Sunday, July 29, 2012

What Kind of Sketchpacker Are You?

Which type are you?

"No Frills": Only needs paper and a pencil/pen. What else do you need to sketch anyway?

"Seasoned sketcher": Hat, stool, sketchbook, colours (can be paints or dry media), brushes (if using paints). Usually brings only what he needs.

"Enthusiast": Brings everything he needs, thinks he needs, and doesn't need (just in case!). A lot like me, actually.

"Digital": Paint-worthy laptop, Wacom tablet/Cintiq, stool, table, extra batteries, hard drive, etc. Carries the most weight. Too bad the iPad and other tablets haven't caught up with paint program technologies. Actually there's one tablet PC that could very well be the best set-up for the digital plein air painter, and that is the Modbook. Serious artists who want to work digitally on the go might very well want to consider this modified tablet Mac. It runs Photoshop and Sketchbook Pro and the like, and has pressure sensitive stylus technology courtesy of Wacom. With a Macbook Pro and Cintiq rolled into one, what's not to like?
 (Disclaimer: I'm in no way affiliated to them and don't profit from any sales).

Sketchpacker Feature: Liu Wen Xiang from Taipei!

When I decided to go to Penang with the Urban Sketchers Singapore, I was pretty nervous at first. I didn't know the itinerary except that we would have accommodation provided, and that we had to make our own travel arrangements. I wasn't linked up with any of the others, most of whom had already booked their flights with their own groups, and I have almost never travelled alone. The last time I remember was when I flew alone to the Philippines on a recce trip for a Youth Expedition Project and had to meet my contacts at Cebu Airport. Penang isn't as far or unfamiliar as Philippines, but still I wasn't used to it. And this time I needed to book my own flight too. I didn't even know the bunking arrangements. But as time went by, and I managed to get the same flight as some of my friends, and after some panicking over making some mistakes with my return flight and amending it, I was eagerly looking forward to the trip.

When I got the bunking arrangements, I realised I would be sharing the room with 4 people I didn't know - 1 guy from Singapore, 1 from Penang, and 1 from Taipei. Things were getting exciting (yet not as exciting when my roommates got switched around, but that's another story).

The guy from Taipei is actually the Taipei group's correspondent. He arrived the day after me, and with a bicycle! I was wondering where he got the bike, if he brought it with him or rented it from somewhere. I soon learned that he actually brought the bike along! And he had some stories to tell.

My roommate Liu Wenxiang (right)
Liu Wen Xiang is his name. Interestingly he speaks Mandarin interspersed with a little bit of Hokkien (which I can understand a little). His Taipei accent is more similar to the Chinese accent in Singapore than in mainland China. He gave a talk on one of the nights, and I discovered that he is a real sketchpacker. I mean, if a guy travels around on his bike and goes about sketching, what else can you call him? He even cycled up Penang Hill and Genting Highlands, and from what I heard, was planning to cycle down to Kuala Lumpur from Penang before flying back to Taipei. That is halfway down Peninsular Malaysia, and then some!

During his travels, Wen Xiang sketches not so much to create beautiful art, but to capture impressions of the places he visits and the people he comes into contact with. He often uses the local paper - exercise books with lines, hole-punched paper, etc. - which adds another dimension to his art. His art is also a way to bridge gaps and make new friends. What an awesome way to travel!

On the last night of talks before the day of our exhibition, we had a postcard exchange where we exchanged postcard-sized sketches that we did during the day, and guess what? I got his postcard! (Much to the envy of a few people). It's one of the best souvenirs from the Sketching Georgetown trip to Penang.

Wen Xiang's postcard that I got. The Chinese characters read "Penang".
I have no idea where he got this paper from.

I didn't get to interview Wen Xiang or go through his sketches (except the ones he showed us during his talk), but he's a great and adventurous guy with a unique philosophy to sketching. Here's wishing you all the best and many adventures in your sketchpacking travels, my friend!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sketching George Town 2012

About 2 weeks ago, I went for my first sketchpacking trip! The Urban Sketchers (USK) Singapore group were invited by our Penang counterparts to participate in the George Town Festival over the weekend. Representatives from Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei and other parts of Malaysia were invited, and the hosts were kindly providing accommodation free of charge. It was a chance not to be missed. So I booked my flight, packed (overpacked?) my bags, and was off to Penang!

The drawing materials I packed. Didn't use all of them, but didn't want to be left without something if I needed it.
 I've been joining the USK Singapore group since the beginning of this year, and discovered there's nothing quite like a group of artists going out to create art together. There are artists of different levels, styles and approaches. There is so much to learn from one another, and the friendly non-competitive spirit is really something to savour. In Penang, we got to experience this on a larger scale, making friends (and art) from different countries. It was quite clear how art can help break down walls and help build community as we lived and made art together in a different land.

Evening talks by some of the Sketching George Town participants from different countries.

Our hosts had an itinerary planned for us. There were 2 days of sketching and talks, then an exhibition. The first day, we covered Pitt Street and Armenian Street, and on the second day we covered the Clan Jetties and Beach Street. Here are some of my sketches from those locations.

Welcome dinner

Pitt Street sketches. It's called "Street of Harmony" because there are places of worship from 4 religions along that street.

Armenian Street
Clan Jetties (this is the Chew Jetty)

Beach Street. Lots of old colonial architecture here.

George Town Penang was dubbed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO some 4 years ago. It is rich in heritage, having been founded as part of the Straits Settlements by the British during the late 18th century. Penang is also known as a food paradise in Malaysia, and needless to say we went around sampling many of the famous local dishes such as Penang laksa, fried kway teow, lor mee, chendol, hokkien mee, etc. There is no lack for good food on this island.


 Last but not least, Penang has a thriving art community. There is street art round almost every corner. I didn't get to hunt down all of them, but doing so would be a lot of fun!

Thanks, USK Penang for organizing this wonderful event! I'd really like to go back and visit all the other places I missed. Thanks for being such great hosts, and for all the gifts and memories. But most of all, thanks for the friendships!

Welcome pack!
Exhibition of our works over the 2 days of sketching

Some sketches from my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My First Sketchpacking Trip!

I just returned from my very first sketchpacking trip a couple of days ago, and boy, did I have a blast! It was an event called Sketching George Town, organized by the Urban Sketchers Penang and in conjunction with the George Town Festival over the weekend. Representatives from Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, Johor, KL and other parts of Malaysia were invited, accommodation was provided (at backpacker's inns) and we spent the few days sketching various parts of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town. At the same time we made many friends, learned much from one another, and enjoyed the sumptuous food in the food paradise that is Penang.

Over the next few posts I'll share some of my experiences, photographs, sketches, so keep a lookout!

For starters, here is a video of our trip created by one of the Singapore Urban Sketchers, Parka (he's quite a well-known blogger!). He also has some photos with writeups of our trip on his blog. Enjoy!