September 15, 2014

Geylang Night Sketching - Don Low (Singapore)

I am actually surprised to just realised that I have blogged about Geylang only once here, considering the fact that I am always going there for food (once upon a time), and now, mainly for sketching. 

Lor 27 Geylang (Karaoke Lounge & a typical coffeeshop)

The demographic of Geylang has changed over the last couple of years with the influx of Chinese migrant workers to Singapore to work and to earn a living. Most likely they live nearby if they have found some cheap housings to rent. I notice this change when I came here more often to sketch. 

Huge crowd in front of a LCD TV at a coffeeshop
Geylang Road is popular because many Singaporeans came here for food. The road is fronted by conservation shophouses on both sides and is also flanked by smaller roads or lanes, known as Lorongs in Malay. The lanes in the north are given odd numbers while the lanes in the south are given even numbers. There are 41 lorongs in total through the stretch of the road from west to east. Every lorong is fringed with eateries of all sorts.

The Chinese workers however only visit places with affordable “economy rice and vegetables” stalls. They could choose from an assortment of more than 20 different dishes. The cost to pay for a combination of 3 dishes and (plenty) of rice is not more than 4 Singapore dollars, or about USD3. The stall owners are always generous in giving the portion of rice especially to the workers, the portion is large enough to feed three full grown adults, according to my standard. Every worker would heartily finished the entire portion of rice.

One of the many durian & fruit stalls that line Geylang road
Geylang is also known for her sleaze. Street walkers would lined a few of the streets subtly touting for business from passerby. Prostitution is not against the law in Singapore (strangely) but open touting in public places is illegal. They seems to know their way around, only approaching men in their 40s and older, especially the Chinese workers. 

What attracts me to Geylang is definitely the hustle and bustle that you do not see in the city centre or other parts of Singapore. Its a melting pot of different cultures, races and human activities. You can even find contraband cigarettes and sex drugs. Night time is the best time to visit. I would find a coffeeshop, sit down with a cup of coffee and sketch away, while the night unfold itself. 

I will definitely come back for more.

Museum of Man, San Diego CA

The Museum of Man is the only Anthropology Museum in the San Diego Region. I met with friends to draw on the outside then drew a bit of the Mayan exhibit indoors.
Brush pen and water color outside the museum

Mayan Ball Game Whistle
pencil with watercolor

Mayan Artifact

Sketches at Unhyeongung, Jongno, Seoul

Irodang with ramie cloth curtain in summer
pencil, watercolor, 24 x 32 cm

Exhibition of dyed ramie cloth
38.5 x 26 cm

24 x 32 cm

24 x 32 cm

Last week end I spent two days for sketching at Unhyeongung. The place had been the father's residence of emperor Go-jong in Joseon dynasty. Go-jong reigned Joseon from 1863 to 1907. Unhyeongung locates downtown near Insadong and is open to public for free. So lots of tourists, citizens, and photographers visit often. I could see a group who was filming a movie outside and another group who was busy with recording with a reporter inside the palace. At first I dropped by after visiting galleries at Insadong nearby. I sketched the first one, Irodang which means "two old people stay". When I was coming out I could talk and hear from the administration chief about the exhibition on the ground and the curtains hung on the buildings of the place. The works were made by Yoo Young-min. He sewed by himself every piece and dyed them using Chinese Indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) through nine steps to get the indigo blue. The color is favored as a natural dye though it's very hard to get. The chief told me that the foreigners really liked the scene when the works were swinging by the winds without falling down of the long rods. Next day I went there again. I saw the scene of swinging rods by winds sketching the scenery on the second day. It seemed like a performance. Works near to 200 were exhibited. I was lucky to see them because I went there one day before the end. It was held from 2014.8.20-9.14. I searched the exact name in English and could get calling the Korea Biodiversity Information System, though we call the plant "Zzog". The indigo blue color after processing is more bluish than the plant inside itself. So we have a proverb related with the Zzog. When a pupil is greater than the teacher we say it. Hope you to visit here to see the color.

If it's August, we must be in Buenos Aires.

Back on Billinghurst.  It's not Boogie Street. There isn't a banjo. But there is a traffic jam.  Barrio Norte. August 4, 2014.

Broken view. Buenos Aires. Billinghurst. More Barrio Norte: view from our apartment. August 8, 2014.
A fan in winter.  How strange. On the 37 bus to Avellaneda to visit the restaurant of our friend Fernando,  La Cantina de Norbert. August 13, 2014.
More balconies of Barrio Norte. Buenos Aires: gardens of Billinghurst. August 19, 2014.

Stephen in El Sanjuanino (the one on Sanchez Bustamante, for empanadas and reading.  With the new scarf.

September 14, 2014

35 hours in Rio

My stay in Rio during my recent trip to Brazil for the Urban Sketching Symposium was very short, just about 35 hours, but quite memorable nonetheless. Here are some moments I recorded in my sketchbook.

Exuberant locals strutting down the endless sidewalk along Ipanema beach.

