My First Experience with the Urban Sketchers Singapore

Urban Sketchers is a community of individuals who meet regularly at a designated area to sketch and paint whatever interesting sights they see.

It’s an international movement, but they’ve got a group here in Singapore as well. I’ve seen pictures of their art and I’ve always wanted to join them, and perhaps learn from them how to make such beautiful art on the go.

Here’s a sample of the kinds of art they make while on the go:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
A sketch of Singapore with watercolour paint.
Urban Sketchers Singapore
Even if it’s just ink only, the works they produce are still remarkably beautiful.

Recently, I chanced upon an event organised by the Urban Sketchers Singapore and Temasek Polytechnic. It was an Urban Sketchers workshop. I thought this would be the right opportunity to be acquainted with them, and learn to sketch the way they do.

It was a 2-day workshop with many different sessions going on at the same time. As The Fiancee and I registered rather late, we didn’t get all the sessions we wanted. Nonetheless, we were slotted in for other interesting sessions.

The first session we attended was very interesting. The instructor taught us how to make a folded pen.

Folded pens are typically made from aluminium, and they are popularly used for Western calligraphy and sometimes for drawing. You can make a folded pen from a soda can just by cutting it into a particular shape, and then folding it into half. You can attach it to a stick or even a calligraphy nib holder. (Here’s a link to similar instructions if you are curious:

The whole project costs only a few dollars! Maybe $2 at most. Part of the fun involves modding the pen to your liking, and figuring out your own style of using it for drawing/writing.

It took us about 10 minutes to make one.

Here’s the folded pen that I made:

Made using a piece of aluminium, taped to an ice cream stick. The instructor affectionately refers to this as "Guan Dao" (The sword of Guan Yi, a legendary warrior in the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms")
Made using a piece of aluminium, taped to an ice cream stick. The instructor affectionately refers to this as “Guan Dao” (The sword of Guan Yi, a legendary warrior in the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”).

The rest of the session was for us to learn how to get used to the pen while sketching random things.

Since it was an Urban Sketchers event, I tried to sketch a photo of a building, but I failed quite miserably at it.

I gave up and drew this instead:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
Look ma! I drew an igloo at an Urban Sketcher’s event! No, I didn’t visit Snow City. Snow City visited me.

Much to my embarrassment, I discovered at the end of the session that it is the Urban Sketchers’ tradition to showcase your drawing, and have your photo taken with your masterpiece.

It turns out that everyone attending the workshop had a lot of artistic talent. They drew landscapes, buildings and all sorts of amazing things that I couldn’t even draw to save my life. The Fiancee and I felt greatly inadequate (and traumatised) from the experience. Wasn’t this supposed to be a workshop for beginners?

As they gathered us to take a group photo, I quickly hid my igloo art, and posed without any drawing whatsoever.

The next session, The Fiancee and I decided to take the session seriously. We’ll try not to embarrass ourselves again.

Sadly, we weren’t put in the same group for the second session. For me, the next session was an introduction to watercolour taught by a Singaporean art graduate from a UK art college.

We learnt the difference between the different kinds of paints out there, and how to create certain watercolour effects.

Unfortunately, due to the way the session was scheduled, we could not practice anything in the classroom. The organisers brought all of us down to Chinatown for an on-the-job learning experience.

My bus was the last to arrive in Chinatown. By then, Chinatown was alive with art! The atmosphere was amazing. If you didn’t know about the urban sketchers event going on, you would have thought a renaissance-like revolution was taking place in Singapore!

Everywhere, you’d just find people sitting by the side of the road, sketching and painting!

Urban Sketchers Singapore
This was the scene all over one area of Chinatown. People sitting over all the place, sketching and painting! It was a truly marvellous sight to behold!

I later found out that the afternoon session was organised to coincide with the regular Urban Sketchers’ monthly gathering.

What’s really amazing is that this is an activity that truly brings together people of all ages and from all walks of life. People of all ages, races, and genders were all present.

Old uncles and aunties, also sitting by the side of the road, sketching and painting on paper or canvas, alongside teenagers and young adults. Truly a sight to behold.

More interesting is the fact that many of these people are not artists themselves. Many of them have non-arty jobs: engineers, bankers, etc. It’s amazing how many talented and artistic people we have lurking all over Singapore. It’s only at such events that you discover how this little island nation is full of creative individuals who are not given a chance to brilliantly shine out their work. I’m thankful that we have events like this to allow them a space and outlet to continuously cultivate their artistic talent!

