Drawing and sketching groups take stock of Singapore

Drawing interest groups, which gather often to sketch or paint, offer enthusiasts a chance to meet and share ideas

On an early Saturday morning, an unusual scene is unfolding at Changi Village.

Small groups of people can be seen gathered at different parts of the village. They are not there for a jog, to stroll along the beach or to take a boat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin.

These people are busy sketching away, capturing the neighbourhood's sights and natural scenery in pencil, pen, charcoal, watercolour or oil paint.

Their drawings depict a variety of subjects.

There are ink and watercolour scenes of Changi Village provision shops and sketches of bumboats waiting for passengers at the ferry terminal captured in charcoal.

These plein air artists, more than 70 of them, are taking part in a sketchwalk organised by the drawing interest group Urban Sketchers Singapore last Saturday.

Sketchwalks are walking tours with an itinerary of interesting places where the artists stop to draw.

The local chapter of the international group Urban Sketchers, founded in 2009 by Madam Tia Boon Sim, an architect-turned-art and design educator, comprises professional artists and hobbyists of all ages and from all walks of life.

Its monthly sketchwalks are held mostly around various neighbourhoods in Singapore and at outdoor venues such as Sungei Road Flea Market and Holland Village.

The walks used to draw only a handful of people but now can attract about 70 to 100.

Mr David Liew, 47, a children's book illustrator, who joined the group two years ago, says: "When we sketch in a group, we share ideas about drawing techniques and materials and also enjoy one another's company.

"Some of us become friends and meet up for meals, though we often end up sketching."

Urban Sketchers Singapore is not the only drawing and sketching interest group here.

There are at least three others here, with some sharing the same members.

For example, Scenic Rangers was founded about five years ago by a group of artists and retirees. They meet twice every week to paint on location.

Their main medium is watercolour, though some members also use oil, acrylic, pencil and ink.

Meanwhile, doodling enthusiasts from the Band of Doodlers gather at least once a week to draw on walls.

This could be for its own doodle jamming sessions at venues such as its studio at Tiong Bahru, a gallery at Capitol Piazza or a wall at *Scape.

Or it could be a commissioned gig. Among other things, they have drawn on a four-storey wall at Siglap Secondary School and also a 20m wide wall mural at the 2016 SEA games. They have also done life drawings of people and drawn on objects such as tote bags and tumblers.

Mr Mas Shafreen, 44, who learnt how to draw from comics and by watching YouTube, founded the group in 2013 for like-minded people.

The senior assistant director at national water agency PUB says: "I chose the word 'doodle' instead of for instance, 'draw' or 'sketch' because it sounds less intimidating. I believe that everyone can doodle as long as they can hold a marker pen."

The group, which has more than 200 active members, more than half of whom are studying or working in art- or design-related fields, also runs workshops.

The members of another sketching group do not sketch together but post and share individual sketches they have done on the Facebook page Commute Sketchers.

Started last year by Ngee Ann polytechnic associate lecturer in digital visual effects Erwin Lian, 38, the group focuses on quick sketches - done between three and 20 minutes - at bus interchanges or during their commute on trains, airplanes, buses and other public transport.

The page started with fewer than 100 followers and now has more than 340, mostly students and working adults from arts- or design-related fields.

About 10 members have also been invited to display their drawings at six train stations and four bus interchanges across the island.

On the draw of commute sketching, Mr Lian says: "Public transport is a showcase of all sorts of people in a small space. You can observe a whole range of behaviours among commuters."

Mr Lian, who is also a member of Urban Sketchers Singapore, says: "The desire to draw is innate in many people, but it is not always practical to pursue this as a full-time career in Singapore.

"Even for those of us who are working in art-related fields, we cannot be doing art the whole time. Sketching in the small pockets of time when we are commuting offers a wonderful outlet for us to draw purely for the love of it."

Meanwhile, organisations such as the National Parks Board has been organising nature sketching workshops since 2002.

That year, retired engineer and self-taught artist Tham Pui San, 70, volunteered to run sketch-along sessions at Sungei Buloh Wetland reserve.

Since then, he has also taken these sessions to HortPark and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

At least two other volunteer artists have since come on board.

Artist, writer and photographer Choo Meng Foo, 52, runs sketching workshops once every few months, usually at Fort Canning Park, while Mr Jerome Pang, 57, a church archivist and self-taught artist, conducts monthly indoors painting workshops at Bukit Timah Hill visitor centre and Dairy Farm Wallace Education Centre.

Some members of the public have become regulars at these workshops.

