Tag Archives: travelsketching

The two of us

Canada sketchbook 1st page


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?




Gwangjang Market

is worth a visit not just for the finger-licking good street food as all guidebooks promise but also for the experience of buying that street food and eating it in a traditional market. Not that I needed any convincing. I love visiting traditional markets. I have loved visiting traditional markets before they were ‘traditional’.

In the little town I grew up in Eastern India, my parents used to take me to the local bazaar every week. Too little to help in any other way my job was to hold the cotton tote bags tightly to my chest until the vegetable seller finished weighing baskets of potatoes, onions, carrots, brinjals, green beans my parents had picked out and nodded in my direction.

I would keep my eyes peeled for that signal and would immediately stand on my toes and hand the ‘vegetable bag’ to him or her. Then we would go to the fish section and the poultry section and I’d hand the ‘fish bag’ and the ‘poultry bag’.

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Sketch of a Mung Bean Pancake stall in Gwangjang Market using dip pen and ink

More than the vegetable peels, fish scales, feathers and blood strewn alleys, more than the glinting knives and weighing scales, more than the stench of open drains and smell of sweat, more than the feel of weathered notes and wet coins exchanging hands, more than the loud street cries of merchants and haggling by their customers and the screeching of chickens about to be slaughtered, more than buzzing flies and limping dogs, more than the rough leathery hands of shop owners, more than the waves of people we pushed through and more than the glow of bulbs and hurricane lamps that painted everything a lurid yellow, more than anything at all, I remember how important I felt to be entrusted with this responsibility.

For my parents it probably was just a way to keep their child engaged but for me it was a big step up. Like all my friends I was in such a hurry to grow up.

A great deal of growing up has happened since.

These days if I were to make spaghetti meatballs, I’d get a cleanly wrapped portion of minced meat off a shelf inside a clean air-conditioned space. I buy lemons that come in protective casings such that I can’t touch or smell them.

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Jeon Alley, Gwangjang Market

Only when the fish monger showed my mother how deep red the gills of hilsa were and how firm its body was and how clear its eyes were would she pay him, but not without examining a few other pieces and definitely not without the friendly haggling.

And now if I need a bed sheet, I lift a finger and order it online.

Progress is essential and elemental, I know. Progress is important. Progress is also placing experiences similar to the ones I had as a child inside invisible glass cases and labelling them ‘traditional’ as though they are rare exhibits.

Progress is sending what once was commonplace on the road towards extinction and that maybe inevitable but it is disconcerting none the less.

So when I can read about Gwangjang market, built in 1905 and called Seoul’s oldest ‘traditional’ market and one of its largest, I knew I had to go, not just to sketch but to get a feel of the familiar while I still could, albeit in a foreign country.

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Gwangjang Market

Narrow lanes lined on either side with shops cheek by jowl selling  pajeon, gimbap, sundaeguk, bibimbap and tteokbokki ran into one another like a maze. Massive waves of people from students, office workers, tourists to the elderly hikers you see a lot of in Korea rolled up from all directions to eat at those shops manned by hardworking ajummas in short perms and red lipstick. Sound of chatter and cacophony melded into the smell of hot oil and the lurid colour of shop signages. The glow of bulbs hanging low over trays of food added to the visual drama and lent the space a honky-tonk aura.

As opposed to the clinical white spaces we are used to shopping in with clearly marked aisles and properly arranged shelves, a traditional market is a place where the first order of business is to lose your bearings and be overwhelmed by what you see, hear and smell.

Check and check.

I had a vague idea of where I was.

Perhaps, the Jeon Alley.

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Jeon Alley in Gwangjang Market

Some dishes are so popular in Gwangjang Market that they have entire alleys dedicated to them! In Korean cuisine, Jeon is referred to pancake-like dishes made by pan frying a mixture of rice or flour batter with vegetables, meat, seafood and poultry in it.

I couldn’t have been in the Yukhoe (steak tartar) Alley or the Gimbap (similar to sushi) Alley considering all the fervid grinding of mung beans that was happening around me. The jerry-built enterprise right before me had 5 ajummas working together like a well-oiled machine. Two in yellow tops were stationed at the ‘kitchen’ frying Bindaetteoks (mung bean pancakes) and piling the golden discs one above the other on the counter; one was serving the pancakes to customers gathering on the long wooden table while two more were luring people in to the shop.

