Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Setting off for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium!


Monday 20th July. I caught an Indigo flight from the Kamaraj International terminal at 9.40 pm. The day was finally here. I was going for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium.

For the un-initiated I've been a member of this online group of location sketchers since 2011 and every year they meet in the month of July for 4 days of workshops, demos sharing and fun. This was the very first time the symposium was in Asia and of course I was going to be there!



I travelled through the night reaching Singapore early on 21st July. It was my one free day before the official start of the event and first on the agenda was trying to get a local sim card. Singapore has three telecom companies and I ended up in a Singtel store at Bugis Junction in search of my tourist sim.


The place was crowded with people. There were five or six Singtel attendants in crimson shirts talking to customers but a whole lot of other people sitting around on stools. Just as I was wondering how exactly to walk up to an attendant I looked up and realised it was a token system and all those others were waiting (famous Singapore queues!) so I got myself a token number Z1018 and found myself a stool to do this sketch.


The rest of the 21st was busy with personal visits but armed with my local sim I was able to make plans to meet some other international sketchers at Raffles hotel early the next morning for an informal session.

I ended up sketching not the hotel, but a local eating joint opposite which was buzzing with people at that early hour.


By the time I finished my sketch I had no clue where everyone else was so I wandered into Swee Kee to see what everyone was tucking in to. I ended up demolishing a steaming mug of Kopi and some delicious Kaya toast.

The rest of my fantastic experience over the next four days will have to come in installments as I slowly organise and scan all my sketches. So stay tuned for frequent updates!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The new Metro - Rapid sketches of mass rapid transport

On 30th June 2015, the new Metro line in our city was inaugurated. It was, quite literally the talk of the town. The Metro has been under construction for 6 years and last week only a short stretch - a tiny sampling - was thrown open to the public. All the major dailies carried stories and first hand reports for several days, so on Sunday a tiny group of us - 3 sketchers - decided to go on a joyride and sketch the experience.

 I wasn't sure if there would be resistance from the staff to sketching. In many heritage sites across India photography is allowed but sketching is banned! In the Delhi Metro photography itself is not allowed. So I took a really small sketch pad and resolved to keep each sketch under five minutes in duration. The platforms are high up at the top and after feeding money into the automatic ticket vending machines we took some really long escalator rides up to the platform.

The vaulted roof is open down the middle at Alandur station where we boarded the train and the whole station is bright and clean - at least for now.


On the train to Koyambedu there are only six stops. The same distance which in rush hour will take you over an hour can be done in under fifteen minutes. On Sunday morning the train was not crowded but there weren't too many empty spots on the benches either. Many families looked like they had come just for a joyride.... like us! 

More than the parents the kids were really thrilled. Though the ride is short you get a great view of the city from above.
When we reached Koyambedu station we had to climb up a level and cross over the platform before descending again to exit. The level up brought us right up to the base of the arch trusses that held up the station roof. Another quick stop to dash off another sketch. Peering down from the parapet the platforms and trains were laid out below us.
From that level the trusses and space frames were a real visual jungle. Someone reminded us that the ticket token is timed (not sure if it's true) and that we should use it to get out soon.
The Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has bought automatic ticket/gate machines from Japan. The token is kept against a sensor on our way in and the gate opens.On the way out you deposit the same token into a slot so that it allows your exit. Quite simple but for the ever increasing crowds it was all wondrous and baffling. By the time we came out the crowds had swelled considerably and flustered staff were trying to get people to queue up and wait till the machine reset itself for the next person. Queues themselves are a near impossible challenge in our country, and when you add automation to that the novelty is too high!

I really hope it stays clean, disciplined and the rest of the green and blue lines open soon.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Sketches make a place look better!

Over the years I've noticed that while sketching on location the eye and the hand conspire in their own way, omitting certain details and more often than not... dirt.  Garbage which is often strewn allover the foreground of many of my subjects don't get into my sketches. Like this one for instance is a group of fishing boats - trawlers - at Kasimedu harbour. The water is slick with oil.

And this one...
Done two weeks ago. Looks like the sleepy Gaulish village of Asterix and Obelix (well, except for the minaret). In truth, this sketch was done on the banks of the Cooum. The stench was not too bad that morning but the river was a dark stagnant grey. Basically sludge. The huts are hovels, patched together with whatever people have. The foreground and the edge where the water meets the land is not really earth but built up rubbish debris!  Its quite crazy how my hand refuses to draw the refuse!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Father's Day




This morning I sat  on the pavement outside the North gate of the Madras High Court and decided to sketch Anderson Church. I've passed by it so many times and never sat down to do a sketch until now. I love the proportion of it's spire.

The really interesting thing is this Church sits bang on Broadway and is crowded in on all sides by hectic business activity jostling for space. Although it was a Sunday morning I wanted to try and bring that in somehow.

