Tag Archives: pen-and-ink

Making sense of most things

Having moved to Seoul only 4 months ago, I am literally a tourist in my own backyard. Most things I see, hear, feel and occasionally taste is new, different and foreign.

A change like this is exciting no doubt, but it can be overwhelming too. Imagine someone pitching 90 mph balls of new information at you, nonstop, everyday, right from the moment you got off the flight. The only problem is you have two hands to do all the catching!

And you want to catch as many balls as you can, as fast as you can because our first instinct when we travel to a new place is to try and make sense of the environment we are in, even before we start comparing it with the one we just left, praising it, deriding it or adapting to it.

Seocho-gu

Seocho-gu neighbourhood, Seoul

Being a sketch artist, drawing constantly is how I make sense of my environment. Spending time at any particular place, observing it in a way I would never have if I was walking past, and documenting it on a piece of paper is how I catch those metaphorical balls of information and process them.

Like this random scene I sketched the other day of my neighbourhood in Seocho-gu, a district south of the Han river and found that in the shadow of glamorous looking high rises lining the main thoroughfares, there are these two/three storied honky-tonk buildings in the back lanes, covered with bold coloured signages, housing barbecue joints, fried chicken and beer stalls, underground bars, design studios, themed cafes, bubble tea stores, E-Marts and 7 x 11s, beauty parlours, English learning centres and an automobile repair shop, even.

Seocho-gu sketch

Pen and ink drawing of a random street in Seocho-gu, Seoul

And crisscrossing the scenery or most sceneries in this city are these ubiquitous overhead power lines flying out in every direction from utility poles.

Usually after the initial curiosity of people upon seeing a foreigner sitting on a foldable stool in the street and doodling in her sketchbook has been met, I am left alone. As time passes, the ripple I had caused by being there, starts to smoothen. The novelty wears off. I am offered a glass of water here and a thumbs up there. Furrowed eyebrows are replaced with nods and smiles. Conversations are initiated and had using hand gestures and monosyllabic English. Soon enough someone clicks a picture.

And just like that I become a part of the scene I was trying to make sense of.

Isn’t that amazing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The girl with the selfie stick

told me there was going to be a parade.

What parade?

I am the kind of a person who likes to be prepared. Wikipedia, Google maps, subway routes and the weather app – all had been read and consulted with before I got here, inside Deoksugung Palace, one of Seoul’s four royal palaces to sketch with a bunch of local artists.

Then how did I skip the part about this parade? An oversight perhaps. All I know is finding a gaping hole in my pre-trip research, something I am a self-confessed expert of had taken the wind out of my sails was a wee bit soul crushing.

Deoksugung Palace

Junghwamun Gate inside Deoksugung Palace, Seoul.

It’s the changing of guards ceremony. Happens thrice a day…here they come“, she offered kindly, mistaking incredulity for curiosity. Wedged between her body and her thin arm was a fat Japanese guidebook on Korea.

I could already hear the drums and the sound of marching footsteps round the corner. Grabbing a bench facing the mighty Junghwamun – the inner palace gate leading to the main throne hall – I quickly laid out my sketching gear and waited with a dip pen and a bottle of ink in hand. The Japanese tourist had her phone propped up with a selfie stick and was standing by the road, also waiting. You can see her in my sketch.

As the sightly procession of uniformed guards carrying colourful flags passed us by, we captured the event in our own way.

Before leaving she asked me if I was a tourist too and though I still feel like one, I found myself savouring the fact that I wasn’t and therefore could visit this palace and watch this ceremony as many times as I wanted.

What was even more uplifting was when I reached inside by bag and touched the reassuring crook handle of my umbrella. “Wasn’t it supposed to…”. 

After several balmy days, it had rained very heavily that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She made me look fat

Sometimes while doing the most inane tasks like staring at your toe nails for example, have you ever been stricken with a surge of creative energy that makes you feel you could do anything?

I have and before it fizzled out I rode with it and some sketching supplies on the subway to Hoehyeon station, emerged out of Exit 5 and walked straight into a noisy, overcrowded, confusing maze called Namdaemun Market, Korea’s largest traditional market with 600 years of history.

The first order of business was to orient myself and then locate a discreet corner from where I could sketch without being in the way of either the vendors or the shoppers. I got hopelessly lost instead which wasn’t exactly surprising considering I was a first time visitor to a market that has over 10,000 stores and is visited by 300,000 people a day.

Namdaemun Market

Sketching on Fashion Street in Namdaemun Market, Seoul

To give you a idea, here’s a list of the items I saw being sold on just one of the streets – hats (all kinds imaginable and more), fur coats, dried nuts, dumplings, spectacles, stone seals, eerie looking ginseng with their sinewy roots stored in clear glass jars and miles of kitchen utensils. I was beginning to believe in the saying that if you don’t find it in Namdaemun Market, you won’t find it anywhere in Seoul.

N Market pic.jpg

View from my corner on Fashion Street.

A map, which I had snagged from the tourist information centre in the meantime showed entire alleys and streets dedicated to cameras, bedding items, watches and jewellery, mountain climbing equipments, women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, stationaries and more.