And in all this madness if any of them managed to catch a breath, they’d leave their stations and come over to check my progress. I was sitting on the ground wedged between two other Bindaetteok stalls. But I was sketching them.

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Sketch of Gwangjang Market with the drinks that a kind elderly couple bought me

In return the band of ajummas kept an eye on me, nothing more than a glance in my direction from time to time and once shooing a drunk guy away when he tried to get too friendly with me. I got sober visitors too. A tour guide stopped by, a magazine editor gave me her business card and an elderly couple bought me some cooling drinks (see above).

On my way out I got the ajummas to fix me a piping hot plate of mung bean pancake. And while I savoured the crispy goodness in my mouth, I saw three young backpackers doing the same and talking about how good it tasted and how cheap the food was (4000 won for two big pieces) and how glad they were to have visited. They couldn’t wait to tell their ‘mates’ all about it.

I hope they do, ad nauseam.


















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.













Now, where was I ?

Would you believe? In New York City! Yes, that happened a couple of months ago while the world was preparing to cross over to 2016. I had been travelling to more places ever since, hence the frigid months-long-blog-posting-hibernation. But I’ve emerged now and not empty handed. Prepare to wallow in the big stack of stories and drawings I gathered on this journey.


The  NYC concertina sketchbook begins with a portrait of me and my husband inside an oval disc. Caveat: My husband would like the readers to know that ‘we don’t wear red dots on our cheeks in real life’.

Now, we’ve been to New York before and seen everything a wide eyed first time visitor could in a week or so. If Lonely Planet authors saw our stained, battered, frayed, dog eared, page marked (with coloured stickers) copy of the guidebook, they would’ve have teared up a little with pride.


I thought packing was exciting but drawing while packing is exciting and gratifying

‘But did we really ‘see’ New York?’, a question we asked ourselves 6 years hence. We speed dated her for sure and then hopped on a return flight smug and reassured. But did we listen to it, smell it, taste it and feel its beating heart? In a bid to see more and newer places, we don’t always get to connect on a deeper level. It was time for a revisit and the plan was to slow down and get to know our date for real.


I had a 4 hour layover in Hong Kong and plenty of time to sketch

In about 23 hours Cathay Pacific dropped me at Newark and without paying the slightest heed to jet lag, I dropped my bags at the hotel on West 36th Street, locked arms with my man and marched straight to Times Square. Unless your eyes have been blinded by the countless neon lit billboards and elbows have nudged a hundred others to make way up those ruby red glass stairs on top of Broadway’s ticket booth, you don’t feel you’ve arrived in New York.


This was the view from our room on the 13th floor of La Soleil Hotel

Guys, if you really crane your neck, and if the weather is good, you may (enunciated just enough to not raise the slightest expectation)….see the Empire State Building“, said the guy at the hotel concierge, while handing us the keys. Our windows framed the archetypal New York image – the back of a dated Raw Umber coloured brick building topped with distinctive cylindrical water tanks with conical hats and in the background, rising above the humdrum was exactly what the concierge guy hesitantly suggested we may find.

I sketched the scene first thing in the morning, over a few sittings. The building housed several offices and I started off on an awkward eye contact basis with the employees sitting by the windows and then graduated to short occasional nods. Over the course of few days, I inadvertently spied on a bunch of New Yorkers going about the business of making a living. I watched them switch on computers, hang their coats, water plants, pour coffee, shuffle papers, answer phones or lean on their neighbour to crack a joke. It was as if someone laid open a swiss watch for me to admire the mechanism inside. It was intimate and voyeuristic and I found myself wondering what it would be like to live in this city, maybe work at one of these places.



The Washington State Arch at Washington State Park.

And the feeling grew stronger when I stood in front of the triumphal arch in Washington State Park the next day. It was a crisp winter morning and the air was moist and the shadows long. We exhaled white puffy clouds through our nose and mouths. The brown, barren trees poked their gnarly fingers into the blue sky and I couldn’t find a spot of green anywhere until my eyes rested on the giant Christmas tree behind the arch. A musician was playing a piano about 100 meters away and what enchanting music he made. It slowed the joggers down, distracted the dog walkers, hooked the cyclists, stopped the morning walkers, passersby and me on our tracks. With sun on our faces we stilled our souls and listened.


