Saturday, September 5, 2015

Talking about Sketching

Last night, I took some of my sketches for a talk at a PAMSC (Local Architect's Institute) gathering. The aim of the presentation was to highlight our chapter's activities especially our study trips to Beijing, Shanghai and more recently Hangzhou as well as the European and local trips.

I thought it would be interesting (and different) to talk about how I record my trips - through the medium of pen and paper instead of film and camera.
There is no time like the present. To sketch and record events - usually the best times to do so are when one is waiting for something to happen - for the plane to take off, in a traffic jam, waiting for luggage, or food to arrive.

I sketch in solitude mostly as this is a chance for me to lose myself. But at other times, I don't mind a bit of company - like when I sat with a row of Primary School children in Hangzhou to sketch their old town. I asked the girl 'Is this a good likeness?' She examined my work and said 'Not really'

Many of our study trips are recorded in here, simple and cheap notebooks made from palm paper.

The Great Wall at Badaling

Wat Arun, Bangkok
With cheap medium such as the Artline Pen 0.4 (RM 2.50).
My favourite breakfast places in Georgetown
...or with ball-point pens from hotel rooms and sometimes with my Hero fountain pen.
3 points of view in the Frankfurt Cathedral
I talked about 'losing' myself in the act of sketching and how it results in actually getting myself lost - detached from the rest of tour group. But there is usually someone to watch over me.

Recording a building this way and at this angle is similar to using a camera but I think the act of seeing and drawing it makes the memory of the place stronger. When I look at this sketch, I remember most vividly the sound of skateboards hitting the concrete.

Helsinki - journal entries
 Most of the time, my sketches are 'notes' to myself and observations about the place and the people - such as what my fellow travelers are eating for breakfast.
Bay Hotel, Singapore
Sketching also allows me to dissect a place - to visually measure and record. I have a collection of 'measured drawings' of hotel rooms.
Pratunam, Bangkok
It does not always have to be a landmark or prominent building - recording the mundane is a good way of seeing beauty in daily life and of ever-day people.
Mind maps of routes taken are a good way for me to get an overview with glimpses of places seen along the way. These 'maps' are done retrospectively, of course - I ran these routes with Louis Tiong in Morocco.
Context and Memory - helped by some props and souvenirs from the 'site' in Valencia
More context - ink on paper, washed with soy sauce because we were in China (this is Wangshu's NingBo Museum of Contemporary Arts)
...and washed with espresso because we were in Florence.
I ended the ten minute presentation with this simple sketch.

I told them about Marcel and how he mentored me (probably without knowing it) and how he left Kuching for Toronto. And later, when I found out that he was terminally ill - I emailed him photos and sketches of his old haunts; usually food places such as this one near a Chinese temple on Carpenter Street. When that didn't seem enough, I mailed these postcard sketches to him. Later on, to add another dimension to his experience of 'home' - I washed the sketches with black vinegar (to evoke the memory of Teochew Kolo Mee which this is traditionally served with). I asked Marcel to smell the postcards - but I never got a reply because shortly after he passed away.

Months later, when his wife visited us in Kuching, I asked her if Marcel received the postcards. She replied 'Yes, he did'.  I asked her 'Did he smell them?'  She replied again 'Yes, he did, what's up with that?'  And I explained.


  1. such a true architect. very nice sketches and work!! superb!

  2. such a true architect. very nice sketches and work!! superb!

  3. beautiful especially the ones slightly suggested by water colour. louis.

  4. Thank you - I like the phrase 'slightly suggested by water colour'