When I spotted yards of army green stretched out in the form of military uniforms, T-shirts, caps, blankets, boots, sacks, compasses, watches and telescopes, I knew I had hit the ‘Military Uniform Street’ on my way back from the ‘Fish and Stew Alley’. Galchi jorim, or braised hairtail fish stew, one of Namdaemun Market’s famed food offerings along with Kalguksu (Korean knife-cut noodle soup) have to wait for my next visit.

Nmarket colour op 2

Namdaemun Market in Seoul – Korea’s largest traditional market. Drawn with dip pen and ink.

This visit was all about channeling my chance ebullience fuelled by the mood enhancing amino acid in my matcha latte for all I knew and perhaps the fact that I had been feeling pretty sketch-deprived lately. Seoul is still new to me. I don’t know the best spots to sketch from yet. Finding out can be fun but sometimes exhausting too when you just want to get down to business!

‘Fashion Street’ had one little corner squeezed in between a fur coat vendor, shirt, pants and coat seller and a shop selling pink and cutesy Mickey mouse themed merchandise from where I made this drawing. Tons of people came to look and showed various signs of appreciation though I didn’t understand a word they said. What I clearly did understand simply because some things transcend languages, was when fur coat vendor in his excitement dragged Mickey mouse lady by the arm to show how I had put her in my sketch and she self consciously touched her waist and said, “She made me look fat!” and marched off.

 

 

 

 

 

Sketching Vintage

Vintage Car

‘You have the sexiest babe out here’, I say to Andrew Webster’s face, the moment I walk into him with my sketchbook and pen. He grins. ‘You think so! Well, people do like her colour…but there are many beautiful ladies out here.’ he says modestly and scans the row of luscious dames standing in a neat array with information plates displaying their names, make and other interesting snippets. IMG_4254

National Heritage Board(NHB) of Singapore with Malaysia & Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) had jointly organised “Motoring Heritage Day 2013”, a spectacular display of 50 vintage and classic cars from the 1930s to 1970s era. The location for the exhibition – the 79 year old art deco Tanjong Pagar Railway Station which had ceased operations two years ago and was gazetted as a national monument – couldn’t have been more befitting.
V1The day is muggy and grey and the platform is ageing, monochromatic but the burst of colours on the glistening bodies – in sparkling shades of blue, red, yellow, green and so on – along the abandoned railway track is all it takes to swing the mood. Scores of visitors pour in to view the finest, immaculately preserved historic vehicles in Singapore –  photographing, videotaping, sketching or just gaping at them, documenting the scene in some way, imprinting in their memory this rare once in a year exhibit.
Some owners of these million dollar beauties sit behind their cars impassively, in mild coloured polo necks matched with a beret, semi-casual shorts and moccasins, smoking cigars, talking about the yesteryears, reminiscing, while others in Tees, sneakers and sombreros make rounds, mingle with the crowd and answer questions.
I have never drawn cars before, but am instantly drawn to these period vehicles. Their exotic features, classy design and scrumptious colours make each one seem like a work of art and immeasurably desirable.
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Desire catapults inexperience, and soon enough I start outlining their smooth and flowing bodies with deeply valenced fenders and elegantly cowled back wheels, footboards, long hoods and showy chrome radiator jackets, glass windscreens with sunshades and snug leather seats and the distinctive cockpit-like wooden dashboards. “If I was a guy, I’d marry her’, says an overwhelmed vintage car enthusiast. I’d show her off all the time, if I had one. Wishful thinking! Not only because they are ridiculously expensive to buy and maintain but as per Classic and Vintage Vehicle Schemes in Singapore, there are usage restrictions on these cars as they ‘are not meant to serve day to day transport needs of their owners’. “Many of these cars can be used only upto 28 days in a year.” says the owner of a 1972 Morris Mini 1000. I get back to sketching.
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What a joy it is to swerve and glide the pen, outlining the undulating curves, the sinuous stretches and lithe trails that make the retro bodies of these vintage and classic cars. To pick out few favourites, I try to scan the complete row by walking briskly from one end to another, but stop before a 1936 Armstrong Siddley and gape lasciviously at it before moving on to a 1969 Aston Martin DB6 which gets my pulse racing; then double back to catch the 1973 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet that I had missed, turn mushy, slowly tear away and forge ahead till the end with many such intermittent stops.
V4I am spurred on to get all 50 cars down in my sketchbook, but my hands don’t move fast enough, in fact they turn clammy when I panic about the lack of enough time, my perspective goes awry, too many people block the view, pushing and shoving and then comes the rain – the hard hitting tropical rain that wipes out spectators, dulls the fun and drowns my plan.
To escape the rain, we climb the sprawling platform and join the car owners now eating lunch out of plastic trays, still posted dutifully behind their vehicles. The rain hardly perturbs their composure. But the inclement weather lets me appreciate the rear of the vehicles which is no less striking than the front.  I take out my tools and resume sketching. Andrew is happy with my pen-and-ink rendition of his bright red 1938 MGTA Midget and flips open his iPad to take a picture. “There’s another one down this line that I own. Want to take a look?”.
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