Friday, 14 August 2015

Third workshop and finally.....Colour!!!!

An entire week has sped by and I realised I'm only halfway through my workshops. For those of you following my blog closely sorry for the delay! And for those just stepping in here are my previous posts on the symposium:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The first day's workshops had been entirely pen and ink work. The next morning I was doing this workshop with Nina Johansson. Given that ink outlines with a watercolour wash is my favourite medium, I was really looking forward to this workshop. Nina's work is terrific.

The workshop was talking about two things - the first was how light gets eaten up as it comes down into the city, into the urban scene that you are trying to capture. We all know and feel it instinctively but the best way to capture this is by doing tonal studies. So our first exercise was a pencil sketch focussing on which surfaces get light, how the shadows are cast and how gradations happen. Part of it was trying to understand more consciously why one wall is darker at the top and another is darker at the bottom and so on. A good tip at this point was to squint and look at the subject so you see tones and shapes rather than colours and outlines.

The second focus of the workshop was how to paint with bright colours, how to mix darker shades and get gradations within a colour without making it muddy. This part was all about colour mixing. Using the complementary to get a darker shade and not adding black (or white) to change tone. The second exercise was to choose a very simple small subject so that we could focus on pigment mixing, and we were all asked to focus on one building The Selegie Arts Centre. It's a peculiar building with a striking form and the colour of the ground floor walls is different to that of the upper floors. So while trying to capture that I didnt quite get any sort of gradation at all!

And finally we got to do our own watercolour sketch in the last half hour. Subject of our choice but keep in mind the tones and gradations and the nature of light from the first exercise but remember our colour mixing too.
Choosing my own subject freed me up and I guess I fell back to my usual style but I did try to keep a few points in mind. These 3.5 hour workshops have all been super intense. You are assimilating on the go. I'm hoping a lot of great things I learnt will start showing slowly in my sketches to come but all in all I really liked the structure of this workshop and the two previous exercises came together to make perfect sense in the third.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Capturing people in action and crowds

Straight after my workshop with Ching I went into an afternoon workshop with Marc Holmes. The focus was on capturing people while they went about their business of doing whatever they do. Essential stuff for urban sketching as you can't ask them to pose for you.

We started off sketching each other very rapidly trying to capture the "head shape and hairshape" and soon moved on to capturing the hands. Again a handy trick. Get the hands down immediately after the head and then even if they move away you can fill in the rest later!
So we were sent off into the market area in front of the chinese temple on waterloo street. In twenty minutes we gathered back. I had these 6 people with head and hands which meant I had captured them doing whatever they were doing.
Raffle ticket seller, fruit vendor packing plums, old man sleeping and a cobbler working on a shoe while smoking his pipe.
An essential part of the workshop was also how to use two kinds of pens - one thin for the initial quick capture and then work with a darker brush pen for shadows and highlights. I wasn't very familiar with the use of the brush pen and really felt myself struggle with the darks.

The final part of our workshop which I found the most exciting by far was how to quickly capture a crowd scene. It's funny how different this workshop was from the previous one and yet in some ways the same. The idea of a foreground, a focus with more detail and then getting the depth and background with perspective and alternating darks for contrast. Except instead of buildings it was a whole horde of people on the paper.
We had to create a point of interest by quickly capturing one or a group of people in the foreground. Sketching what they were doing and getting in the head and hands first. Adding depth by putting in a whole row of heads behind that. Again, the trick is to look at people here and there and sketch them in. It doesn't really matter if the person on the left is finally on the right by the time you captured them.
Accessories like bags, specific kinds of shoes add character and by adding bodies and alternating dark shapes between the whites at the back one can very quickly achieve a sense of a crowd while also having a few authentic people about whom you are telling the story. Above is a scene of two sketchers meeting after the workshops in the crowded market and swapping notes while the rest of the busy shopping crowd mills around them. Below is a guy in a wheelchair talking to an old lady with the shopping stalls behind them.
Marc Holmes has pretty much distilled people sketching to its essence in this workshop. I really enjoyed the structure where each exercise built on the previous one and watching him stand there in the bustling market and demo one great sketch after another is a memory that will stay with me.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Workshop with Frank Ching

23rd July my first workshop of the symposium was with Frank Ching. Known to me for many years as Francis D.K. Ching he is the author of several books on architecture, all hand illustrated. My formative years as a student were largely spent gazing at his exquisite drawings and when I recently found out that he too is an urban sketcher it pretty much became my life's ambition to meet and sketch with him.

