Cambodia: the temples of Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom

A full day of sketching the temples around Angkor. Take big, complex, layered and textured  stone structures. Throw in a cloudy day with diffused light and it’s quite a challenge to try and figure what to focus on and draw.

Our first temple visit was to Ta Prohm, most famous for the huge ficus trees growing out of the structures. This first sketch I did is probably of the most iconic place in that temple. Wish I’d done it a little later in my trip because it takes a while to sort out what’s going on in a new environment, and this was sketch #1 at the temples. And what an imposing site it was! (See Shari Blaukopf’s sketch of it that captures its scale and magnificence so well)

After this one, I decided I needed to do a couple of little pieces, so I sketched the workers who were part of a restoration project. Some built scaffolding around the structures, others painstakingly cleaned the remnants of carvings in the stone.


Then I walked around the corner and just had to capture this monk photographing the ruins with his phone. Yes, it’s the “ancient meets modern” cliché, but I had to sketch it. Everywhere you looked, great crumbling stone structures were so intertwined with the trees that the trees now held them up. It’s hard to imagine how these structures must have looked when they were living temples, all painted and adorned in gilded wood.

After a short break for lunch we headed out to Angkor Thom where I sketched the giant face towers at the Bayon. There are over 200 of these massive faces on the towers, although many of them are barely recognizable as faces.


I can usually sketch all day, but in the heat and humidity of Cambodia, I was totally done at this point and headed back to the hotel after laboring over a small sketch of the tuk-tuks for far too long.

So glad I headed back, there is just no way I could have sketched anymore that day.
Well, except for this little piece produced later that evening at the hotel. I don’t know what these little lettuce-like water plants are but they floated in a pond at the hotel and were fun and relaxing to sketch.

Coming up next: A break from temples to capture life in the markets of Siam Riep.

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Cambodia: Tuk-tuks and other little bits

I spent a very short 3.5 days in Siam Riep, Cambodia, sketching with a very enthusiastic bunch of urban sketchers. My trip (and sketches) in no way touch upon the many, many aspects of this country worth exploring. Most glaringly, there is no reference to the devastating history of this country or the rebuilding of it. But one thing I know is that I will be back. For now, my trip was about tuk-tuks, temples and the wonderful markets and craft villages of Siam Riep.

Cambodia at first glance reminded me of India, but of a cleaner, less chaotic version of it: the markets were chaotic enough for me to feel at home, yet not as crazy as the fish markets I sketch in when in Goa. The tuk-tuks reminded me of autorickshaws but the traffic seemed a more controlled version of the chaos that is India.


There is something totally charming about tuk-tuks and tuk-tuk drivers. Most often you see a crowd of tuk-tuks parked together, the drivers chatting or napping in them. Some of them even hang hammocks in their tuk-tuks where they nap. Sketched on my very first evening in Siam Riep.
siamriep_tuktuk2Did I mention I sketched with a really enthusiastic bunch of urban sketchers? Here they are. Even more amazing, the 3 very brave spouses (top right) who actually spent that much time around a bunch of people who draw all day long.

On that first evening in Siam Riep, we ended up at Pub Street, the sort of street you see in every tourist town. Here’s some Cambodian beer sketched over dinner.

More from Cambodia, coming up in my next post.

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Last little bits from Singapore

Little bits and pieces of my trip to Singapore that I haven’t posted yet…

A page of quick figure sketches on a layover at Narita Airport, on my way to Singapore. Sailor Bent Nib Pen, and something I’ve been playing around with a little: a waterbrush preloaded with diluted ink.airport_people2

You can see I tried that again here on toned paper at the very last sketchcrawl at the Urban Sketchers Symposium. Quick little figures, this time with brushpen, a diluted grey in a waterbrush, ( a mix of blue and brown inks) and a white gelpen.



These shophouses were just off Arab Street. It was hot and sunny, and I sketched from the shaded side of the street. From my first day in Singapore.singapore_shophouses3

More shophouses, this time on Purvis Street, at the opening sketchcrawl for the symposium where I sat between two amazing sketchers: How’s that for inspiration? Ch’ng Kiah Kiean aka KK on the left, Jim Richards on the right.


This is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, by the architect Moshe Safdie. Can’t say I loved the building, but it is certainly unforgettable.singapore_ship_building_israel

I really came to like the Supertrees, though. Their ever changing appearance over the course of the day is lovely. Sketched in the fast-fading light with one of my favorite sketchers, Marina Grechanik. But we didn’t take a photo, Marina!singapore_electricTreesA view of the National Design Center and the city beyond from the National Library.

And a scene I just had to stop and capture: skyscrapers with clothes hanging out to dry.singapore_clothes_hanging

The Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling.singapore_raffles
Look what  Stephanie Bower, was doing while I did this!

everyoneI can’t say enough about how fantastic it is to get to sketch with so many sketchers, to exchange ideas, and to be inspired by their work. I’m always sad when I leave because there just isn’t enough time to spend with my growing bunch of Usk friends! But there is always a next time…

A big, big thank you to the organizers for another fantastic Symposium and for so many wonderful memories from Singapore.

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Calligraphic Sketching with Melanie Reim

I’ve wanted to take a workshop with Melanie Reim ever since I got a sneak-peek at her teaching in Barcelona. I love that she draws inspiration from her surroundings to explore mark-making and composition and I am fascinated by how much color and texture she brings to her works in black and white.


We started the workshop by looking at Chinese calligraphy and discussed works- from Hokusai’s sketchbooks to contemporary illustrator Yuko Shimizu – to see how calligraphic mark-making is incorporated in their work. After looking at and trying our hand at making marks inspired by Chinese calligraphy, we tried using those same marks as inspiration to draw the people we saw on Waterloo Street. Here are some of my attempts.
sing_melanie-workshop2 sing_melanie-workshop5

It was quite a challenge! My biggest struggle? Lifting my pen off my pages to design a figure using a series of calligraphic strokes instead of using one continuous line like I usually do.