Some of the other sketchers in our group were attending a heritage walk inside that I had been to and sketched over a year ago. My father decided to sketch the same church too and we found ourselves side by side on the pavement. Me on the ground and him on a stool.

It was really amazing that for over an hour an endless stream of people, mostly the security guards of the high court, would come up and talk to me and look at the work, ask questions. But no one disturbed my father at all!!

As I finished up my sketch I realised its father's day! I don't as a rule follow valentines and father's and mother's day. Can't wrap my head around assigning days to random things, but found the coincidence surprising. So I wrapped up with a quick sketch of my dad to remember the day better.


His sketch turned out really well too!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Quick trip to Kodaikanal



This week I had to go to Kodaikanal on work. I considered myself lucky. Its not everyday that you get to legitimately leave 42 degrees C and climb into the hills. Kodai was a lovely 19 and my work was done with a couple of hours to go for sunset.

Although for most tourists the highlight of a trip to Kodai would be a boat ride on the lake, I myself prefer walking along the quieter non-touristy parts of the hill-station. This is a view of the boat houses from across the lake. In an attempt to keep the water clean the municipality have fenced off the lake from the pavement. I snuck in through a small opening and sat on a low wall. My feet hung down over some reeds and dense plants. 
Halfway through I was juggling my staedtler 0.7 liner into my bag and trying to get my watercolours out and down went the 0.7! Boo hoo, not only did I lose a pen but I also polluted the poor lake!

Another highlight for me when I visit Kodai in summer is the fruits! We all rave about the mangoes (and they truly are the world's best fruit) but summer in Madras also means plums and peaches from the hills. I took a walk to the fruit stalls to buy some plums and realised there are a whole range of summer fruits up on offer!

Plums, tree tomatoes, egg fruits (so called because the soft sweet flesh is the colour of a golden yolk) grapefruit, passion fruit, star fruit, avocado, pears, fresh badam, chikoo, and of course banana pineapple and apple. I first bought some plums from the shop on the right. He made me taste a half-dozen other fruit and I promised to be back the next day to buy more stuff. Then I walked across to the pavement opposite the shops and started my sketch.


Halfway through my sketch a passer-by alerted the shopkeeper that he was featuring in my drawing. He came and looked at it and was very pleased. Soon the next door shop guy came out to take a look. Then others were summoned. Finally the shop owners wife was called out. Someone shouted "Come and see how she's drawn your husband!"A smiling shy muslim lady came bustling out of the shop, took the book from me and exclaimed in surprise. Then she smiled and ran back inside. Someone else joked that I had passed the test.

The next day I only managed a quick watercolour of John enjoying his morning coffee and book. We were very lucky with the weather. It stayed clear throughout the time that we were out.
Just before leaving I went as promised back to the fruit shop to buy more fruit to take back to Madras. The wife recognised me and gave me a really good deal! Three cheers to sketching!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Not quite Demonte Colony


Last Sunday I joined the CWA group to sketch at Demonte colony. Due to litigation the two residential streets have been abandoned for may years and wears a somewhat haunted, deserted look. We thought we would see plenty of old crumbling buildings and abandoned vehicles, but unfortunately our luck was out.

Recently there was a movie released by the same name, a horror flick, and some scenes were shot here. Droves of tourists have apparently been stopping by and neighbours have complained resulting in the place being sealed off.

We were only allowed into a corporation park next to which stood an abandoned jeep. Further down the pavement was a lady selling idlis in a make-shift food stall. I managed to try out my water soluble graphite pencils a little more in both these sketches. After that I switched to my trusty Pigma graphic-1. A quick capture of a sleeping man on a park bench.


After that the group converged at the park and started doing portrait studies. They got a young boy to pose and several sketchers attempted to capture him. I tried to capture the sketchers.
Young boys playing cricket kept drifting in and out of my frame. They ended up looking ghostly in my sketches.
Francis sketched away rapidly with the sketchbook propped up against his waist. And finally it was time to lay down all our sketchbooks on the paved pathway but not before getting in a last impression of the group huddling together.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Exposed on the roof


This is the terrace at the top of my office building. It's funny how we architects try our level best to conceal the vital innards of our buildings. The water supply pipes, the rain water drains, the electrical, telephone and TV cables but finally up on the terrace all these things burst forth and cry "Here we are!!"

Sometimes you try to go that extra mile to be extra neat even up on the roof but then your neighbour's cable TV line will somehow snake past your terrace to the next building.

This sketch is also my first try with water soluble graphite pencils. Earlier this week I went into my favourite art supply store to by a gift for someone else and ended up as usual like a kid in a candy store! Can't wait to try these out some more this weekend.