Draw­ing power

These ur­ban sto­ry­tellers prove that a sketch is worth a thou­sand words and more.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­tar.com.my

WHEN KC Lee sees an im­pres­sive build­ing, a vi­brant street or a his­tor­i­cal land­mark, he doesn’t whisk out his mo­bile phone to snap a photo. In­stead, he takes out his sketch pad and foun­tain pen, finds a good van­tage point to perch on and starts to sketch.

Sketch­ing, says Lee, is a fan­tas­tic way of record­ing a mo­ment and doc­u­ment­ing places and ex­pe­ri­ences. A sketch is emo­tive and adds per­sonal per­spec­tive to a pic­ture.

In fact, if you ask Lee, sketches are far su­pe­rior to pho­to­graphs.

“When you sketch, you ac­tu­ally spend quite a lot of time look­ing at your sub­ject, whether it is a build­ing or a scene you want to cap­ture. Your im­pres­sions of the place go into your sketch. It means some­thing spe­cial to you.

“I some­times spend an hour sketch­ing a build­ing or scene. In that hour, I no­tice tiny de­tails about the build­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment around it; they go into my sketch and stay etched in my mind. I also add notes on my sketch be­cause sketch­ing is my way of jour­nal­ing.

“It’s much eas­ier to take a pho­to­graph, of course. In sec­onds, you can have a beau­ti­ful photo on your phone and share it on so­cial me­dia. We have thou­sands of im­ages in our stor­age but these im­ages slowly fade from our mem­ory. We can’t add our thoughts and im­pres­sions in a photo but we can, in sketches,” says Lee, 57.

His love for sketch­ing has prompted Lee to set up the Kuala Lumpur Ur­ban Sketch­ers (KLUSK), the Malaysian chap­ter of a global com­mu­nity of peo­ple who love to sketch the cities where they live and visit.

“I was sit­ting at a cafe sketch­ing a scene in front of me when a cou­ple of fel­low re­tirees came over to ob­serve me and ask me what I was do­ing. I ex­plained about my hobby of sketch­ing scenes from my city and they asked if they could join me.

“That gave me the idea of start­ing a group for re­tirees like me who have a lot of time to sketch and meet new peo­ple,” ex­plains Lee.

What started as a small in­for­mal group of re­tirees soon grew to in­clude youths and work­ing adults.

At the same time, Lee learnt of the Ur­ban Sketch­ers, a non-profit move­ment which started in Seat­tle in the United States in 2006. Since its in­cep­tion the move­ment has grown not just in the United States but all over the world with over 200 chap­ters in six con­ti­nents (see side­bar).

Lee de­cided to ap­ply to open a KL chap­ter (there has to be a sub­stan­tial group that meets reg­u­larly to form a chap­ter) of the move­ment and in Novem­ber 2015, KLUSK was born. In Malay­isa, there are chap­ters in Pe­nang, Batu Pa­hat, Ipoh, Kuch­ing, Sarawak and Sabah.

Draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion

The KL sketch­ers meet on Sun­days at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in and around the city to prac­tise their sketch­ing .

These “sketch crawls” of­ten end with an in­for­mal work­shop ses­sion, of­ten over kopi and teh tarik, where mem­bers dis­cuss their work and the day’s out­ing.

In just two years, the KL Ur­ban Sketch­ers’ Face­book page has gar­nered about 2,500 mem­bers.

Mem­ber­ship is free but the group fol­lows an in­ter­na­tional man­i­festo which mem­bers have to ad­here to. The man­i­festo is ba­si­cally a code of con­duct to main­tain the in­tegrity of their work – ur­ban sketch­ers have to draw on lo­ca­tion whether it is in­doors or out­doors. They can­not sketch from a pho­to­graph and post it up as a lo­ca­tion sketch. All sketches have to tell a story of the place in fo­cus.

Sketch­ers can use any me­dia they wish (water­colour, pen­cil, pen or draw­ing apps) but all sketches have to record the time and place.

The weekly ses­sions at­tract an av­er­age of 30 peo­ple although some­times the group work with stu­dents in uni­ver­si­ties or col­leges and go on larger ex­cur­sions; these groups can swell to about 250.

Last Sun­day, the sketch­ers fo­cused on the Masjid In­dia area in Kuala Lumpur.

They have also sketched iconic and his­tor­i­cal sites such as the old rail­way sta­tion, Tugu Ne­gara, Masjid Jamek, Car­cosa Sri Ne­gara, Pudu, Wi­layah Com­plex, Ke­pong and even the wet mar­ket in Ta­man Tun Dr Is­mail.

