Monthly Archives: July 2015

Trip to Bali Lane

Stamford Raffles’s rationale for dividing Singapore into ethnic subdivisions while town planning in 1822 may have been geared towards achieving orderliness, but it is the 21st century traveler who’s thanking him today though for a slightly different reason. With modernisation changing the look of cities across the world and making them increasingly homogenous, it is such little pockets that offer character and variety to a landscape of highrises and shopping malls.

The buzz around the alfresco fruit and vegetable stalls crowded with saree clad women bedecked in gold bangles and flowers in hair, stooping over mangoes or tomatoes to check their ripeness is what defines Little India for me; the vibrant Chinese lanterns, souvenir stalls, Chilli crab outlets, calligraphy shops, temples, mahjong playing elderly uncles and the constant ebb and flow of backpackers jump out at me when I set foot in Chinatown and finally when I enter Kampong Glam, I’m steered by the palm fringed gold dome of the Sultan mosque, shops selling carpets, perfumes, silk, batik and laces, Middle Eastern eateries embellished with lamps, chandeliers and other moorish trinkets and the smell of biryani and shawarma filling the warren of narrow streets around mealtimes.

Blu Jaz and Muzium Cafe on Bali Lane, Kampong Glam

Blu Jaz and Muzium Cafe on Bali Lane, Kampong Glam

What’s common to all these precincts however is the ubiquitous shophouse – a timeless beauty, which is a delight to sketch, photograph or just be in the company of. On my last week’s trip to Kampong Glam, I sat under a huge shady tree and sketched this pleasant corner of Blue Jaz Cafe and Muzium Cafe both housed in quaint shophouses on Bali Lane with plenty of potted plants in between them. For the two hours I spent on my line drawing, I watched the cafe staff sweep leaves off the floor, dust, mop, wipe and arrange furniture, and finally grow antsy and glance uncomfortably at our direction. The footsteps of the lunch crowd descending from the nearby offices was unmistakable. We did put them at ease by wrapping up our easels and clearing off in seconds!





The second last page

Lately I’ve been sketching on loose sheets a lot, which is why my precious Moleskine was neglected for a while. However after our little catch up, I’m on the brink of completion. We’re about to part ways. I filled out the second last page of my sketchbook and it feels special, more special than the last page ever will, because I still get to carry it one more time, flip through and reminisce about our journey!

Clark Quay

Clarke Quay. The building beyond the bridge with the red roof top is the Parliament House

This stretch above was sketched at Clarke Quay – the go to destination for active night life on this island. Strobe lights, thumping music and throngs of evening revellers drinking, eating, dancing, bar hopping  is the picture after sun down. In the early mornings however, the place hosts the sketchers and the caretakers – sweepers, cleaners, gardeners and so on. Irrespective of the time of the day I choose to visit, Singapore River’s monumental transformation from a gritty trading post lined with godowns and warehouses till late 20th century into this dazzling entertainment precinct never ceases to amaze me. Seriously, spare a thought when you visit next!



Not a rookie anymore

Last year, around this time I took a leap of faith, went to Ikea, got myself cheap black frames into which I put my paintings and sent them out to be showcased at an art exhibition. Even before sending them out, I had marked places on the walls of my apartment where I planned to mount them if they made their way back home. A part of me agonised over our parting and the other part wanted to know if someone out there would actually pay money for something I had created.

The Entrance to the exhibition

The Entrance to the ‘We Draw Singapore Together’ exhibition

Besides the exhilaration of selling paintings for the first time in my life, last year’s experience helped me gain insights into how paintings should be priced and more importantly presented. So, this time round, I got my  artworks professionally framed and sent them out to the world with slightly less drama proving that I’m not a rookie anymore. The hard part wasn’t letting go, but to choose three out of the five I had sketched and painted for the occasion. These were the contenders :

A random house at Everton Road

A random house at Everton Road drawn with a dip pen with flex nib, Brown Calligraphy ink and a lot of patience

Contender 1 is this random terrace house on Everton Road that stood out for me because it was the only one in the row with such an incredible number of decorative plants on its porch  emerging from all kinds of pots. I was also drawn to the building’s teal coloured window frames and when I saw the owner eventually drive off in a teal coloured Volkswagen Beetle wearing a teal coloured dress with matching shoes, I was glad my palette didn’t have enough teal to deal with this kind of fetish.

