Tag Archives: cafe illustration

Things no one sees

are the ones that keep me occupied for hours. If you’ve read my earlier post –  Had people watching – you must be aware of my penchant for practicing flânerie, especially at cafes and how I channel my people watching / observation skills into making art.

 

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Just a guy alone with his coffee savouring a quiet moment

So far it’s been fun! Sketching is a mindful exercise and extremely gratifying, but sketching people is enlivening. There isn’t a moment of dullness or monotony because no two people you sketch can be alike. They differ not just in their attire and mannerisms but also in their interaction with/reaction to their surroundings.

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This couple started out acting all lovey-dovey, listening to the same music, leaning on each other, holding hands and then everything went downhill from there in the next 10 mins until one of them stormed out. Ah, the capriciousness of love.

These people captured in my sketchbook can be generically labelled as say, the coffee drinkers of Singapore because that’s what they’re technically there for but that’s not the only thing they do or if you’re observant enough, that’s not the only thing you see them doing. I once sketched a chain-smoker with a lot of swagger sipping coffee and blowing smoke into the ‘No smoking ‘ sign right next to him.

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Two very fashionable ladies and a guy sitting in between them with hand on his head. One of the women was ranting in Japanese and the two were mostly zoned out, I think.

That same week I had also sketched a girl who was part of big group that ate and drank quite liberally at the cafe but right before leaving she was the only person who cleared every bit of trash on their messy table before walking out.

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This bunch of pimply faced boys were from Anglo Chinese School and were studying ‘O level Topical Physics’ at Starbucks. They were all plugged in to their phones, swinging shoulders from time to time and sipping Macha lattes. These surely are different times!

With each sketch I get to peep into a stranger’s life for few minutes and capture them living an ordinary moment which otherwise would have gone unnoticed, unaccounted for. For example the Chinese grandma wearing jade bangles and a frumpy top on what seemed like her first trip to Starbucks was another fun subject to sketch.

 

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(L) This cute grandma had a strident voice, a blue clamp holding her red hair and jade bangles around her frail wrists. From the way she surveyed the place and the patrons sitting around her from time to time and inspected her cup of latte, it seemed like her first time here at our neighbourhood Starbucks. Don’t miss her colourful shopping trolley!

She looked out of place and excited at the same time to be holding probably her first cup of latte in her wrinkled hand. She may never know this, but 2 meters away I was touched to have witnessed that moment and document it in my sketchbook.

 

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It was really hard to believe that this guy was eating Tiong Bahru Bakery’s Kouign Amann ( which by the way is top notch) with such indifference.

All sorts of students, specially pimply restless school students plugged in to their music sipping frothy matcha latte are common sight at the local Starbucks and always make great subjects for drawing.

 

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(L) – Serious discussion taking place. The guy in the centre doesn’t look amused and kept quiet through the entire conversation.

You see them day and night hunched over a pile of books, fervently highlighting something or the other with coloured markers on their notebooks with their laptops open on the side. This subculture is unique to Singapore, something I haven’t witnessed in any other country I’ve travelled to and therefore having them in my sketchbook is also special.

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(R) The rare sight of someone reading a physical book and then looking up to think about and then reading again. That’s an indie comic book in her hand and a guitar by her side.

It’s hard to imagine that only three months ago I had this incredible fear of drawing people which I write about in the post What if and how I get over it and now have come to enjoy it because it feels as if for once I’m not rushing through life and letting it pass by me but consciously stopping to smell the flowers.

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(L)- This woman had an impermanent tattoo on her hand. The word ‘Love’ written in bold with a glitter pen stood out and and yet seemed incongruous with her austere style. She was alone and seemed lost in thoughts. (R) – I spotted these two women on a late Sunday night. They were mostly gregarious but at one point I saw one of them point finger at the other in a menacing way.

Well, I don’t know where it’s going to take me and if anything will come out of this but as long as I cherish these little stolen moments and revel in the ordinary stories of ordinary people, I will continue to document them in sketchbooks and share with you. Hope you can stop by!

