit a few months ago to create her own graphic design shop.

"Her style is not traditional," said Teresa Bowles, owner of Designs by Teresa flower shop on Main Street. "It's not an exact replica. . . . It's a little dream photograph."

Nicklin makes the sketches in pencil, often in only a few minutes. Her "doodles," as she calls them, are marked by curvy lines and off-center perspectives. She scans the drawings into a computer and then applies watercolors to the printouts.

The resulting calendar and guidebook comes out in November, published by the local Piedmont Press with money from the participating merchants as well as some funds from Main Street boosters.

Nicklin is typically circumspect about its chances for success. "I don't know," she said. "People seem to have liked the drawings that I've shown them."