Rail life art: Commuter art done by doodlers on public transport

Illustrator and cartoonist Favian Ee turns the page into a mirror, with a sketch of fellow Commute Sketchers members Francis Theo, Alvin Mark Tan and Erwin Lian plying their skills on the train. Drawings by the group's members have already been exhib
Illustrator and cartoonist Favian Ee turns the page into a mirror, with a sketch of fellow Commute Sketchers members Francis Theo, Alvin Mark Tan and Erwin Lian plying their skills on the train. Drawings by the group's members have already been exhibited at several bus interchanges and MRT stations, after Mr Lian approached bus and rail operator SBS Transit late last year.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Commute Sketchers members (from far left) Alvin Mark Tan, Erwin Lian and Favian Ee are quick on the draw, doodling away to pass the time and unwind on their public transport journeys. The group began about a year ago and has around 180 members on Facebook
Commute Sketchers members (from far left) Alvin Mark Tan, Erwin Lian and Favian Ee are quick on the draw, doodling away to pass the time and unwind on their public transport journeys. The group began about a year ago and has around 180 members on Facebook, who share their art and discuss techniques with one another.
Mr Tan (above) sketching on the train, while Mr Theo fills in his drawings with colour.
Mr Tan (above) sketching on the train, while Mr Theo fills in his drawings with colour. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
Mr Tan sketching on the train, while Mr Theo (above)  fills in his drawings with colour.
Mr Tan sketching on the train, while Mr Theo (above) fills in his drawings with colour. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
Sketches done by members of Commute Sketchers Facebook group.
Sketches done by members of Commute Sketchers Facebook group.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/COMMUTE SKETCHERS
Sketches done by members of Commute Sketchers Facebook group.
Sketches done by members of Commute Sketchers Facebook group.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/COMMUTE SKETCHERS

Commuter art done by home-grown doodlers on public transport displayed at transit hubs

When commuting on trains or buses, Mr Erwin Lian whips out his trusty fountain pen and sketchbook and starts doodling away.

While other commuters take naps or busy themselves with their phones, the 37-year-old sketches to kill time. His creations, which can sometimes take up to 20 minutes to complete, typically include the people he sees on public transport.

"I find  the notion of going somewhere together interesting. The fact that there are so many different faces to draw within a small space excites me," said Mr Lian, who has been sketching on public transport for the past few years .

"The public commute presents a unique and safe setting to practise what I love."

The adjunct lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic is part of a small group, known as the Commute Sketchers, who document their surroundings while travelling on trains, buses and other forms of transport.


PHOTO: COMMUTE SKETCHERS/FACEBOOK

They share their drawings - which capture intricate details of the mode of transport they are on, as well as the expressions and actions of other commuters - on Facebook.

Some of their sketches have gone on display at several train stations and bus interchanges. And their art may soon get even more exposure.


Sketches done by members of Commute Sketchers Facebook group. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/COMMUTE SKETCHERS

Drawings by the group are now on display at Bedok, Bishan, Boon Lay and Clementi bus interchanges, as well as at train stations such as Beauty World and Bukit Panjang on the Downtown Line and HarbourFront and Hougang on the North-East Line.

ART COMES HOME

It is wonderful when sketches that are made on a train or a bus find themselves back where they were conceived, especially when commuters stop for a brief moment to study them.

MR ERWIN LIAN, adjunct lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who is part of the Commute Sketchers. Members of the group document their surroundings while travelling on trains, buses and other forms of transport. Mr Lian approached SBS Transit late last year to display some of the artwork at train stations and bus depots.

Seeing everyday life in a different light

SBS Transit's senior vice-president for corporate communications, Ms Tammy Tan, said: "We have had very positive feedback from our commuters who say they enjoy looking at the drawings as they walk through our interchanges and stations."

SBS Transit now intends to extend the art installations to more locations. "We hope it adds more colour to the walls of our interchanges and stations," Ms Tan said.

Mr Lian, who approached SBS Transit late last year to display some of the artwork, said: "It is wonderful when sketches that are made on a train or a bus find themselves back where they were conceived, especially when commuters stop for a brief moment to study them."

He started the Commute Sketchers Facebook group about a year ago to offer a platform to showcase works, discuss techniques and share experiences. The group has about 180 members, including art teachers and professional artists.

"Through the years, I realised that there are many like me who sketch during their commute," he said.

Other avid sketchers are pleased that there are now more options to showcase their artwork.

 

PHOTO: COMMUTE SKETCHERS/FACEBOOK

Retiree Francis Theo, 67, who started doodling on buses and trains about four years ago, hopes this will encourage more people to take up sketching. He joined Commute Sketchers last year.

"I am not a device guy, so, in order to kill travelling time, I sketch," said Mr Theo, adding that drawing also helps him to de-stress. "I usually sketch passengers busy with their devices or taking a nap. It takes me about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the complexity."

Full-time artist Alvin Mark Tan, 41, who also joined the group last year, said its art allows people to see their mundane, daily commutes in a different light.

"It's wonderful that we get to see art... especially art done locally and of familiar everyday scenes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Rail life art'. Print Edition | Subscribe