They also oc­ca­sion­ally or­gan­ise sketch “re­treats” where they take their sketch pads and pens or brushes out of KL. The most re­cent re­treat was to Klu­ang in Jo­hor but there have also been trips to Sun­gai Lem­b­ing and Ben­tong in Pa­hang.

“Sketch­ing is a good pas­time and not just for re­tirees like me who have time on our hands. I be­lieve sketch­ing is s way for the younger gen­er­a­tion to break away from their gad­gets ... take a break from video games and ex­plore the city and their coun­try,” says Lee.

An­nounce­ments and de­tails of their sketch trips are posted on the group’s Face­book page (www.face book.com/groups/KLUSK/) and any­one wish­ing to join the group can just sub­scribe to the page and con­tact the group ad­mins.

“We are run by vol­un­teers who recce places the group can go to sketch. We have to make sure that they places we go can ac­com­mo­date our some­times large group,” ex­plains Lee.

The group is open to any­one, even those who have never sketched be­fore.

“Our old­est sketcher is 75 years old and our youngest is eight. We are a mixed group that have be­come like fam­ily. You don’t have to be an artist to join us. No­body’s an ex­pert.

“We are all im­prov­ing on our skills and I be­lieve that prac­tice makes perfect. Ex­pe­ri­enced or not, we learn from each other and get bet­ter the more we sketch. This is a hobby and the ob­jec­tive of this group is to give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to sketch with like-minded peo­ple. We sup­port and en­cour­age each other, which is what makes it so en­joy­able,” says Lee.

Be­cause they are a part of an in­ter­na­tional move­ment, there are of­ten vis­it­ing sketch­ers from abroad who join the KL Sketch­ers in their out­ings.

“All over the world, ur­ban sketch­ers are con­nected on­line via Face­book fo­rums and other on­line plat­forms which al­low mem­bers to share their work with oth­ers.

“It is a global net­work and of­ten when the sketch­ers travel, they will con­nect with the lo­cal ur­ban sketch­ers there to join them on a sketch. It’s re­ally very nice to be part of such a big com­mu­nity,” says Lee.

A per­sonal jour­ney

A grad­u­ate in Fine Arts from the Malaysian In­sti­tute of Art, Lee says that his love for sketch­ing was rekin­dled af­ter he re­tired a few years ago. Even though he had a

de­gree in Art, Lee worked in advertisin­g and in­te­rior de­sign and barely had any time to de­vote to his pas­sion for art.

“It was only af­ter I stopped work­ing that I picked up my sketch pad again af­ter more than 30 years! I’d go out and sketch peo­ple and places to brush up on my skills and I found my pas­sion again,” he says.

Although he started out alone, his three chil­dren even­tu­ally grew cu­ri­ous about his out­ings and de­cided to fol­low him. His el­dest daugh­ter Sheanne has since be­come an ac­tive mem­ber of the KL Ur­ban Sketch­ers.

“We joined him be­cause we were cu­ri­ous about his sketch­ing and also be­cause we thought it would be a good way to spend time to­gether as a fam­ily.

“I stud­ied busi­ness and I don’t have a back­ground in Art like my fa­ther but I found my­self en­joy­ing the out­ings. And, my draw­ings have im­proved too,” says Sheanne, 30.

Lee en­joys sketch­ing build­ings and his­tor­i­cal sites the most.

“Each build­ing has its story to tell. Ia min a hurry to sketch them all to pre­serve them in sketches be­fore they get de­mol­ished,’ he laughs.

Apart from im­prov­ing their sketch­ing skills, the out­ings are also a good way for peo­ple to get to know their cities.

“We’re al­ways cooped up in­doors at home or in malls. But what we’ve no­ticed is that on our weekly gath­er­ings, we do not only get to en­hance our creativ­ity but also be­come more ob­ser­vant about our sur­round­ings.

“We no­tice things about our city which we have never seen be­fore. Since Malaysia is al­most al­ways sunny, we re­ally should leave the house and go out­doors,” he says.

— Pho­tos: KC LEE

Lee be­lieves that sketch­ing cap­tures more of a scene or build­ing than a pho­to­graph.

The KL Ur­ban Sketch­ers meet weekly to sketch var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in and around KL.


On a sketch­ing out­ing to Ben­tong, Lee recorded his im­pres­sions.

Lee’s im­pres­sion of Jalan Pasar Be­sar in KL

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