April 24, 2017

Urban Sketching - My Reflections & Thoughts

When I was introduced to the concept of Urban Sketching back in 2008-2009-ish, almost 10 years ago, I was pretty impressed. The idea is to draw and finishing a sketch on location of the location. We can call it in-situ sketching too. The sketch becomes a direct response to the environment and location we were in while we were sketching. We could response to the people around us, or the traffic and noise we heard and of the elements. The satisfaction is to see the sketches we made as a group and sharing what we learned. Becoming a correspondent of Urban Sketchers for Singapore made me want to sketch more, everyday, and so I did, eventually, accumulating almost a hundred sketchbooks since I started to sketch more in 2010. I see myself sketching faster and a lot more looser in approach and the handling of lines.

urban sketching at a coffeeshop

2013 was the year I saw myself adding watercolour washes to the sketches I made, and then progressing to finishing small size watercolour paintings as well. I was making larger painting in 2014 and also moving on to plein air painting with different mediums. At the same time I saw many others doing the same too. We used to exchange information among ourselves about pens, sketchbooks and so on, but now, we hunger for information about water-colours paints, papers and more. There are almost close to a 1000 members for the Singapore chapter now compared to only about 5 when the group first started.

Because of work I have not been attending the monthly sessions. However I noticed that smaller groups have sprouted under the umbrella of the large USK group. Besides meeting monthly, some have been meeting on a regular weekly basis. Much to my encouragement. I am certainly glad to see how this act of sketching on location has proliferated in a very positive direction.

If you are a beginning urban sketcher, here are some thoughts and reflections that I may think is helpful.

1) - Draw ALL the time, whenever possible. Have a sketchbook ready in your bag. Draw when you are waiting for someone, for transport, for food. The notion is not to get better, though in the process of doing so, you will get better, but to develop a lifestyle of sketching, recording your life in a visual journal.

2) - Draw ANYTHING. From your own tools to a building that has become a significant part of your life. We will not run out of things to draw. It is just a matter of whether you want to draw it or not. Don't be hindered by your inability or capability to draw something. See your environment with a fresh pair of eyes every time you pick up a pen and sketchbook to draw. See a building or a facade of a shopfront as though you are looking at it for the first time. Don't rush to draw something, but take some time to ponder and to look, sometimes to reflect. 

3) - Keep a sketchbook. You may use loose sheets of paper but they may become difficult to handle or manage in the end. A sketchbook is like a tangible timeline of your life. When you date a sketchbook before or after you have finished using it, it becomes a flippable time capsule in which it keeps a record of what happened, where you have been and even what you have done. It is a pleasure always to be able to flip through a collection of your sketchbooks from time to time.

4) - Remember therefore to date your sketches too and even number of sketchbooks. 

5) - Adding your thoughts to your sketches can help you remember and gives your sketches an additional layer of context and narrative. 

6) - Don't just draw on your sketchbooks, but use it to keep receipts, ticket stubs and etc.

7) - Use a variety of techniques, mediums, approaches within each sketchbook. 

8) - Share what you have with other sketchers. This would build up your confidence and it is always good to listen to what others have to say about your sketches. 

9) - Start small. Don't get too ambitious when you first started out. 

10) - Keep at it and don't get discouraged when you see others doing "better" than you. 

Digital sketching with Procreate and iPad Pro

April 19, 2017

Sketching a Car Show Room | Singapore

Sketching a car showroom | Don Low 
Throwback: Sketching a car show room... a while ago (maybe about 2 years, not sure whey time passed so fast these days), James and I were attending an exhibition located right above a car show room, like a part of the office lobby portioned out for putting up art exhibits. However we got more interested with looking at the show room below us and seeing the cars from a top down angle just triggered me to want to try drawing them as a challenge. Well you could do that if you are staying in a HDB estate overlooking an open air parking lot. Very common. I don't, so I am thrilled. I am not posting this without making some modification to the original line drawing. So I brought it to Photoshop, and added some halftone effects just to throw in some light and shadow.