East and West can get a bit muddled up when you’re only two days into the city! JOE at Waverly Place is definitely in West village and the cutest little place to hang out too.

We’d started the day at Joe, at Waverly Place with hot chocolate and buttery croissant, sitting by the window listening to a real life Carrie Bradshaw and gang spill personal details about their lives over coffee and watching people walk by in deer antler headbands, lugging Christmas trees. One of the apartments opposite the broad sidewalk had a “To Rent” sign hanging outside its balcony. ‘I’m really interested’. Wait, did I say that out loud?


Lunch at Spotted Pig / Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Food market had a wreath made of bread!

West Village was winning me over. Inside its quaint, historic, low-key exterior, I was uncovering a very contemporary and classy interior. On a walk on Bleecker Street, clusters of boutique shops housing designer clothes, shoes, bags, hats, accessories, upscale restaurants, decades old patisseries, record stores and cafes waved at us from their unassuming casings. We had lunch at a gastropub that didn’t look like much from outside but had a michelin star and 2 hour wait for a table unless we ate at the bar. Propped on a bar stool, I sketched Spotted Pig’s vintage beer tap handles while waiting for our Haddock Chowder and Burger. Later we watched the Hudson River swallow the sun in one bug gulp from High Line and then sneaked into Chelsea Market for Peppermint tea at Amy’s Bread.



I sketched the interior of the Grand Central Station from the Apple shop which is right up the stairs and a great vantage point to soak up the action and the architecture.

Some events make such impact on the mind that you remember even the date and time of their occurrence for a long time. The grandness of the Grand Central is bewitching, sure, but for someone who’s been watching her diet, falling for a greasy Shake Shack burger dripping with molten cheese for breakfast was a bigger deal, momentous actually. This lapse in  judgement occurred at the basement of this station and I drew the evidence to remind myself of the guilt and also the extreme exultation that can only be derived from such indulgences.


Fortitude – one of the marble lions guarding the New York Public Library / Le Carrousel in Bryant Park / St. Patrick’s Cathedral

From Grand Central, we walked to the New York Public Library and since you cannot conveniently sweep through its doors looking cool with a mug of Starbucks coffee, I got the time to sit outside, sketch Fortitude – one of the marble lions gazing despondently at 5th Avenue traffic and finish my beverage before trying my luck again and this time was checked in with an approving nod from the hawk eyed guard manning the door. The Rose Room, I saw a picture of in an inflight magazine accompanying an article (“Shelter from the Storm”) written by Pico Iyer on why visiting libraries make unique travel experiences was closed for restoration. I soothed my disappointment inside the map division. If they let me, this map lover could live there shuffling through the entire 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 books and atlases until her hairs turned grey.

The afternoon was spent sitting on a wrought iron bench in Bryant Park, soaking the feeble sun and sketching a vintage looking carousel spinning around with shrieking children holding lurid pink cotton candies. And then, fortified by few minutes of meditative silence inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we dived into the sea of humans gathered at Rockefeller Centre to watch skaters glide over ice.



Just Flatiron building on a rainy day.

For a long time I had this dream of sitting on a bench at Madison Square Park under a bright blue sky, amid dog walking ice cream licking New Yorkers and sketch the Flatiron Building, while yellow taxis would swish by. When that day came, rain was falling in sheets. And even though I stood under a green scaffolding tarpaulin by the road side for cover and tried to draw, every line on my sketchbook got smudged. The part about yellow taxis did come true though.


Inside of Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue where I spent a copious amount of time browsing through the Art section and people watching

We walked around Gramercy and Union Square both wet and dripping, and then I discreetly dried my socks under the table while eating naan and butter chicken at Dhaba, an Indian restaurant on Lexington Avenue. By evening the rain had stopped and a stroll on 5th Avenue watching Christmas decorations while munching on hot (and obnoxiously expensive) chestnuts bought from the sidewalk seemed like sweet redemption.