This was the workshop he offered and 9.30 am, we walked to the Singapore Art museum. The building is a composite of different geometric forms - cuboids, pyramids, cylinders, hemispheres and was a perfect example for Ching to explain to all of us the finer points of capturing scale proportion and perspective on location.

He started off by asking everyone to pick a spot and do a ten minute sketch. A single pen or pencil was encouraged, the thrust of the workshop being on linework and building details in layers. Here is mine from within the arcade of the cylindrical portion of the museum. On the right above my own signature is Ching's autograph!!

Gathering back, we laid our sketches down on the ground and each sketch was picked up and commented on by Ching. An excellent method for all to learn from each others work. The first exercise was also a way for him to gauge individual levels and styles so that in the second exercise he could come around and help each one of us with our weak points while we sketched. We were sent off again to commence on a half hour sketch. The second sketch is what you see at the top of this post.

Unwittingly I seemed to have made the same mistake twice. My eye level had floated up higher than where I really was. And my humans (always my problem!) were larger than life. After a second gathering and discussion we had time for one last sketch.

As architects we think we know many of these basics of sketching, but as urban sketchers, over the years, when we sit down to draw on location we prioritise differently. Ching's workshop was a great refresher course for me in the basics - putting down the structure of the sketch while concentrating on the first vertical edge, the eye level and proportions. Then working in an area of focus and where possible, shifting the focus off-centre. In the course of my conversations with him while sketching many finer points also emerged - tips to hatch more effectively, using fountain pen nibs in different ways for line weights, using the line quality to suggest material and using the contrasts of light and dark to capture space.

This blog post is as much for me to look back on as it is to share with all of you.
He's a great teacher and it was a fabulous experience.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Registration and new friends

Almost there. The registration for all participants began at 2.30 pm on July 22nd and i was a little early so I walked around the block and did a sketch on Queen street to while away the time.

It's a narrow one-way street and the pavement is much wider than the carrieageway, something you never see here in Madras! There were these funky colourful concrete benches that looked like they were sprouting from the ground and I started out wanting to sketch them. As soon as I started I noticed a bright orange coloured building dominating the skyline above. That turned out to be the Oxford Hotel where many of the sketchers I was about to meet were staying.

Once inside the National Design centre, the queue for registration was very long. I started chatting with Julia from Costa Rica who was just behind me and Bindi from Kampala who was just in front. As we registered we were given name tags and goodie bags full of sponsored stuff. A new watercolour moleskine with the USk Singapore Symposium logo emblazoned on the cover was immediately opened and my trusty old moleskine was stowed away.

 By 4.30 pm we were all ready for the opening sketchwalk. Hundreds of us walked together to Purvis street to sketch the well-preserved shop-house facades.  The sun blazed onto the eastern side of the street throwing sharp shadows and all of us lined up inside the western arcade on the pavement, the steps, assorted street furniture and cafe chairs. You can see more photos here. We spent close to two hours sketching, chatting, generally being amazed by the fact that so many of us from all over were sitting there shoulder to shoulder.

Back from the sketchwalk I soon teamed up with Bindi again and bumped into Rohit Kulkarni from Bangalore. All three of us were attending our first symposium and decided to go get dinner together.

The workshops would start the next morning. We exchanged notes to see if any of the activities we signed up for overlapped. We also all pulled out our new sketchbooks and ended up sketching our way through dinner!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Setting off for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium!

Monday 20th July. I caught an Indigo flight from the Kamaraj International terminal at 9.40 pm. The day was finally here. I was going for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium.

For the un-initiated I've been a member of this online group of location sketchers since 2011 and every year they meet in the month of July for 4 days of workshops, demos sharing and fun. This was the very first time the symposium was in Asia and of course I was going to be there!