Buddhist Library at Geylang Serai and more

A saffron clad monk with an American accent emerged from the Buddhist Library on Lorong 27A to look at our sketches and chat with us

Contender 2 was drawn with a fine nib pen which I realised can be a boon and a bane. Ever since I started using the Pilot Kaküno, I get caught up in details and take hours to finish the linework, which is what happened here in the above painting. Although the process is therapeutic and the painting gets beautifully embellished, sometimes slow and careful drawing, I feel steals some of the energy and spontaneity of the piece. I sketched this from right to left and as you can see I gradually broke free and finished the sketch with broader, indicative strokes to strike a balance. Not spelling out everything and leaving my sketches somewhat unfinished is important to me because that way the viewer gets to participate in the process by mentally joining the dots.

Colourful shophouses on Spottiswoode Road

Can you believe that this red house on Spottiswoode Road has a frontage of only 4.2 meters, while it is 36 meters deep and has 7 rooms?

Contender 3‘s cute little red shophouse at number 66 is the reason I plonked my stool opposite it and even though a series of cars and trucks took turns to block my view and tons of tourists stopped by, breathed over my neck while pointing fingers at my sketchbook, I managed to finish it. The owner of the red house, Mr. Seah, came over to chat and answered my barrage of questions without breaking a sweat.

He said my subject is a 1886 built house, that was owned by a Chinese family and handed down to family members over the years till in 1924 a nun from Malacca or perhaps Penang bought it for 4800 dollars. After she passed away in 1995, the house went to the trustees and finally Mr. Seah, a property agent and restoration contractor bought it. I say who needs to book a flight ticket when venturing out with a sketchbook lets you rediscover places like these locally!

House No.56 on Spottiswoode Park Road

House No.56 on Spottiswoode Park Road

Contender 4 is another beauty on Spottiswoode Park Road but a beauty with a sinister history. Apparently as per a lot of sources, a murder took place inside those walls. If it was up to Agatha Christie, I’m sure ‘Murder at House no. 56’ would be available in paperback and in the televised version we’d see monsieur Poirot pacing outside the wrought iron gates, tilting his egg shaped head to the side, twitching his waxed moustache and saying to Hastings, ‘Mon ami, let us eliminate the suspects one by one’.

L'Entrecote at Duxton Hill

L’Entrecote – a steak and fries bistro at 36 Duxton Hill

Wonky lines and all, I like how my contender 5 turned out. Duxton Hill is pretty as a picture, so settling on one subject is difficult until I found this lady in red and sketched her pronto. Two grey haired gentlemen hurried out of an office probably for a meeting and stopped briefly to check what I was doing on the floor of their corridor and on their way back asked if I take commissions. Then came a realtor cum historian who shoved his business card into my ink stained hands and asked to get in touch for future prospects. Nothing came out of both, but I still love how regular people going about their business get excited by art and are forced to stop by, linger and sometimes have heartfelt conversations with this absolute stranger!

So, if you’re wondering which three I chose for the exhibition, well, I took an opinion poll – asked friends, relatives, acquaintances for their choices and then of course went with the ones I always had in mind. Isn’t that what everybody does?

My three musketeers! (Excuse the poor lighting)

My three musketeers!

Anyway, by now if you’re feeling the unrelenting desire to drop everything and rush to the exhibition to check out my artwork, well then, who am I to stop you. Here’s the invite –

This is the invitation card with details of the venue and opening hours in case someone feels like buying local art

Go feast your eyes!