Ms Doreen Chay, 53, a former sales and marketing director in business development, who is hoping to pursue further studies in art, has been attending Mr Tham's class at Sungei Buloh and Singapore Botanic Gardens since last year.

She says: "I find it very therapeutic to be outdoors in nature with a group. It takes my mind off my worries and I can just focus on what's in front of me."

Drawing events


Keen to sketch panoramas and people in busy urban settings?

These are two of the topics that will be covered in a series of 10 sketching workshops by Urban Sketchers from Singapore and South-east Asia.

Besides workshops, there will also be a mass sketchwalk, which is a mass outdoor sketching event, as well as other fringe events.

These activities are organised by Urban Sketchers Singapore, the local arm of a drawing enthusiast group started in the United States, in collaboration with Temasek Polytechnic.

Urban Sketchers Singapore is celebrating 10 years of the art group and the 50th anniversary of the Asean group.

Where: Various venues When: Tomorrow to July 8, various times Fee: Each workshop costs $55 and the mass sketchwalk costs $10. Info: Go to 10x10.usk.sg


To celebrate Singapore's 52 years of independence, Band of Doodlers is inviting those aged between 15 and 35 years old to submit artwork based on the theme of re-interpreting 52 legends and myths about Singapore.

Their works will be displayed at 10 pop-up exhibitions in different parts of Singapore from Aug 5 to Dec 31.

Info: For more details, visit bandofdoodlers.com/52tales


Take along your sketchbook, pen or pencil and join National Parks Board's volunteer artist Choo Meng Foo at his regular outdoor sketching workshop at Fort Canning Park.

Where: Fort Canning Park, meet at the roundabout between The Fort Canning Centre and Hotel Fort CanningWhen: July 8, 10am to noon Fee: Free Info: To register, go to www.nparks.gov.sg and look under events and workshops


Take part in this bimonthly sketching session at the Singapore Botanic Gardens by NParks volunteer artist Tham Pui San and his group of regular students called the Jezebel Artists.

Take along a drawing or sketching block, 2B and 4B pencils, a sharpener and an eraser.Date: July 15, 9 to 11am. For the rest of the year, the session takes place on the third Saturday of alternate odd months

Where: Meet at the visitor service desk at Botany Centre Fee: Free Info: Register at the desk 15 minutes before the activity. Limited to 20 adults a session. For more details, e-mail NParks_SBG_Visitor_Services@nparks.gov.sg


Since 2002, Mr Tham Pui San has been running paint-along sessions every month at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Take along your art materials and join him and his regular students called the Buloh Dabblers.

Where: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve visitor centre When: July 30, 8.30 to 11am Fee: Free Info: Limited to 20 participants. Go to events and workshops at www.nparks.gov.sg for details

Sketch groups

Want to try your hand at drawing? You can join the following drawing interest groups, which do not require you to have drawing skills. Membership is free.

To join any of these groups, message the administrator of their Facebook pages.


The local chapter of the international group Urban Sketchers, this group meets to sketch on the last Saturday of every month from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Venues differ each time.

Besides organising these sessions, the group has published its sketches, run workshops and held exhibitions. Occasionally, it organises sketch trips to the region and attends regional sketch meets and symposiums. Go to: www.facebook.com/usksg


Founded by Singaporean Mas Shafreen, this group comes together to doodle for anything between two and four hours at least once a week, usually on a weekend.

This could be for its own doodle jamming session or for commissioned gigs. The group has held exhibitions and also runs doodling workshops for the public.Go to: www.facebook.com/groups/bandofdoodlers


Sketch on the move while commuting and share your sketches on the Commute Sketchers Facebook page.

Some of the group's works are on display at SBS Transit bus interchanges and MRT stations. It is also working with Nets FlashPay Card to run a series of illustrations. Go to: www.facebook.com/groups/commutesketchers


Founded by a group of artists and retirees, this group runs painting sessions every Tuesday and Thursday from 8.45am to 1pm. Go to: bit.ly/2s4LdHg


Led by National Parks Board volunteer artist Tham Pui San, 70, these three groups meet regularly at nature spots to sketch in various media, the most popular of which are watercolour and pencil.

The Buloh Dabblers meet at 8.30am at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve every last Sunday of the month; the Jezebel Artists gather at HortPark at 9am on the third Saturday of alternate even months; and the Talipot Artists meet up at the Singapore Botanic Gardens at the same time on the third Saturday of alternate odd months.

Each session lasts about 21/2 hours. Go to: www.facebook.com/groups/bulohdabblers, www.facebook.com/groups/hortpark.jezebelartists, bit.ly/2sU0z42

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Affairs of the art'. Print Edition | Subscribe