I travelled through the night reaching Singapore early on 21st July. It was my one free day before the official start of the event and first on the agenda was trying to get a local sim card. Singapore has three telecom companies and I ended up in a Singtel store at Bugis Junction in search of my tourist sim.

The place was crowded with people. There were five or six Singtel attendants in crimson shirts talking to customers but a whole lot of other people sitting around on stools. Just as I was wondering how exactly to walk up to an attendant I looked up and realised it was a token system and all those others were waiting (famous Singapore queues!) so I got myself a token number Z1018 and found myself a stool to do this sketch.

The rest of the 21st was busy with personal visits but armed with my local sim I was able to make plans to meet some other international sketchers at Raffles hotel early the next morning for an informal session.

I ended up sketching not the hotel, but a local eating joint opposite which was buzzing with people at that early hour.

By the time I finished my sketch I had no clue where everyone else was so I wandered into Swee Kee to see what everyone was tucking in to. I ended up demolishing a steaming mug of Kopi and some delicious Kaya toast.

The rest of my fantastic experience over the next four days will have to come in installments as I slowly organise and scan all my sketches. So stay tuned for frequent updates!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The new Metro - Rapid sketches of mass rapid transport

On 30th June 2015, the new Metro line in our city was inaugurated. It was, quite literally the talk of the town. The Metro has been under construction for 6 years and last week only a short stretch - a tiny sampling - was thrown open to the public. All the major dailies carried stories and first hand reports for several days, so on Sunday a tiny group of us - 3 sketchers - decided to go on a joyride and sketch the experience.

 I wasn't sure if there would be resistance from the staff to sketching. In many heritage sites across India photography is allowed but sketching is banned! In the Delhi Metro photography itself is not allowed. So I took a really small sketch pad and resolved to keep each sketch under five minutes in duration. The platforms are high up at the top and after feeding money into the automatic ticket vending machines we took some really long escalator rides up to the platform.

The vaulted roof is open down the middle at Alandur station where we boarded the train and the whole station is bright and clean - at least for now.

On the train to Koyambedu there are only six stops. The same distance which in rush hour will take you over an hour can be done in under fifteen minutes. On Sunday morning the train was not crowded but there weren't too many empty spots on the benches either. Many families looked like they had come just for a joyride.... like us! 

More than the parents the kids were really thrilled. Though the ride is short you get a great view of the city from above.
When we reached Koyambedu station we had to climb up a level and cross over the platform before descending again to exit. The level up brought us right up to the base of the arch trusses that held up the station roof. Another quick stop to dash off another sketch. Peering down from the parapet the platforms and trains were laid out below us.
From that level the trusses and space frames were a real visual jungle. Someone reminded us that the ticket token is timed (not sure if it's true) and that we should use it to get out soon.
The Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has bought automatic ticket/gate machines from Japan. The token is kept against a sensor on our way in and the gate opens.On the way out you deposit the same token into a slot so that it allows your exit. Quite simple but for the ever increasing crowds it was all wondrous and baffling. By the time we came out the crowds had swelled considerably and flustered staff were trying to get people to queue up and wait till the machine reset itself for the next person. Queues themselves are a near impossible challenge in our country, and when you add automation to that the novelty is too high!

I really hope it stays clean, disciplined and the rest of the green and blue lines open soon.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Sketches make a place look better!

Over the years I've noticed that while sketching on location the eye and the hand conspire in their own way, omitting certain details and more often than not... dirt.  Garbage which is often strewn allover the foreground of many of my subjects don't get into my sketches. Like this one for instance is a group of fishing boats - trawlers - at Kasimedu harbour. The water is slick with oil.

And this one...
Done two weeks ago. Looks like the sleepy Gaulish village of Asterix and Obelix (well, except for the minaret). In truth, this sketch was done on the banks of the Cooum. The stench was not too bad that morning but the river was a dark stagnant grey. Basically sludge. The huts are hovels, patched together with whatever people have. The foreground and the edge where the water meets the land is not really earth but built up rubbish debris!  Its quite crazy how my hand refuses to draw the refuse!