Tag Archives: Moleskine

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?

 

 

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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!

 

 

Absconding with a reason!

Hatching the plan

Having tackled the drudgery of life for an entire year (also known as living!) we decided to get our lungs some antipodean air and come back ably renewed and refreshed to pick up the yoke of 2015. By the way, Happy New Year folks!

Seeing it through

That innocent decision birthed in a moment of romantic wanderlust was followed by endless reading, preparing, planning, discussing, arguing, booking, packing and apprehending. The process was tedious and grossly unromantic. But we didn’t give up. Not because the smell of adventure kindled our vigour. The flight tickets were non-refundable.

Front Cover of my trusty Moleskine Japanese Album. I gave it a facelift!

Front cover of my trusty Moleskine Japanese Album. I gave it a facelift!

Making a decision (at least trying to)

When things started falling in place, this is what the itinerary looked like : We’d spend 25th Dec to 31st Dec in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and from 1st Jan to 10th Jan we will hire a car and drive around scenic routes in the South Island of New Zealand. So naturally, even before deciding what to wear, my one track mind was thinking of ways to capture the experience in pages. It made lofty promises of filling sketchbooks and loose sheets with astounding art and demanded I buy suitable art supplies to be able to achieve that. We debated day and night, weighed pros and cons, charged each other with a salvo of arguments, defended with smart retorts. It wasn’t easy. ( Yes, I have a fertile imagination and a very active inner dialogue). But we came to a decision.

 

Justifying that decision

Backcover of my Japanese Album decorated with stickers I collected from various locations - some bought, some handed for free by museums, souvenir shops, tourist info centres who thought it was 'such a neat idea'!

Back cover of my Japanese Album decorated with stickers I collected from various locations – some bought, some handed for free by museums, souvenir shops, tourist info centres who thought it was ‘such a neat idea’!

It would have to be Moleskine’s Japanese Album with 50 pages, 165gsm.

It ticked almost all the boxes. The idea was to carry something handy that fits in the bag easily, isn’t heavy and definitely not intimidating for my subjects. A smaller page would also mean lesser time investment when filling it. But most of all, I was hunting for something, where I could illustrate the entire trip, the whole 19 days in one continuous sheet of paper, where daily events can merge into one another and the observer can see everything without having to turn the page! Wouldn’t that be fun! As you can see from the picture below, the Japanese Album fits the bill! The only quibble is that the paper isn’t great for watercolours, but accepts light washes. I took that in my stride coz, the aim was not to produce elaborate frame worthy paintings, but to document the journey by illustrating my thoughts, misgivings, explorations, observations.

 

This is how the sketchbook looks when I open it

I unfolded the sketchbook and laid it on the floor of my study.

Going for it

I documented every single day on the trip starting 25th December 2014 and ending on 12th January 2015. It took a bit of getting used to initially both for me and my husband until with a bit of discipline it became second nature. Every single morning I’d sense the potent urge to record my observations for that day and my travel partner would learn to give me time and space, sometimes patiently lingering in the background or finding things to do on his own. In that sense, the 50 pages worth of memories that I hold in my hand is a collaboration.

In the first two pages I drew every single item that went inside my blue Herschel daypack that I carried on the trip, for sketching on the go. It weighed slightly less than 5Kgs, although I learnt to downsize based on what I wanted to carry on a particular day.

This is what I packed in my backpack for sketching on the trip

This is what I packed in my backpack for sketching on the trip

I’ll share the rest of my sketches from the trip on this blog, accompanied by little stories. Should be fun! Regurgitating and reminiscing begins.

 

Why I didn’t bake the cake..

Every year, on my husband’s birthday I prepare an elaborate meal that I am really proud of, and a very basic chocolate cake that somehow scrapes by. Now I am not much of a baker and it’s a breeze to order a fancy, much superior cake from the store. But I don’t do the obvious, however tempting that is. There’s an undeniable masochistic pleasure in attempting something I am averse to for someone I care about! Hence the arduous whipping and whirling.