Some people brought stools. Some brought easels and huge canvases to paint on.

Urban Sketchers Singapore
Art is alive in the hearts of many Singaporeans, young and old. If you give them a space, they will manifest their talents.

This uncle had a huge canvas and was happily painting Chinatown by the side of the road. It was a truly wondrous sight. The tourist who spotted him, matched the uncle’s huge canvas, with a similarly huge video camera.

Urban Sketchers Singapore
Truly impressive! He did all this in about an hour!

Well, unfortunately for me, I did not have any water with me. So I couldn’t experiment with watercolour. Yes, so in the end, I was the joker who did a ink-only black-and-white drawing during a session on watercolour.

I decided to try sketching this:

Scarlet Hotel
The Scarlet Hotel, somewhere near the URA building.

Here’s the end result after drawing for 3 hours:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
I cheated by drawing trees that didn’t exist.

Here’s what everyone else drew and painted:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
Once again, as is the tradition of the Urban Sketchers, it’s time to showcase your masterpiece.

Here’s a close-up of some works:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
These amazing pieces were drawn and painted in less than 3 hours! WOW!

To give you a sense of how many people flooded a small area of Chinatown for an art revolution, here’s a picture of the entire crowd of participants gathering again to admire each others’ art.

Urban Sketchers Singapore
I estimate about 200-300 people were present. Imagine that… 200-300 people sitting by the side of the road in Chinatown, painting and drawing. Truly a sight to behold! Art and culture is alive in Singapore!

So that marked the end of the first day.

The second day, The Fiancee and I were together again for a session about lines, how to make use of thick and thin to produce different effects.

We had some practicum time in the morning, so that we could get used to holding a pencil (something I’ve not held in a while).

After that, we were brought to the Bras Basah area, where we had some supervised learning outdoors. The instructor taught us how to suppress the part of the brain that demands precision accuracy (it can be an enemy to creativity as it judges everything you do as wrong; but often the problem is that it makes you draw slowly), so that you are able to sketch our contours in a short span of time.  It involves an exercise where you cover your pencil with a piece of paper, such that you can’t see what you’re drawing. You are to use your eyes to trace the subject of your art, and move your pencil slowly according to the movement of your eye.

It’s amazing what you can do when that part of the brain is suppressed. I think I sketched out a really good contour sketch of someone’s face. The moment I stopped covering, I wasn’t able to sketch things so well.

After that little exercise, we were free to roam around the area. I chose to sketch this:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
A fitness corner with some random guy sleeping there.

Here’s the end result:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
What I drew

Ok, I guess? But it really pales in comparison to what other people drew:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
All our sketches on display

Can you see the drawing on the top-left hand corner? The one with the white binder clip on it?

That was drawn and painted by the instructor… in TEN minutes!!!

OH MY GAWD!!! What superpower is this?

My role model! I shall aspire to draw and paint so awesomely in ten minutes too!

If I could produce such beautiful works of art in ten minutes, I’d make and sell postcards as a side job everyday!

There was a short gathering of all participants during lunch time. Once again, everyone shared their art. Here’s some amazing works of art created by some of the other participants:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
The Singapore Art Museum (previously, the old St. Joseph’s Institution)

Here’s another:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
Looks like this person drew and painted two works of art (both share similar styles). So expressive! Amazing!

Wow… I’m so inspired and fired up for more art!

In the last session, we went to the Marina Bay area. We had 3 hours to sketch and paint whatever caught our fancy.

As the weather was hot and humid, The Fiancee and I decided that we shall sketch the inside of Marina Bay Sands in air-conditioned comfort.

Here’s what I intended to draw:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
The inside of Marina Bay Sands, The Shoppes

Here’s what I drew:

Urban Sketchers Singapore
It was only after I was done, did I realise that I forgot to draw in the fins outside that glass (to provide shade, see the previous photo to get what I mean). No wonder… I kept wondering why my painting looked more like a greenhouse instead. Oops!

Sadly, because Marina Bay was so crowded, we couldn’t find the rest of the Urban Sketchers at the appointed meeting time (partly because they had to change the meeting point because the original meeting point couldn’t be used due to some sports activity). So I wasn’t able to photograph the amazing artworks created by other people. Ah well…

Nonetheless, I’m soooooo inspired. I want to be able to sketch and paint like these guys. They’re really inspirational. And I guess what makes this group so lovable is the fact that these people are very sincere and friendly. Everyone’s there to have a good time and share their passion with others. It was truly enjoyable. I’ll definitely come again for the next Urban Sketchers event.