Tag Archives: Jalan Besar

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









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





Whimsical Vowels

Sunday evenings are rife with the sweet pain of separation. The sought after ‘weekend’ buoyant and alive in your arms a moment ago grows listless and impatient as the day proceeds. You already feel the tug and in utter despair try finding ways to stretch whatever time you have with one another.

In our case, it leads to a frantic internet search for cafes, preferably somewhere we’ve never been to and can spend the evening there, reading, lounging, chatting, eating and drinking, and of course sketching till the staff puts away their aprons and chef hats and the ‘open’ sign on the front door has been flipped. In short, a place where we could save ourselves from moping till bedtime.


AEIOU Cafe sketch closeup

The success rate of finding such a place maybe abysmal – if the ambience works, the coffee disappoints; if coffee’s good, the chairs are stiff; if the chairs are comfy, the staff maybe unfriendly – but we do get lucky sometimes. Last week’s search yielded the names of few interesting places in the Jalan Besar area, out of which we picked ‘AEIOU’ because it’s been popping on my newsfeed a lot lately.


AEIOU Cafe sketch: Of all the items that were on my table and around me, I picked out some at random and designed an illustration that expresses the wonder I felt sitting among such outlandish and whimsical decor

If this cafe was a person, I’d imagine him wearing mismatched socks with self doodled converse shoes paired with black suit, pinstripe shirt and his grandfather’s beret.  He’d also have a ponytail, dyed purple and a satchel fashioned out of discarded denims or burlap sacks slapped across his shoulder. He’ll stand out in a crowd but is oh-so-sure of himself. And in the midst of gawking at this interesting bloke and trying to make sense of his persona, if you simply extend your hand, he’ll take it warmly and make you feel comfortable. That is how we felt for the rest of the evening.

AEIOU Cafe - close up

AEIOU Cafe sketch close up

“Look at our table – it’s made out of a grilled window!”, whispered my husband. The glass in which his drink appeared was a chopped off portion of Grey Goose Vodka bottle. About us were mismatched old fashioned chairs, battered drum working as a flower vase, robots made out of tin cans that used to hold salad oil, hanging lamps made of kettles and toolboxes, pipes and window frames, suspended hot air balloons that doubled as decorative plant holder, jaded 70s furniture with funky paint on them and so much more that even before we ordered, I started sketching this whimsical mess and became extremely unsociable until the ‘root vegetable fries’ arrived. My husband picked out the potatoes for himself and piled the yams and sweet potatoes on my side. This sneaky underhand tactic worked only because I loved the taste of my side of tubers.

AEIOU Cafe sketch closeup

AEIOU Cafe sketch closeup

In another two hours I finished sketching over several cups of green tea. Reluctant to leave just yet, we ordered dinner with enough apprehension. If the food was meh I would’ve let it slide because you can’t tick all the boxes plus we were already having a good time. My chicken burger with a light salad atop a dino shaped wooden platter was gourmet standard. So it scored a last minute place in the sketch before the calls of ‘last order’ came and with it all the signs and signals of closure.

Monday was inevitable and looming large. We were ready.