It was elbow-to-elbow at the mountaintop with the iconic statue of Jesus.

How many cities can boast a viewpoint like this one from the Sugarloaf? I was in awe.

Guest post: My first sketch in watercolor

By Gabriel Ronco

I’ve been rejecting the idea of trying watercolor for a while. I started drawing in May, copying photographs including portraits and landscapes. Later, I was seduced by charcoal and I continued drawing portraits and landscapes but always from a photograph. It was in July when I found about Urban Sketchers and I got caught by the manifesto and the challenge it supposed for me to start drawing on location and forgetting about copying. Thus, I saw lots of sketches but I didn’t feel inspired. I thought that every sketch was so good and the technique so complex that I could never get something like that. A hot evening in the middle of July, I went to the yard and looking at the ugliest corner of my house, I found a pile of plastic chairs, an old table and two buckets. It was perfect. The first problem was to frame what I wanted to sketch. Once I started, however, everything was solved naturally.

That crucial sketch was made with a pencil and later I added ink. Later, I bought the book Urban Sketching by Thomas Thorspecken. At first, I felt that I had wasted my money on a book that was mainly focusing on watercolor. And I repeated to myself that I was not going to use watercolor. At the beginning of August, I found myself buying online a pack of Pentel waterbrush and a watercolor book. I kept on sketching a church near the town where I’m currently living, but again, using pencil, ink and colored pencils (which produced an effect I didn’t like very much…).

Finally, I decided to use my watercolor book. I was determined to sketch something, and I didn’t need to go out of home. I looked over the house searching a good corner and I found the heater and an armchair. It was perfect to start. After spending some time organizing the sketch, I completed it with a pencil. Later, I used ink, as before. I liked so much the result that I was afraid of using watercolor. I didn’t want to ruin the sketch! I waited for the next day and I started to read about mixing colors, water, paper… I tried to get a grey and I got a muddy horrible color. I tried again and again. I couldn’t get a grey but I found a similar color that I liked and I ended up applying it. I liked the result so much and I had lots of fun during the process. I’m eager to do the next one.

Gabriel Ronco is a teacher of English and urban sketcher living in Arenas de San Pedro (Ávila), Spain.

Charming Sweden - part 01

While the most of urban sketchers where celebrating in Paraty, I spent a small family vacation in Sweden. Sweden isn't one of the hottest tourist destinations, and in our book store I couldn't even find a guide about it. There are a lot of places with much more spectacular and dramatic scenery and views, more attractions, and with richer histories. But all we wanted was a calm and cool place with simple nature close to our house, and a big city not very far away in case we missed urban life…. And, the most important element, a place where there was no need to rush around, nor run from attraction to attraction, but simply offered us the opportunity to escape from the heat and pressure here, and to find ourselves living in a different kind of world. In our farm cottage that we rented close to beautiful Stockholm we got this all, and much more! 
As usual on family trips I couldn't sketch everything I wanted to, but every page in my Swedish sketchbook reminds me of all those precious moments I had during this charming trip. 
I'll start with sketches done around or inside the house - honestly, I didn't need anything else: just to wake up every morning to this spectacular (for me!) view of the lake from our balcony, and to be minutes from a real forest full of smells, sounds, mushrooms, berries and memories of my childhood.

our charming cottage
during our first walk in the nearby forest - it was like going to back to the childhood!
not very successful fishing at our beautiful lake
on the right - view from our cottage window 
Here are some more sketches from the closest surrounding - small towns and villages, and again - lakes and forests!
center of Ekerö - small nearby town
drinking coffee in Ekerö main coffee shop - miss its bakery!
traveling around - at Tyresta National Park
Dalarö - one of the small villages on the Baltic sea 

I'll tell you about our Stockholm trips in the next post. Meanwhile, you can find the entire Sweden sketchbook on flickr.

My first visit the very opposite side of the globe: Brazil

I participated in the 5th Urban Sketching Symposium in Paraty, Brazil. Without this event, I wouldn't have visited this county as first South American nation to visit, especially concerning the distance and the language matter... But I'm so glad I did! Brazilians are friendly, kind, down to earth and a bit shay people (as far as I experienced during my stay there). I often heard them saying “I'm sorry, my English isn't good.” This sentiment is often seen among we Japanese as well. We want to communicate, and help foreign visitors, but our linguistic skill is limited since we Japanese hardly use English in our everyday life. In this point, I felt sense of closeness. One day I enjoyed communicating with the hotel manager in Paraty. The story is, I was going to check out early in the morning the next day and will have no time to have breakfast, so I asked him if I could bring some bread as packed lunch instead of having breakfast there. I wrote message in English and he read it then he wrote back his message in Portuguese in his computer, then translated the sentences into English using google translation. He and the hotel staff were very kind that they prepared for me some sandwiches, yogurt, cheese, some oranges, and something more full of plastic bags! I was able to do with these food for the morning, the afternoon and the evening meal of that day. That's the way how we communicated. One of my fun memories. How much I loved and enjoyed my stay in that hotel! Talking about symposium, there were so many people came from around the world, and many of them ( including me)are not native English speakers but we strived to communicate, tried to understand and helped each other. I felt that's wonderful part of this unique gathering. We learned each other like small children do from seeing/showing, hearing/talking through firsthand experience.
I appreciated a Brazilian girl, Bi, helped me by translating Portuguese into English and English into Portuguese while I'm attending Brazilian artist Carlos Avelino's demo as well as while I was doing my demo. Muito obrigada! I think I should have studied more expressions in Portuguese. Well till next time. I had so much fun time from this trip. I thank all the people who put their effort to made this wonderful event happen, those who I met, and helped me in many ways, and all the luck I had. I feel blessed.

