Tag Archives: design

The two of us

Canada sketchbook 1st page

Yes!

I made this illustration on the first page of my Moleskine Japanese album, a 48 page concertina sketchbook I am taking with me on this trip.

This is just a warm up drawing before the real travel sketching begins which would be quick and messy, sometimes drawn in comfy chairs inside nice cafes with a fascinating scene unfolding outside the window or sitting on hard ground in a really uncomfortable position under the midday sun or in a breeze so strong that you have to use binder clips to secure the pages so they don’t fly away and with people gathered around and watching every stroke you make.

In short my travel sketches are nothing like this illo which I patiently created in the comfort of my studio! But that doesn’t detract from the fact that I love travel sketching.

I love its ‘unfinished’ nature and its immediacy. I love that I am able to pin down a moment, a scene, a season, a dialogue, a trend or say an emotion I witnessed on paper using hasty lines and scribbles.

But what I love most is cracking open my travel journal long after the trip is over.

Sure you remember the rice paper rolls and coffee you had for lunch at Melbourne’s Federation Square three Christmases back because you drew them but the joy of remembering how warm the sun felt on your face is unparalleled and the scores of seagulls hopping around begging for food and that the staff at Starbucks who got your name right the first time. It all comes back!

So here I go again for two weeks touring Vancouver, the Canadian Rockies, Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto and I am planning to sketch as much as I can and when I am back I hope to eventually share the drawings here on the blog.

By the way, you couldn’t tell that we love playing Scrabble, could you?

 

 

Advertisements

Six months in Seoul

The allure of travel has kept us on our toes. Literally.

During the last ten years we have moved from Delhi to Munich, Munich to Singapore and this week we complete six months in Seoul. Being peripatetic has its rewards but it also means getting to know a place intimately, calling it home, making ourselves comfortable and then leaving everything we were drawing comfort from for another place.

Before this new leg of the journey gets interesting, before you realize it was all worth it, moving is plain scary, no matter how many times you may have done it.

Countless nights are spent laying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, riddled with doubt and anxiety that invariably comes when you are about to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Moving to Seoul felt no different until at my farewell dinner a friend gave every attendee a fortune cookie and I got this message inside mine.

IMG_7915

Never has a moulded scrap of flour made more sense.

Do something you always wanted to do. It’ll be fun. This message hit the nail on the head!

Sometimes we are so worried about the outcome of a decision that we forget why we took it in the first place. In our case it was because we wanted to live in a new place, make new friends, explore yet another part of the world, learn about its history and culture and traditions, read its books, hear its songs, watch its sunsets, drive on its roads, work at its offices, learn its language, taste its food, drink its coffee, basically spend time discovering it at our own pace.

We spent the last six months doing exactly that and truth be told the ride has been bumpy at times but it sure has been very enjoyable, especially with a sketchbook in hand.

Insadong’s charm

lies in its alleys as I found out on one of my sketching trips.

I had been waiting to go out sketching for a while but I’m slowly realizing in my first year in Seoul that to wait for the perfect day in the months of July and August is to wait forever. After two weeks of oppressive heat it has been raining incessantly.

Needless to say that I arrived at Insadong on a rainy afternoon and after securing a map with tons of information about the area from the tourist office (out of exit 6 of Anguk Station), I decided to do away with it. The rain was turning it into pulp.

Lying straight ahead was the 700 meters long and 12 meters wide pedestrian (on weekends) street called Insadong Gil, stretching from Anguk-dong to Jogno 2-ga. It has a 7 meters tall Korean calligraphy brush sculpture at the beginning which I had already seen on my earlier visit.

Insadong for blog2

Ajumma standing in front of her hanok and the neighbourhood delivery guy passing by

I was also done browsing through the street’s innumerable souvenir shops, folk handicraft stores, art galleries, Korean paper shops, had tipped my hat to world’s only Starbucks with its signage written in local language, visited a traditional tea house and checked out the quirky Ssamziegil mall.

As per the guidebooks I could have checked Insadong off my list of places to see. What more was there?

A curiosity laden turn away from the main commercial street into the atmospheric side alleys revealed the answer.

What I saw and then sketched seemed like an alternate Insadong, one I didn’t know existed – a watered-down version of the deeply cultural neighbourhood of 1930s selling antiques, books and art, way before its colonisation by coffee chains and cosmetic shops, before Korean war even.

Insadong pic

Insadong 16-gil

First thing that hits you when you make this unplanned diversion is how quiet and empty the alleys are, a welcome respite from the neurotic busyness of the main strip. Barring a monk, a school girl and a delivery guy I hardly saw anyone. And then in the course of exploring this labyrinth of narrow arteries, one leading to another and sometimes ending abruptly in a cul de sac, you get a whiff of old Seoul that maybe gritty and rough around the edges but is authentic to the core.

IMG_9574

One of Insadong’s many narrow alleys

With Insadong’s popularity with tourists in the recent years, rents on the main street have soared such that it can only be afforded by big commercial establishments, thereby pushing older, smaller businesses and artists to the winding back alleys laid out 500-600 years ago (dating back to the Joseon dynasty), where life is still quaint, unhurried and very ordinary.

IMG_9573

Another beautiful alley in Insadong

I saw laundry drying on wires, potted plants outside wooden doors, beer bottles stacked in crates, cracked egg shells lying near a trash can filled to the brim, a plastic broom, a wind chime, music wafting out from open windows, someone napping on a red chair by the kitchen and pigeons hopping around, drinking rain water collected in little potholes where the road had caved in. An ajumma (as middle-aged Korean ladies are respectfully called) was standing in front of her hanok (old Korean cottages) turned restaurant, caressing a snarly lap dog and staring at me with utter intrigue.