Notes from a day spent in MOMA

It is hard to believe that a single blueberry muffin from Le Pain Quotidien got me through an entire day at MOMA but it shouldn’t be surprising because if you set an artist and an art lover free inside an institution that houses the works of every big name in the art world she can pretty much scrap the entire range of physiological needs in Maslow’s hierarchy and still look alive and jubilant. Since there was so much see and absorb, I could only draw a few of my favourites which include a Picasso sculpture called ‘Baboon and Young’ made from found objects like toy cars of the artist’s son, a jug and a spring from a car and a doll Picasso made for his daughter Maya out of wood, screws, paintbrush handle and rope. My absolute fav painter Henri Matisse’s Dance also remains captured in my sketchbook forever.


Drinking Moroccan Mint tea at Irving Farm at Grand Central Station

The day that started on such a high note shouldn’t have ended with crappy noodles from a stall at Grand Central Station but that’s what’s special about travelling – unpredictability and the more you travel, the better become at dealing with it. I drank Moroccan Mint Tea from Irving Farm to mask the distaste.



Grand Army Plaza

There was a food cart standing 5 feet behind me while I was sketching the Grand Army Plaza. The guy was grilling pieces of chicken on skewers and basting them with spices and selling them in between toasty buns. Unless you are a vegetarian, it is highly improbable that the smell of charred meat hasn’t sent your belly rumbling and tongue salivating. It’s reflex. While the prominent bronze-gilded equestrian statue of William Tecumseh Sherman should be the first image to pop in my head when I recall this scene, the only signal my brain sends me is the peppery, slightly burnt taste of kebab in my mouth. I can’t help feel a bit like Pavlov’s dog but the mind works in mysterious ways, is all am saying.


Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

We moved on to Central Park which was soggy and brown, so I used my artistic licence to make the scenery seem more cheerful to the viewer just as a group of carollers near Bethesda Fountain did the same for me with their lilting voices.


Bow Bridge, Central Park

We bought a pack of trail mix and simply walked. The trishaw and horse carriage drivers wondered if we’d like a ride but there wasn’t any rush to be somewhere or do something. We could wander around, sit on benches, read, draw and pretend for a little while that we lived just round the corner and came out for fresh air. Two amorous teenagers were greatly disturbed when I walked over to their spot to sketch the Bow Bridge and I could feel their eyes boring into my skull the entire time. I had to be really quick.

central park

I wanted to show this drawing in entirety because I combined two separate and interesting portions of Central Park together to look like one continuous scene on the sketchbook. Do not go looking for this – it’s staged!



Mist Shrouded Manhattan Skyline from Brooklyn Heights

Remember Will Smith’s character in ‘I am Legend’, sole survivor of a man made plague wandering alone on the abandoned streets of New York looking exasperated and helpless? That was me after I emerged from the tube-lit subway station into the morning light of Brooklyn on Christmas day. Not a soul in sight, near or far. Part of me wanted to ride a train all the way to Times Square. The other, intrepid part said, “Go a little further, see what happens”.


A horse from Jane’s Carousel / Lunch at Brooklyn Public House / Brownstone houses of Brooklyn Heights

What happened was, we saw a jaw-dropping sight from Brooklyn Heights promenade, a 557 m pedestrian walkway – the mist shrouded Lower Manhattan skyline. A grey fleece blanket rising up from East River was slowly eating up the line of high-rises. The sky was hanging low and closing in from above. I sat on a bench, zipped up my coat and started drawing urgently before everything was devoured and suddenly there were people around , at first kids zoomed in riding spotless bicycles right out of the wrapping paper and then their grandparents hobbled behind. A newly engaged couple leaned against the railing to get pictures clicked, a couple of joggers, (late) morning walkers and dogs followed. It was all right.



New York’s Chinatown / Little Italy

A German scientist I met recently at a cooking school in Bangkok told me that he liked Singapore’s Chinatown more because the architecture matched the branding. In New York’s Chinatown ‘the businesses are housed in the same kind of tenement houses with fire escapes that you see all over the city’, he said. “Save for the signages with mandarin letters and the smell of dried fish and mushrooms, the sight of souvenir cats waving their paws and the sound of patrons gathered around round tables devouring dumplings, you wouldn’t even know that you walked into an ethnic neighbourhood”, he added.