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(L)- A chain smoker with a lot of swagger. He didn’t care about the ‘No Smoking’ sign next to him; (R)  – My husband reading ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ on the day it got released.

 

 

 

 

 

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The ‘Plus Five Hundred’ walks

 

The title maybe beguiling but isn’t misleading I assure you. Here’s the story.

Right after returning from our trip to New York, we were hit with severe jet lag. Time difference had throttled our body clock. It was agonising to stay awake during the day and by night time we felt so alive and active that it was impossible to sleep. So to ease back into the GMT+08:00 time zone as quickly as possible we hatched a plan and decided to execute it immediately. Being the long new year weekend, timing was perfect and the idea was simple –  we must tire ourselves so much during the day that we’d just zonk out by nightfall. But how does one make that happen?

By taking very long walks to get our morning coffee.

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Okay, hmm…but where could we go? Maybe to a cafe/bakery that opens really early and is far enough to warrant a long walk. Quick search on the internet revealed that Tiong Bahru Bakery on Eng Hoon Street is about 5kms from our house and if we set off slightly before 7 in the morning, we could be standing first in line when their door opens. Trust me, there is a line of eager beavers queuing up to grab a seat even before the door opens.

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Some of the goodies at TBB

Besides solving the problem which it was designed for, the walk itself seemed enjoyable, more than we imagined because the two bugaboos – heat and humidity were missing from the equation. Save for the construction workers, a handful of buses, bicyclists and domestic helpers speeding towards Lucky Plaza to spend their day off, the roads were empty, the street lights were on, the sky was mellow and there was a breeze that blew our hair and dried our sweat when we climbed up an incline.

About 7000 steps later we pushed through the wooden door of Tiong Bahru Bakery where giddy with self approbation (and air-conditioning), we rewarded ourselves with sugary buttery treats to accompany the beverages. I wouldn’t mention how they fared because in Singapore, the city of gourmands, the queue for food does all the talking. And there was one snaking from the already house-full cafe’s entrance door till the cash counter which revealed how popular their goodies are with the locals and expats.

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Patrons queueing up inside Tiong Bahru Bakery

Suffice it to say that if you’ve eaten here once chances are you will come back, many more times. Unless we are out of the country, this is where we can be found every Sunday morning swirling in the glistening folds of a Kouign Amann or nestling inside the flaky comfort of an Almond Croissant. Because it was so enjoyable we started walking our way back home from the cafe, making the journey a total of 10kms which should’ve made it the most salubrious habit we ever nurtured if we didn’t know counting. But since we do, here’s the math – for every 500 calories we lose on the walk we pile on 1000 more from our cloying lapse in judgement making the count, you guessed it – plus five hundred. If there’s a lesson to be learnt from this mood dampening revelation it would be to never overthink when you’re having fun.

So naturally, the plus five hundred walks are very much on. Also, should jet lag strike again, we now have the perfect antidote.

 

 

 

 

Cafe Hopping Wednesdays

Hardware Cafe on Tyrwhitt Road

Hardware Cafe on Tyrwhitt Road, Jalan Besar – convivial fuss free ambience and some seriously good coffee

For the past couple of weeks I, in the company of some talented artist friends have been cafe hopping. Yes, it’s a thing here that you can now engage in without seeming flippant. And why not? Singapore’s F&B greenhouse has been spawning some big blooming cafes for the past couple of years.

Curious Palette cafe (on the right) & Dumpling Dinner at Tim Ho Wan (on the left)

(L) Dumpling Dinner at Tim Ho Wan ; (R) Cappuccino at the spunky and hip Curious Palette cafe on Princep Street – try their waffles!

Boutique outlets serving artisanal coffee and sundry (which is more than a sidebar in this context) ranging from handcrafted ice creams, creatively conjured waffle dishes, Instagram worthy pastries, cakes, fusion burgers with clever fillings to an exhaustive range of breakfast, lunch and dining options, have been springing up all over the island.

