Friday, August 14, 2015

Singapore Urban Sketching Symposium 2015

We would have to be living on another planet not to know that there is a contemporary obsession with taking photos. Others before me have noted that people these days use photo-taking as a substitute for memory. I would go further than this to say that people these days use photo-taking as a substitute for actually really LOOKING.

Not so the Urban Sketchers!

The act of sketching is a seductive one and I have been well and truly seduced. Having been an artist all my life like my mother before me, I have used many media and done heaps of sketching en plein air. ( In 2010 I had a book published called Drawing Brisbane. ) But nothing compares with the global phenomenon of Urban Sketching which I have only discovered in the last twelve months or so. By sketching while sitting or standing in one spot outside so much more can be seen. My inner voice is continually saying, "Gee if I hadn't been drawing I wouldn't have noticed that."

As I have written in earlier blogs, it suits me in many ways. I have never been much of a joiner (although this is changing) and have beavered away in my solitary studio and been happy to do so, so NOTHING prepared me for the wow factor of the Urban Sketching Symposium in Singapore.

I knew no-one when I went and I believed that I was the only person from my city. (There was one other who I didn't meet until the last day). There was also one other from my state of Queensland (almost 2,000km away) who I got to hang out with thankfully because I was a bit overwhelmed. I had seen the sketches of various people on-line and in books and been intrigued. It was through following Kiah Kiean that I found out about the symposium.

I had a big solo show here in Brisbane in March and this symposium idea seemed a great reward for all my head down work. So off I went...

In was an unseasonably cold winter here in Brisbane and the heat of Singapore felt like our summer so I felt right at home.
The first wow moment came when I heard Elizabeth Alley speak. She told an anecdote about how she felt she had "found her people" and it was a goose-pimple moment because I looked around and half the people in the room had sketch books out and were already at it!

I will post most of the sketches I did over the three days, some of which were in workshop situations and some on sketch crawls. Seeing the long line of sketchers on the shady side of the street during a sketchcrawl was gob-smacking. The line just went on and on and on. The purple lanyards we all wore were a great link at other times out and about in the city.

This was my first morning, just getting my bearings, met no-one yet. Arab Street Singapore.
There was a table of Australians just around the corner! I could hardly contain my excitement when I almost stumbled over Liz Steele (recognised from her on-line photo)  sitting cross-legged on the footpath sketching with a group of the tutors.

These two were done at the Gardens by the Sea on my first afternoon before the symposium began.

I went to James Richard's workshop about capturing people in crowded places and did these last two there. I now understand about the standing eye-line but I sat for both of my efforts! I will give it a try one of these days.   I get the concept and it is a very valuable  one!

I did another excellent workshop with Melanie Reim and attempted a more calligraphic line. This is a direction that I think has possibilities for me. A lifetime of life drawing every week is a real asset here. It is also a question of drawing with confidence. One mark can say it all, less is more, like Hokusai.

I use such a lot of colour in my usual acrylic work (Brisbane is very colourful and absolutely everything grows here) that it surprises me to see how little I used in Singapore, maybe because I deliberately chose workshops that were very different from my usual working methods. I did a great workshop with Gail Wong but my sketch is a bit too lame to post here!

It is few weeks now since I got back but I have been wanting to crystallize my thoughts before writing anything and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I have become a real advocate for this way of working and being part of the whole global community of artists working in this way is such a thrill.

I have done a couple of other projects since I have been back. Will post soon.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts. How wonderful you gained so much out of the Singapore Symposium. I can't wait to see you put in action of the BRISBANE URBAN SKETCHERS twice weekly sketchouts.

    Your sketches are fabulous, I love your style, it really is unique to you!

    Cheers JJ :-)

  2. Great post Robyn, I totally identify with your thoughts! It was my first symposium too, and even being involved with USk for a number of years hadn't prepared me for the experience of being surrounded by so many happy talented sketchers!

    I had just stumbled across your work a few weeks before the symposium too. I really enjoy your paintings, they seem strangely familiar to me being based in the old Victorian part of Auckland (less tropical of course).

    1. Thanks Murray. I am still on a bit of a high after the symposium and still finding people's blogs and sites. I wish I had actually met more people face to face but it was difficult not knowing anyone to start with. At least I have names now to look up!