I tasted my very first Cannoli at Alleva / Trash and Vaudeville store at 4 St. Mark’s Place

Neighbouring Mulberry Street told the same story. From the outside it seemed that if you stripped Little Italy off its restaurant and shop signages selling Gelato, Cannoli and Mozzarella cheese and replaced them with Taj Mahal cutouts, fairy lights and pictures of women in saree holding a plate of butter chicken it could become Little India in no time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed these little pockets of ethnicity that tried so hard to stick out in a world that’s becoming increasingly homogenous. As a tribute I tasted my very first Cannoli not in Italy but at Alleva (see the sketch of the shop above ) in New York’s Little Italy and it was everything the lady at the counter promised.


Signages of diverse businesses at St. Mark’s Place

In the evening we descended upon East Village which pre-gentrification was the historical home of many artistic movements and a haven for artists and bohemians and took a walk along St. Mark’s Place. The historic tenement houses lining the street and the immense diversity reflected in the businesses housed in them and the people walking by can get your pulse racing! There is so much see and absorb that to make sense of it all in one evening, I drew the signages that caught my eye, some of them being venerable names. The juxtaposition of multiple colours, unique fonts and design of these labels on the pages of my sketchbook selling an incredible variety of products or services expresses the vibe from that place.



Bell of Hope which stands in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Chapel is rung to pay tribute to victims of terrorism.

Exploring the financial district on a weekend wouldn’t be such a good idea if not for the tourists, who fill in for the wolves of Wall Street therefore saving everybody from living the dreaded I am Legend scene I had to face earlier.  There was even a pretzel and hotdog cart in front of NYSE doing a decent business of relieving people of their copper. We started off with coffee and croissant at La Colombe and since you rarely come across cafes serving food and beverage in such exquisitely designed china, I documented that. Later we walked to St. Paul’s Chapel which became a spiritual and volunteer center after the WTC destruction and drew it before my fingers went numb in the cold.


Pigeons fighting over pretzels at Battery Park / Fulton Underground Station / Hot Dog cart in front 0f NYSE

After sniggering at the crowd circling the Wall Street Bull (only cuz we’d been there, done that), we watched pigeons fight over pieces of pretzels at Battery Park. A silver haired one with a puffy chest went over to a puddle to drink some water after it snagged a morsel. Only a Seinfeld fan could get a chuckle out of that so I was pretty amused!


About to watch The Nutcracker at Lincoln Centre  / Subway wisdom copied into my sketchbook

We watched The Nutcracker at Lincoln Centre from the 4th Ring seats which the Lonely Planet author was quite ambivalent about but that didn’t mar our anticipation or enjoyment. It was amusing to watch children accompanying their parents to the performance dressed in crisp white shirts, tiny black suits, ties and flowing dresses with matching shoes, trying to look as composed as their attire expected of them but invariably one or two would break free and run around the fountain or dance with flaying arms. On the way to dinner at Kefi, I came across this (see the poem above) pithy subway wisdom framed inside the train compartment.


I found the leaf pasted here right in front of the souvenir cart selling hoodies



Times Square

We went back to Bleecker street in West Village for one last walk, but not without a quick peek at Time Square to catch the prep work for the Ball Drop event on New Year’s Eve. The stage was halfway there, we could see the ball at its station and 2016 written on top of the building. This befuddling jungle of flashing billboards and gleaming high-rises and streams of cars and people continued to function timelessly and dazzle. I wanted a fistful of that to take home, so I drew.


Brownstones on Bleecker Street / Lunch at Thelewala

DAY 10

Before catching the return flight we had time to explore a fraction of the treasures displayed at the MET. My favourite was the statue of Hatshepsut, the most successful female ruler of Egypt, c.a 1479 – 1458 B.C. It is interesting to note that she’s wearing the traditional attire of a Pharaoh, which was traditionally a man’s job, hence is made to look like a male king wearing false beard, kilt and such. For ancient Egyptians, the ideal king was a young man in the prime of his life. Depicting physical reality wasn’t important. Whoever held the title of  Pharaoh, whether an old man, baby or a woman, would be represented in this ideal form.


The MET treasures

For dinner we had Shake Shack burgers with fries because that’s what the heart wanted and then we rode a train to the airport fully contented.

So there you have it – 10 days in New York City captured in 72 pages of this accordion sketchbook. Thank you for coming along and those who read the text till the end, sorry I didn’t put a ‘very long post ahead’ kind of alert at the top. Let me try again – Be warned, the photos ahead contain visual gloating.