AEIOU cafe in Jalan Besar

The wonderfully colourful AEIOU cafe in Jalan Besar as you can see here is a treasure trove of cleverly upcycled tchochokes. They whip up some hearty yet classy meals too.

Be it hipster enclaves, sprawling heartlands or the culturally rich districts , you’re never too far from these all pervasive cafes that offer not just coffee and food but far interesting ambience compared to the cookie cutter spaces we are used to.

Pralet Cafe in Tiong Bahru, which is also a Cooking school

Caffe Pralet in Tiong Bahru, which is also a Cooking school dished out one of the best Aglio Olio I ever had

In a bid to distinguish themselves from their competitors, because truth be told everyone sells the same schtick, the cafes’ mommies and daddies dress them up in costumes they think would garner the most candies..umm..customers. Each space is a reflection of personal taste and temperament, therefore unabashedly original.

Bravery Cafe in Jalan Besar

The Bravery Cafe in Jalan Besar has Lavender Coffee!

Some are loud, cluttered, whacky, nonsensical and over the top, reminiscent of say a theme party in an antique dealer’s home or a crafts fair even, while others are unexpectedly austere, minimalistic and pedestrian like a Zen monk’s cave with spartan interiors, exposed brick lining, monochrome wall paint and a sombre looking money plant guarding the entrance.

Park Bench Deli on Telok Ayer Street

Troop to the Park Bench Deli on Telok Ayer Street to gourmandize upon sandwiches and subs with melt in the mouth fillings. The cafe’s cerulean doors always remind me of Santorini!

Whatever the design may be, from an artist’s perspective they’re almost always interesting because we like to observe and until the novelty lasts there’s a lot take in, be excited about and record in our sketchbooks. There’s air-conditioning also, which helps and sometimes a deal breaker, but you can’t judge us for that, not in Singapore.

Grain Traders (on the left) & Tiong Bahru Food Court (on the right)

(L) Grain Traders Cafe has sublime Summer Berries Crumble ; (R) Sketched this at Tiong Bahru Food Court over a chilled lime juice

Therefore every Wednesday afternoon ( Q: Why Wednesdays? A: one of us is free only on that day) we descend on a cafe, grab a table with the most flattering view and comfy seating (easily available because every corporate bigwig and their army of underlings is safely chained to their workstation at such ungodly hour) and once the waitress scoots off with our hurried orders, out comes the art-illery – sketchbooks, paints, brushes, water bottles and what not. We get to work, almost immediately.

The Daily Press Cafe (on the left) & Shophouses on Purvis street (on the right)

(L) The Daily Press Cafe ; (R) Shophouses on Purvis street

There is no small talk, no pressure of asking how astounding or meh the other’s coffee is or what he/she has been planning for the weekend. No foreplay whatsoever. We hunch over our sketchbooks and simply get on with our businesses until it gets done which brings about either a fleeting sense of smugness or lands us in a deep cesspool of self pity depending on our performance, adjudged by the harshest critic around i.e the person who’s work it is. Then we talk about sketchbooks, paper quality, drool over colours and new drawing tools, trying to sound as important and geeky as the next guy on the other table talking about commodity trading.

Creamier Cafe (on the right) & Kopitiam Dinner (on the left)

(L) Korean Dinner of Kimchi fried rice at a Kopitiam in BrasBasah (R) Creamier Cafe in Toa Payoh

Occasionally a patron on her way to the cash counter would hover, make eye contact and say nice things about our sketches. Or the cafe owner confessing his ineptitude at drawing a straight line would become maudlin after watching his precious enclave ( often injected with his entire life savings) being etched in permanent ink and would want to take a picture of our work as a keepsake, which in modern context means for instagramming purposes. Not long after basking in our brief moments in the spotlight we decide on the upcoming venue and adjourn for dinner. Until next week!

AEIOU cafe in Jalan Besar

AEIOU cafe in Jalan Besar