Just call him Mr Monument

Below: Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution (far right) and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art M
Above: Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
Below: Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution (far right) and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art M
Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution (above) and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
Below: Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution (far right) and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art M
Mr Steven Seow working on a sketch at his home in Tampines. He has completed drawings of 33 national monuments so far, including the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution and the former St Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum (above).ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
Mr Seow has reproduced even tiny details in his sketches to give a more holistic portrayal of the monuments.
Mr Seow has reproduced even tiny details in his sketches to give a more holistic portrayal of the monuments.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Retiree aims to draw all 72 of Republic's national monuments to showcase heritage

Online photos of the country's national monuments usually fail to fully capture their profile, scale, architectural details and surroundings in a single frame.

Frustrated, heritage buff Steven Seow decided to hand-draw in ink A3-sized perspectives, to share with Singaporeans the sheer majesty of these monuments.

Take, for instance, the Hong San See temple in Mohamed Sultan Road. Mr Seow, 65, has reproduced a sweeping view of the temple with its roof's curved ridges and upturned swallow-tail end sweeps.

Mr Seow has drawn 33 of the 72 national monuments here since he started on his personal project in June.

He adds in surrounding buildings, roads, infrastructure and landscaping features. Most of these are reproduced in exacting detail.

The retiree said: "Drones have their limitations in capturing full details. Photographs don't present our full, complete heritage.

"A more visual and holistic portrayal of the monuments, in the context and setting they were built, might help Singaporeans fully appreciate the country's heritage."

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

I started sketching on mahjong paper at first. I didn't even know where to get the right size of paper and materials.

MR STEVEN SEOW, on the initial challenges he faced as a self-taught artist.

His sketch of St Joseph's Church in Victoria Street highlights the marble statues of St John de Britto, St Joseph and St John of God at the front porch, while also showcasing surrounding buildings such as the National Design Centre.

Each monument usually takes five days to draw. He typically heads down to the site in the early morning, when the light is good, and snaps 30 to 40 photos on his mobile phone.

Mr Seow also refers to online images and The Straits Times' monument series - Heritage Gems - which ran from August last year till Nov 2 this year. From there, he produces a hand-drawn composite of each monument, sketching it at his flat in Tampines or at the nearby Tampines Hub.

Mr Seow hopes to compile his drawings, complete with basic write-ups, and produce a book for children and the elderly.

He is targeting these segments after he learnt through informal chats and surveys with his neighbours that few could name the country's monuments.

He said: "I am targeting these groups as the other segments have easy access to detailed monument information on the Internet."

Mr Seow, who is self-taught, retired from his job in the oil and gas industry earlier this year.

He did not draw for 55 years, having last dabbled in the discipline as a primary school pupil at Geylang English School, where his teachers got him to illustrate animals, vegetables and fruits - one to represent each letter of the alphabet.

Mr Seow, whose mother was a housewife and father worked in a sawmill in Malaysia, said: "We were too poor for me to pursue this. It was not a practical option."

He picked up the pen again only last year. He was inspired by Briton Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic artist who drew the Singapore skyline from memory in 2014.

Mr Seow has also produced four panoramic drawings of Singapore, stretching from the Central Business District to Changi Airport. These were on display at Tampines Hub for more than a year.

He said: "I started sketching on mahjong paper at first. I didn't even know where to get the right size of paper and materials."

Mr Seow is looking for a government partner to help push his work to the right audience.

He hopes to complete the drawings of all the national monuments by May next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'Just call him Mr Monument'. Print Edition | Subscribe