The other big thing that stuck with me was learning to draw from the inside out. I am going to have to think about this one and work on it a lot more. Watching Melanie draw is like watching a dance performance on a page: She goes back and forth between drawing the visible figure and recording gestural marks the figure suggests, really bringing a figure alive (See her quick little demo on my sketchbook page below).

Next up: putting all that we learnt together to create a composition, inspired by anything we saw on Waterloo Street. I started with this first one and abandoned it when I noticed I’d ended up composing a very horizontal and static piece with an even distribution of light and dark marks.

I then created two more pieces and I learnt something from each of them.


Best of all, I came away inspired to explore and use mark-making a lot more in my work and maybe even hold the color once in a while. (If you know my work, you know how gigantic a challenge that would be for me, but I’m going to try it!)

Thank you, Melanie Reim for a workshop that pushed me outside my comfort zone, inspired me, and raised lots of questions for me to think about: That’s quite a feat for 3.5 hours!

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All my Waterloo Street Sketches

More from the Urban Sketchers Symposium, Singapore.

When you teach a workshop on Waterloo Street 3 days in a row, and you demo at every one of the workshops, and you go in a day early and draw on location, and draw between workshops on the same street, you end up with a LOT of sketches, all from one location. That’s exactly what happened. So here they are, many sketches of the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (Chinese temple). All done in preparation for or during my workshop.

Can you tell I loved the umbrellas that said “No. 1 in Singapore”?



singapore_chinese_temple2 singapore_chinese_temple4   singapore_chinese_temple3

Once in a while, I took a break from drawing the temple and drew some other stuff: like closeups from the entrance of the temple. This first one of people making offerings of incense at the Chinese temple doors.


And this one at the South Indian temple right by it.

Further down the street, I found these vendors in the outdoor market. This lady was selling a speckled seed that she said brought good luck. She sold it hanging on keychains and on red string. If you know what this seed is, I’d love to know why it sold like hot cakes.

Another vendor sold this incongruous combination of lucky cats and a tea/coffee maker. He wore a microphone and loudly demonstrated the wonders of the coffee maker while the cats did this synchronized paw-wave beside him.

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Capturing Chaos: workshop review (and downloadable pdf)

It’s always an honor to teach at an Urban Sketchers Symposium. I taught my first workshop in Brazil last year and was thrilled to teach again this year. My workshop in Singapore was titled  Capturing Chaos: Drawing a Crowd. Here is a recap of the experience – and the downloadable pdf I promised to post.

What better place to draw a crowd of people than at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (Chinese temple) on Waterloo Street? This is one of the demo sketches I did at the workshop: the ornate temple in the background, colorful red and yellow umbrellas with flower and incense vendors and the crowds that pass through.


Part 1 of the workshop was sketching people using quick line-of-action sketches (more about this in my handout).

I love this first bit, because we invariably begin with many of the participants claiming they can’t draw people, but halfway through the workshop, they proceed to draw pages of very convincing figures.


In Part 2, we talk about putting it all together to create a single sketch of a crowd.

To capture the crowd, we worked in alternating steps of structured and unstructured sketching, embracing this contradiction. The opening statement on the handout outlines the approach we used through the rest of the workshop.

Here are some shots from the workshop. It was a hot, humid, and challenging 3.5 hours, but the participants were super enthusiastic and we ended up with some really interesting captures of life on Waterloo Street, Singapore.


These are shots of sketches-in-progress by workshop participants.

Here is pdf_screenshota link to a downloadable version of my workshop handout, which includes a brief overview of the exercises we worked on and some random thoughts on drawing crowds. Click on the image below or use this dropbox link to download a pdf of the handout.

Thank you Shari BlaukopfRolf Schroeter, Veronica Lawlor and Barbara Weeks for letting me use your sketches in this handout.

If you download the pdf and use the material, leave me a comment, tell me what you thought… I’d love to know.

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Early morning sketching in Singapore

I’m just back from teaching a workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore ( more on that later). As always the experience was exhilarating, exhausting and left me buzzing with new ideas to explore.

One of my favorite parts of the Symposiums is the informal early morning (6:30 am!) sketching sessions that have become a ritual. The days at the symposium are packed with teaching, talks and demos: mornings are often the only time to get in a sketch just for myself. There’s a quite a few sketchers who feel this way because we end up with a good sized group every morning.

This is the sketch group at 7am one morning.
And this is what it grew to within the hour we were there… I love how, anywhere you wander during a symposium, you’re sure to bump into other sketchers, and you can pull out your sketchbook and join them. (Photos courtesy Liz Steel)

Some mornings all we managed was a quick little sketch of a building behind our hotel. This one is the Singapore Calligraphy Center.singapore_shophouses2

On other days we took a taxi ride to the Blue Mosque a little further away and got in two sketches before heading back. This first one with my bent-nib Sailor pen and then a second super-quick one with a brush pen.


And one day it was a messy (yes, even in Singapore) back alley in Little India.

A morning sketch session is lots of sketching ofcourse, interspersed with discussion about art, art materials and anything sketching-related. It’s fun seeing how different everyone’s approach is. Here’s that Little India alley, captured by Gail Wong, Liz Steel and me.

This is the Gold Mosque on Arab Street, captured on my very first morning in town. I must have got a late start that day, because the sun was out when I got there, and everyone had their umbrellas out. On days as sunny as this, a headscarf makes a lot of sense. I made do with a hat.

Photo by Don Low


More sketches from Singapore, and a recap of my workshop coming up next.

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