How far would you go

to get yourself a sketch? I’ve faced some uncomfortable situations trying to finish a drawing when conditions have been less than ideal. And by that I don’t mean having to draw my Martini glass because drawing anything else would need craning my neck from time to time, and wouldn’t that be an errant imposition? No, I didn’t mean that at all!

I’m alluding to conditions slightly more disagreeable, situations where you’d need to muster the will to see through the process, and in my case the likes of trying to find a smidgen of dry space to stand on and crack open my sketchbook inside Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market and having to make do with a slick pavement of fish scales, grime and dark coagulated blood from the monstrous piles of tuna flesh stacked on a handcart behind me. Or squinting my eyes to guard the midday sun in Mumbai’s blistering heat to capture the Gateway of India. Or hanging from a kiddy stool typical of Melbourne’s laneway cafes for half an hour and having my feet stomped upon by countless tourists incessantly just to get that pretty patisserie across the road on paper.

I would go on with my exhibition of bravado for the sake of art but I rather not. My bragging rights have been put into perspective after reading viral posts about artists who’ve ventured into war zones, conflict-ridden territories and uninhabitable climes to report, record and interpret what they see of this world through absolutely fetching drawings.

Well, let’s just say we’ve all endured different degrees of discomfort in the process of making art en plein air. And just as these instances remain etched in memory soaking in masochistic pleasure juices, so are the times that deprive us of them, the times when everything go right, the environment is ideal. Rare they may be, but definitely not extinct. Once in a long while there’ll be a perfect view spread right in front of you and although it’ll be midday and the afternoon heat will char your skin as if on fire, the branches of a raintree in the corner will be aligned such that the sun will be blocked out and on that very spot of shade will stand a table with a lone chair that by some astonishing stroke of luck will be unoccupied.

What do you do when that happens? This below is what I did –

Shophouses on Tyrwhitt Road

Shophouses on Tyrwhitt Road in Jalan Besar sketched from a foodcourt that faces this view









5 thoughts on “How far would you go

  1. writingbolt

    There may be an adventure story to be told by enduring such conditions. But, would it not be easier and safer to snap a photo and work from that in more favorable conditions? Otherwise, isn’t there great risk in not only losing your work but your life as well? Is the risk worth the art? I doubt it. The story of your survival will be far more valuable. But, if you are thrust by fate into a disaster and come away from that with some drawing you fabricated to capture the moment, I guess that’s something to treasure. Though, I would be more interested in getting out of harm’s way than working on a masterpiece or even a doodle.

    Oh, did you hear the sad news? Jake’s wife died while trying to paint a flower market during tourist season. Yeah. The poor thing, she went out with her easel and supplies in the worst weather.

    When climate is against you, I think the heavens are saying, “Do something else now. Save the art for another day.”

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Hi! Thanks for writing in! Yes I agree with you. Usually I believe in taking calculated risks but I think it really varies from person to person as to how far they want to go for the sake of art. It’s a choice. It also depends on the kind of art they make, the subjects they choose, their medium of expression and above all the story they want to tell through their creations. If it rains or snows on site a landscape artist can afford to take pictures and finish the drawing later in the studio but for a reportage illustrator that’s not an option – he/she has to be in the midst of action, in that moment to capture the essence of whatever’s happening. An artist named Veronica Lawlor drew on the spot during the 9/11 attacks, for which she obviously wasn’t prepared or commissioned. Being a reportage illustrator she instinctively picked a pen and paper to start drawing everything around her. That was her way of processing the bedlam. Was she at risk? Am sure she was. But she didn’t save the art for another day. And that was her call.

      1. writingbolt

        Again, I am inclined to stand by my word. If someone is “reporting” on something like 9/11, do you really want to be painting among panicked people and destruction to “capture the impact?” If you must do anything of the sort, I would snap a picture with a camera and get out of harm’s way. If you need to do some sort of tribute art, you do it later. If there is some face in the crowd you want to capture for emotional impact art, you snap a picture, also. But, it seems kind of strange to be doing art when people are in harm’s way or distress. One might ask…who are you and why are you doing art when the rest of us are so deeply troubled by what is happening? If I was involved in such a disaster, facing loss and shocked by the scene, and I saw someone trying to capture it all on a canvas, I’d be a lil irked to say the least. I don’t understand how there is so much video footage and photos of some war scenes when there are people fighting and lives in jeopardy. It amazes me news crews and other artists can safely capture and elude harm while others get blown apart and crushed.

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