Monday, November 15, 2021

Echoes from our Past

The following are some more sketches from my Perfect Sketchbook B5. These are places that are still around in Singapore. Some are conserved, some, like the old school barber, may not be around for long as redevelopment of old neighbourhoods catch up. I've tried to source for links to give more information about each place. Many thanks to Jerome Lim, SLA (Singapore Land Authority), and Urban Sketchers Singapore for the opportunities to sketch some of these places.

Dutch Gabled House at Watten Estate
© Favian Ee. Sep 2018

Watermelon Mosaic Playground
© Favian Ee. Oct 2019

Sultan Mosque
© Favian Ee. Aug 2018

The Quadrant at Cecil
© Favian Ee. Dec 2018

Jurong Bird Park Waterfall
© Favian Ee. Feb 2020

Clifford Pier
© Favian Ee. Aug 2019

Sin Palace Hair Dressing and Parlour
© Favian Ee. Mar 2019

Orchard Road Presbyterian Church
© Favian Ee. Dec 2018

Missing Singapore More

The following sketches are a couple more places that are no longer around in Singapore. I've used my Perfect Sketchbook B5 to draw some of these places before they were gone, and other lesser-known places and scenes from Singapore's past that are still around today.

Changi Airport Terminal 2 McDonald's and Analogue Flight Info Board

© Favian Ee. Jan 2020

© Favian Ee. Jan 2020

Changi Airport's Solaris Flight Information Board in Terminal 2 was decommissioned in 2020. I went down to sketch it on the last day of operations for the McDonald's outlet there with my friend Tony Chua. This piece of analogue equipment had been around for 20 years and will be replaced with a digital board. Gone are the sounds of those flaps as the flight information changes.

The McDonald's outlet has also been in operation for 16 years and has become something of an institution not only for travelers but also for mugging students. It's not the first Macs to close after a long tenure, and will not be the last (think KAP, East Coast, etc.), and will surely be missed. It was closing as Terminal 2 was going to undergo renovations. Alas if only we had known the pandemic would arrive in full force in a month...


Liang Court

© Favian Ee. Jan 2020

Daimaru. That's what I knew Liang Court for. The classic orange-tiled towers that stood along the Singapore River next to Clarke Quay was also home to Kinokuniya, Meidi-ya, and Swensens back in the day. Things changed over time and the life ebbed away after Daimaru left, but the mall below still hung on. The church I attended used their hotel ballrooms for service there at Novotel at one point too. Sadly it's no longer there, another casualty of redevelopment in land-scarce Singapore.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Taxi Stations

There aren't many taxi stations left in Singapore compared to the days when I was a kid. However, there are still a few quaint old ones around. I managed to sketch two of them so far:

The first is a rectangular block next to the "diamond blocks" off Taman Jurong.

Taman Jurong Radio Phone Taxi Service Ltd
Copyright Favian Ee    Nov 2021

The second is a little hut at Jalan Leban with stone benches outside:

Sembawang Hillest Taxi Service
Copyright Favian Ee    Oct 2019

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Truss Me, I'm an Artist - The Truss Bridges of Singapore

Singapore has 3 railway truss bridges leftover from the days our city centre was connected to Malaysia by rail. I lived next to one of these railway lines, which stopped operating in the 1990's. I was always told that the land along the railway belonged to Malaysia, and that if I stepped onto the tracks, I'd be in Malaysia right away, right in my backyard!

I lived along the Jurong railway line. In my younger days, we still could see trains go choo-choo by from the shipyards in Jurong and connect to the Bukit Timah line. It wasn't till much later that I learned it went through a tunnel under Clementi Road and through Clementi Forest to connect to the main rail line which traversed the island from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. In 2011, the land along the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway track was returned to Singapore after the Malaysian rail operator ceased train services here.

The 3 truss bridges are in the western side of Singapore and span different environments. The one along Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road is probably the most well-known. It goes over Bukit Timah Road and its parallel road in the opposite direction, Dunearn Road, and the monsoon drain between, connecting Rifle Range Road on one end to Bukit Timah Railway Station behind King Albert Park. It uses a Baltimore Truss construction.

Bukit Timah Road Truss Bridge


The second truss bridge is near Hillview close to the Rail Mall. It spans Upper Bukit Timah Road, a major highway, and has stone supports with tunnel walkways on both sides. It uses a Pratt Truss construction.