I was sitting on the steps of a closed bar in an alley I had just wandered in, and had started drawing.  For the longest time ajumma maintained a distance from me, trying to understand what I was doing while pacing outside an imaginary fence that seemed to be between us.

Insadong linework2

I got to work, started tracing lines with my eyes and then put ink on paper.

Slowly but surely. A bunch of Absolut Vodka bottles, window slats and a door emerged.

I am always amazed how drawing makes you lose all sense of time. You surrender to this repetitive cycle of seeing, comprehending and mark making. Everything else becomes invisible. I find this heightened sense of focus the only way to connect with my new environment. You get to immerse yourself so deeply and wholly in the process that when you emerge, you feel a kinship with the place you were drawing. It doesn’t look as foreign as it did when you started out.

I like to believe that by connecting with my environment in such a way I blend in and don’t look as foreign to it too and become an ordinary person sitting in the corner doing something innocuous. That’s when imaginary fences vanish. Ajumma comes over. The dog too. They are thrilled I drew their house. The dog shows its appreciation by not snarling at me anymore and Ajumma by bringing me a steaming cup of coffee in a paper cup.

Insadong linework

A sketch and two steaming cups of coffee. I added the delivery guy later.

I must accept it, she insists. Then she takes my sketchbook and shows my sketch to her neighbours. They come closer to meet me. We huddle on the stairs, touch shoulders and giggle at our communicational ineptitude. Another cup of coffee is placed before me. When the neighbourhood delivery guy passes by, everybody raises their hands to wave at him.

I raise my hand to wave at him too, on impulse and realize that it doesn’t look out of place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New kid on the block

Shopping, eating, drinking and sometimes gawking at the mind bending architecture of shopping malls is what we relate Orchard Road with in Singapore.

Sitting with a book in a quiet meditative corner isn’t what you particularly come to Orchard for. Well, you can be adamant and try sitting in a cafe perhaps, burying your head in a pile of text, but what you can’t do is obstruct the relentless stream of people gushing in and out through its doors with shopping bags, the drone of their collective orders of latte and green tea jabbing your focus, their hot fervent gossips about the latest bag, gadget or underwear tingling your ears, and their restless animated bodies scuffling to find that elusive ‘perfect’ seat’ making you want to stand up and offer yours.

Library at Orchard Gateway

Library at Orchard Gateway – a section of the wooden theatre-style seating gets sketched here

Well, the good news is, as incongruous as it may sound, Orchard Road – the queen of glitz and glamour, has gained a public library in its armoury. And as soon as we got a whiff of the news, my friends and I rushed to check it out, sketchbooks in tow. Clearly the space wasn’t designed in a hurry – the new kid on the blocks, spanning across two floors, has lot of style and panache! One of the floors have wooden wiggly, wave shaped book racks flanked by a theatre style seating affixed with plug points and lights.

Upstairs has even more interestingly designed seating areas – some with a glimpse of the streetscape, some reminding you of an airport lounge and some cozy and secluded, just the way you want it. Though primarily stocked with design and applied arts books, the fiction and cookbook section is pretty verdant. The book drop off and borrowing points are niftier and there’s a huge section of magazine drawers aligned in straight rows with lush glossy covers staring out at you, giving the impression of a heavily postered wall!

While the Central Library at Bugis, still remains my mecca, this one’s a new favourite. Finally, Orchard Road isn’t all about spending anymore.

 

 

Weekend morning trip to a bookstore

I have seen people queuing up for croissants and baguettes outside bakeries on a weekend morning, or waiting for breakfast at cafes after walking their dogs or heading to yoga classes with a lurid pink mat under their arms, but I’ve never spotted people huddling outside a bookstore, checking their watch, waiting for it to open its doors.

These people are my idols, my brothers (or sisters) in arms. I could have been any one of them or will be when my love for books trumps my desire to sleep-in on weekend morning. But today I am here with a different motive. Urban Sketchers Singapore have been allowed to invade the 43,000 sq feet space of Kinokuniya’s flagship store at Ngee Ann City for 3 hours. Why the privilege? Because the store is moving out and when it does, our sketches will serve as sentimental memorabilia.

Now before you start brooding and beating your chest in agony, Kino is not vamoosing for good. It is just moving to the floor above, which – here comes the caveat – will be a smaller space. So if anything, you should be worried about the possible downsizing of your favourite section.

As for me, I am rapidly using my Kino gift cards to buy more books to propitiate the mighty book goddess, praying that my favourite Art and Design section remains forever bountiful. Add to that the travel literatures and also the cookbooks. And the classics.

 

The books were calling my name, especially the art & design section. It was very hard to concentrate.

The books were calling my name, especially those from the ‘art & design’ section, right behind me. It was very hard to concentrate.

In the age of small screens, it is reassuring to see people buy the real thing.

In the age of small screens, it is reassuring to see people buy the real thing.

Thumbs up for this mother (also an urban sketcher) who brought her munchkin to a bookshop early morning.

Thumbs up for this mother (also an urban sketcher) who brought her munchkin to a bookshop early morning.

Ignoring the resounding book pleas and sketching more shelves. I am a saint!

Ignoring the resounding book pleas and sketching more shelves. I am a saint!