This year however, my conviction was intercepted. Gifts were wrapped, the meal was prepped and planned, the dessert was setting in the refrigerator and I almost had the cake in the bag. That’s when I heard about the monthly urban sketching event occurring at and around one of the grandest buildings of Singapore – Raffles Hotel. Hanging out with fifty art enthusiasts sketching, sharing ideas, getting inspired or solitary whipping and whirling in the kitchen? Filling juicy double spreads in my Moleskine or watching an egg and flour concoction rise? Easy right?

Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel sketched from the front

The grandeur of hotel’s colonial architecture matched with the placid greenery of the travellers palms and sweet scented frangipanis, still harks back to the romance of 19th and 20th century travel when writers, historians, explorers and sojourners showed up in their schooners, eager to ‘discover’ the exotic East and booked their stay at this place.

A beautifully curated in-house museum, which unfortunately is closed now, housed vivid memorabilia of the yesteryears – handwritten postcards, luggage labels, old photographs, guidebooks, hotel brochures, advertisements, posters that gave visitors a glimpse into the lives of the boarders who romped around these corridors, waltzed in the ballroom, nursed tall glasses of Singapore Sling in the Long Bar and wrote passionately (Hint: Somerset Maugham) in the tranquility of the outdoor verandas overlooking the Palm Court.

Amid the modern landscape – which has changed heaps since 1887 when Raffles Hotel was established – this little oasis on Beach Road looks like a stubborn time capsule. It is this incongruity that excites me every time I walk into the property past the tall liveried Sikh guards manning it’s doors since the days of yore. Over the years, land reclamation has pushed the waterfront further away and instead of jinrikshaws and hackney carriages, fancy cars are pull up the driveway.

Plonked on a sidewalk, I sketch this scene for over an hour, losing myself in the immense neo-Renaissance architectural details that doesn’t meet the eye when you look at the facade but magically unveil when you try to capture on paper. The Sikh guard came over twice to check my progress.

Seah Street

Seah Street

Seah Street adjoining Raffles hotel is the example of a typical Singaporean street that I love to sketch because of its potent mishmash of extremes. The architecture segues from Straits Baroque to Art Decco, the businesses range from hipster pubs and bistro bars to pedestrian chicken rice stalls, punctuated with old Chinese clan associations and trade centers, all in one row, cheek by jowl, sharing walls, awnings, parking space and history.

The street itself was named after the prominent Seah family. Eu Chin Seah an immigrant from South China was a wealthy merchant ( he made a fortune in gambier and pepper plantations and was called the ‘King of Gambier’) and a leader of the Chinese community in 19th century Singapore. So were his sons Seah Liang Seah and Seah Peck Seah, who also have streets named after them. What’s interesting further is that the three parallel streets in the Bras Basah area : Middle Road, Purvis Street and Seah Street used to be the original settlement site for the Hainanese immigrants (The ‘Singapore Hainan Society’ sign board that’s to the left bottom of my sketch on Seah St hints at this) and were known as Hainan First Street, Hainan Second Street and Hainan Third Street.

Considering that the Hainanese were mainly employed in the service industry (in local hotels, restaurants, bars and bakeries as cooks and domestic servants) it isn’t surprising that the famous ‘Singapore Sling’ birthed at the hands of Ngian Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at Raffles Hotel in 1915. See the blatant red awnings of Sin Swee Kee Chicken Rice stall in my sketch? Well, they house the famous chicken rice, that was first adapted to its current form by Wong Yi Yuan a Hainanese immigrant and later popularised by his apprentice Mok Fu Swee, through these restaurants.

Besides witnessing layers of history, what drives me to capture such streets in my sketchbook is their dynamism, their ever changing, continuously morphing nature. If you’ve lived in Singapore you’d know what’s here on this street today won’t necessarily be there tomorrow. One of the most common sights on the road I believe is the large moving truck! At least, when this scenery changes and it will I’m positive, my Moleskine will bear testimony to a time gone by.

For now, it justifies my skipping an yearly ritual. My husband understands.