Casa da Cultura de Paraty
Casa da Cultura de Paraty

My demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor-1
My first demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor result

My demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor-2

My second demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor result

Béliza Mendes's sketch of me!
My demo scene captured by Béliza Mendes. I really love this! Thanks!!

September 13, 2014

Brazilian Review: Capturing Intangibles

Home now from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in far-away Paraty, Brazil, I'm currently reflecting on the work I created there, and thinking about the Workshop I taught called "Capturing Intangibles." The goal of the short class was to learn to create more meaningful sketches by intent and by design. Intangibles are not the persons, places or things of a sketch, but rather, the descriptions, feelings and qualifiers. Intangibles are the adjectives and adverbs of drawing. They are what makes the wind bitter, the house haunted and the laughter explosive. Often we aim to draw what we see, but how often do we try to draw our thoughts? Impressions? Feelings? Pictures are, after all, vehicles for communication; we read them and we can learn to write them, too. As an Illustration professor, I deal with such lessons every day.

If I were to judge my own success in capturing intangibles, I'd say it was mixed. But then again, only twice did I set out for an extended period of time to really look at the town and to seek out something to draw from true, personal interest. As I've written on this blog before, I'm a slow sketcher, a long-form sketcher. I hunt for a long time and then draw for an even longer time to capture my subjects. And, unlike many of my colleagues, I almost always draw alone. I want to disappear in the place. I want to be a solitary sponge. It's a personal choice, no better than any other.

My favorite drawing is featured above. It shows a side street that ran outside of the tourist section of town. Like many of Paraty's coastal streets, it floods at high tide, creating a surreal effect. Combined with the week's overcast weather, things looked as if a hurricane had recently passed through. Everything was damp and grey. Where I sat drawing, a local family came and went, exchanging horses and carriages which served the tourists a short distance away. They lived a tougher existence than their customers. The family argued and laughed and went about their business. Like the sea water, I was treated as a minor obstacle, something to navigate around, something that comes and goes. It was a fascinating afternoon. I even learned where they hid the key to their front door. Hint: you'll need a long, thin stick.

I'll always remember what I saw in Paraty, Brazil, thanks to my drawings and photos. But, with this, my favorite drawing, I'll  remember a bigger picture: a rich story and the perceptions and feelings that go with it.

Travel to Kallisté

On the ferry to Corsica
A shot in the stomach, a breath of wind in the hair, the sun in the dark glasses ... It's like being there ... We are in Corsica!
A world full of incredible places, cut in half: up the mountain, down the sea ...
The gods of the Mediterranean Sea could move there ...
Corsica is home to a unique community: the Corsicans. A people often conquered but never submitted. A son of shepherds people with heart and character, strong, proud and capable ... A people where honor and blood ties outweigh all other considerations when it comes to avenge the family .. .
The island deserves: it takes time to see through. It will take the same time for it to get used to you: It's a girl from the Mediterranean Sea ...
Hard, tragic secret, Corsica nothing is rational nor relief, nor the climate, nor the Corsicans themselves.

During the travel
Ajaccio (South Corse) Cathedral
Corsica center is that of the "maquis" and wild pigs, cows release and flocks of sheep, fountains roadsides, by fragrant flora that comes to mind, that of a deli which matures slowly in the smoke of chestnut wood.
It is the island's musical traditions, thin spiers dialogue and bells that echo in the valleys, where men gather to ancestral polyphonic songs and passed from father to son ... Every village, every valley has its own directory ...
The Corsican cuisine justifies the arrival on the island: charcuterie, soups, fish, meat and cheeses and famous fig jam, honey none! A man or woman who serves you ask "Who cuisine as well?" You answered, "My mother!" Feels then a small woman dressed in black as a beautiful heroine of ancient tragedy ...
There is no dark thoughts in Corsica: Everything seems to bring down heaven on earth ...
All this wealth lies in one island 183 miles long and 85 miles wide ... Almost nothing on the scale of the planet ... And yet all the world ...

Close your eyes, smell, listen ... You are in Corsica
Propriano Gulf of Valinco

Corte (center Corse the most corsican town)

Ile Rousse the first harbour built during the Corsican Républic

Calvi (North Corse) Church Santa Maria Maggiore

Bonifacio (Extreme south of Corse)

Cemetery in Ajaccio...