Upper Bukit Timah Road Truss Bridge


The third bridge is the one close to Clementi Road which spans Sungei Ulu Pandan (Ulu Pandan River) and Ulu Pandan Park Connector. It is probably the largest of the 3, even if it has less beams. This is the one I was most familiar with as I lived nearby. Before the tracks were removed, I traced them from its AYE end to Sunset Way before it dove into the jungle and under the tunnel at Clementi Road. Back then, it ran parallel to the river along the flats at Clementi. There were community farms on state land before they were removed due to complaints. Some of those farms had been around for 30 years! They were a space for older folks doing hobby gardening and farming and to hang out with their friends. It was a shame they have been removed. There was even a well near one of them, several metres above the water level of the river. A good stretch of the line was overgrown, some with ponds nearby with insects, dragonflies, and other wildlife. Some rare butterflies also made that stretch their home. Unfortunately development along the line meant that some of the nature has since been replaced by condominiums and roads. However, if you know where to look, you can even find some stretches of rail remaining without having to trudge through Clementi Forest. This bridge is now closed as it's quite run down and hasn't been maintained, but some years back I could still gingerly cross it.


Ulu Pandan Truss Bridge


I wanted to capture these vestiges of our rail heritage and present not only the bridges but also the environments they are located in - roads, buildings, overhead bridges, rivers, etc. I chose to sketch these bridges using fineliner pens, specifically Pentel pointliners on an Etchr hot press watercolour sketchbook. I decided not to add watercolour wash over the linework, which stood well on its own. Each sketch took several hours. I started by blocking out the shapes on-location in pencil and finished them at home from photo reference. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. You can watch the video recordings of the process here:


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: To the Kwai - and Back by Ronald Searle


I have deep respect for war artists. Such a contemporary is Richard Johnson who has accompanied American troops to the frontline in the Middle East to document scenes of military and combat with little more than paper, pen, and pencil. He stands in a great centuries-old tradition of artists who used their talents to record scenes and experiences under fire and in the most harrowing times. Hence when I came across this book in the library, I borrowed it without hesitation. It is one thing to be engaged to be a combat artist. It is quite another to have documented the experience as a POW in captivity, risking one’s very life just to draw. Searle does just that. And to bring things closer to home, his experience is the experience of my country - Singapore - of just a generation or two ago. Searle was a POW during Singapore’s Japanese Occupation during the Second World War.

Searle was just 19 when he joined the army. A month after he was sent to Singapore, he was captured and spent the next 3 years as a POW. He was interned in Singapore before being sent to work on the infamous Death Railway in Burma. He survived the ordeal and was sent back to Singapore to be held captive at Changi Gaol.

Searle records his experiences as-is, sparing neither the incompetence, brutality nor the humanity of allies and captors alike. He uses a variety of styles from caricature to quick rough sketches to more finely rendered pieces as time and energy allowed. His narrative is personal (do read the text in the photos I’ve uploaded) and even the gaps in his narrative and sketches tell a story - he was unable to do many sketches because of the circumstances.

Vignettes of brutality are interspersed with others of tranquility and humanity, such as a moment when Searle had the opportunity to sketch undisturbed, or when he was picked out by the prison commandant for some personal work, and a conversation revealed that the commander was also an artist. The latter gave Searle some coloured pencils and wax crayons, which he used for some sketches. Another Japanese soldier requested a portrait. Searle shows their humanity through these encounters - these were men forced into circumstances like he was, and some of them would not have been doing what they were had they the choice, in fact, Searle reserves some of his more scathing remarks for the incompetence of the Allied Forces.

The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 did not immediately result in the release of POWs. The generals in Vietnam and Singapore were bent to continue figting and rumours floated about that all captives would be killed. Thankfully for Searle (and for us), both he and his sketches survived.

We owe a debt to courageous men like Searle who risked their lives to give us visuals of such a dark time in our global and national history. It took tremendous courage to create and hide these incriminating sketches from his captors, and publish them years after the ordeal. As an endorsement on the back cover reads, “This book should never be out of print”. Let no one say that artists are non- essential. We are all the richer for the brave strokes of these men.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Drawing a Complex Scene


The Coastal Settlement, © Favian Ee, Apr 2020 

I drew the sketch above in a restaurant in Singapore called The Coastal Settlement. It’s a lovely eatery in an eastern corner of our island filled with a wide range and eclectic mix of nostalgic objects from the 70’s and 80’s as part of their decor. In one corner there is even a wall of Vespa scooters! We were originally given a seat there but I requested for somewhere nearer a window where it was brighter. I wanted to sketch, after all. So we were ushered to this quaint corner with a coffeetable surrounded by 4 large leather seats and gate grilles all about. We ordered, ate, and I spent the next 3 hours trying to capture the scene.

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

Where does one start drawing a scene so complex and with so many details? It begins like any other sketch - planning your approach. Knowing what tools at your disposal and how you can use them to your advantage is definitely a big part of this. For example, there are several gates which are painted both black and white. That’s good, because I have black pens and opaque white gel pens that I can use to overlay over an area I have drawn earlier, which means I can draw the background first and just go over it with the black and white pens.

But what about where to start? A complex scene can be intimidating, but you can simplify things by noticing the largest shapes that give the scene structure. Ignore the details. Details distract. If you get too caught up with them, you’ll get sucked into a black hole and lose sight of the whole. For my sketch, I decided to leave out the ceiling, so the main big shapes I’ve identified are the following:

  • The table in the middle
  • The 3 large leather chairs
  • The gate grilles
  • The openings and the pillars
  • The tables on the left and right in the midground
  • The gates
Those are the items I would draw first. Once those are in place, it is easier to place the details within those areas.

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

Once I have the structure of the sketch, I have to decide my approach to applying colours. I am using transparent watercolours. That means if I want an area to be light, i need to leave it untouched by the darker colours - I cannot paint light colours over darks. I’m not using gouache, acrylics, or oils which are opaque media that allow me to do that. So I need to build the sketch from light to dark, starting by colouring in the big areas/shapes.

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

You may notice that I have painted the dark background around the white pillars rather than painting the pillars themselves. I also started painting the furthest areas from me first, building the darks in layers. The fences are not drawn yet, but I have put in the translucent drape on the leftmost fence. The base colours of the seats have been added in. Around this point I was getting quite intimidated by the details already, but I just carried on. Trust the process. I keep building the sketch from background to foreground, from light to dark. Because I’ve pencilled out the large shapes, I don’t get lost in the details and I know where I am at any point and how one part relates to the whole.

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

I usually begin a sketch with ink outlines if I’m using ink, but in this case I deferred it to a later stage. I had probably sat there for 2-3 hours already and was getting somewhat stressed and wanted to hurry up. It is a popular establishment after all, and others might need a table. Using ink outlines would help me put things in place and give more definition. I could also take the opportunity to put in the grilles, there are at least 4 kinds of gates with different patterns. That was stressful until I realised that once I figured out one section of a repeating pattern, I could complete drawing the gates with relative ease. I still made some mistakes in some of the patterns, and I have to live with it and carry on. At the same time, I continued deepening the blacks and adding more details as I went along. A white gel pen was used to draw in the white gate.

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

I probably spent around 3 hours or so in the restaurant eating and sketching, so I took some photos to touch up the sketch in my hotel room. We were on staycation just across from the restaurant. I’m not in the habit of sketching my food because I like to eat it while it’s hot, so I added it in later. Added more details and deepening of the blacks too. I decided to draw without measuring my scene this time as I felt I could get away with some inaccuracies because of the business of the scene, and if I went for accuracy, I might not be able to fit as much into my A5 sketchbook. Instead I noted the proportions and relative positions of items by eye (it takes some practice and experience) and took note of positional markers, such as how the 3 seats’ tops were more or less aligned horizontally, etc.

At this point I still felt it was unfinished. The food had not been drawn properly and the left and right chairs lacked definition. The food needed shadows, texture, form, colour. Photographs were used to finish drawing that. The trolley on the right needed darker surfaces to differentiate it from the ground. So a few final touch ups were in place. Pity I cannot correct the mistakes in the gate patterns, but because of the business of the scene, not many will notice that.

Completed sketch, © Favian Ee, Apr 2020

Just some advice for drawing complicated scenes:
  • Start with the biggest shapes. Break down your sketch from there. Work from big to small. Add details last
  • Paint in large areas of colour first. Layer in details later
  • If using watercolour, take note of the light areas first. Leave those areas untouched (or if they have a colour cast, put in a light wash, leave to dry, then put a darker layer around it without painting the light area)
  • Take your time to build the sketch. Don’t try to capture everything at once
  • Take photos if you need to complete it at home

Hope you have found this helpful!

More photos:

Nasi Campur, © Favian Ee, Apr 2020

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

© Favian Ee, Apr 2020

Our Table, © Favian Ee, Apr 2020