April 17, 2017

Sketching Students at work in Class | Procreate & Pastels

There are always some students in need in class, and you have to attend to them no matter how small the problem is. Fortunately, most problems are good and constructive ones. When some, not a big percentage though, are just lost. I have students who have zero experience in art, be it drawing or painting. Many first timers who do not have a clue on how to hold a pencil to draw. Teaching a class like this takes lotsa patience but most of the time, very rewarding experience. I usually consider teaching an opportunity to learn afresh and to understand the process of learning.

sketching students at work

I like students to ask me things, anything. The reason is, I cannot remember everything that I intended to say or teach when it comes to delivering a lecture or some sort. If a class is too quiet, I drift off. I am not the type of teacher who could put up a show, like a magician or a clown does. I am there to impart my experience or knowledge about something, not to entertain. And certainly not to inspire someone to learn something. Don't get me wrong. This is different about inspiring someone to be better. To me, the ability and the desire to learn is from inside out. You have to be interested and be inspired to learn to begin with. My job is not to help with a student's lack of inspiration to learn or to get better. Like a physician who cannot make you get better unless you want to.

sketching students at work

Anyway, when the class is focused in their own work, usually their personal project, I would be sketching the students in my spare time. I have been doing that since I started teaching. Its part of my own training and you don't get to sketch people hard at work behind their easels all the time. And it is far more interesting than drawing or painting nude. :D It keeps the class quiet too. And if anyone interested to get behind me to see the process, they are very welcomed to do so.

Here's one done with hard pastels on newsprint. If you can tell, I actually edited this on my iPad Pro with Procreate. It wasn't intentional though. On its own it looks OK, but when I took a pix with my iPhone, the flaws of the drawing become apparent. I have to correct them before I put it out for everyone. It would be embarrassing if someone came to tell me what went wrong with the drawing. Though it is not perfect yet, I am fairly satisfied with the result for now.
sketching students at work
Now back to ranting about learning how to draw....

It definitely takes quite a bit of time to learn to draw or paint and to be good at it. There is no shortcut. First of all you need to grapple with the basics, then you have to apply those basics on a more tangible subject matter, like simple geometric forms to human figure. If a student fresh out of school who has no more than doodling on his or her exercise book, the whole process of learning the foundations can seem daunting. I would be if I am that student. Picking up a charcoal or a pencil to draw is like having to learn to use muscles that have not been used before. Just like when I was trying to teach myself to play the piano. I have no idea how to move my fingers at all. I also tried drawing and painting with my non-dominant hand (left hand) and I realise that I am also facing the same problem as a new learner in drawing. I remember those times when I was learning how to drive. The legs just wouldn't want to listen to me. But with practise, driving becomes a breeze. To learn something you need to spend enough time practicing. The more one practices, the better he gets. There is no doubt that any skill needs a considerable amount of investment, in terms of putting in the time. Animators call it putting in the pencil mileage.

To draw well and to paint well, we need to put in enough mileage of time to understand mediums, techniques, ideas, composition, designs, style, and etc. There are so many things to learn and attending just 20 lessons just isn't enough. To become an artist, it takes a life time of learning, exploring and discovering. Without passion to fuel these, it is easy to give up. Moreover, there is also a possibility you may not end up a great artist in the end. However, working hard with patience always pays well.

Art School Series: Sketches of Students at Work

 Students paying attention to their work are the best subjects to draw.

April 15, 2017

Sketching at a Food Court, the Atas one.

It was only a couple of years ago, the idea of a food court changed when big companies decided to brand the idea of selling street food in a shopping mall, where patrons would be able to enjoy relatively cheap and their favourite street food in the comfort of air-conditioning. Well the prices went up quite a bit but many of us seemed to welcome the idea of eating in comfort.

Don Low - Sketching at a food court
Procreate | Ipad | Photoshop
For some, the price hike is not worth it so they stay with the open air food courts, some with ceiling fans, and wouldn't mind basking in the aroma of steam and oil. You could save quite a fair sum if you are eating out everyday.

Procreate | Ipad | Photoshop

So now if I say I am sketching in a food court, most people would understand that I am sketching in the comfort of cool air, and comfy chairs. A food center whilst is alfresco, open air concept, and warm if the ceiling fans are broken, or the climate got too hot and humid. A kopitiam is a smaller version of a food center, usually privately owned, open air and is most of the time found in HDB estates. Every venues have different demographics but equally noisy.

Now here's the class divide. Most, but not all, Singaporeans belong to the middle and upper class, so they wouldn't mind paying more for the same type of food you can get almost halved the price in a food center. Blame it on the weather too. We welcomed the idea of having everything housed under one roof. We want to shop after we eat, why not eat in the mall, thereby we would not be exposed to the elements, protected and kept safe every steps of the way. Food courts are now for the elite.

April 13, 2017

Digital Watercolour on Corel Painter 2017

I chanced on someone doing a demonstration with Corel Painter and decided to find out what is the latest version available now. I am not surprised to see that the newest is named Corel Painter 2017. These days, every software is named after the year it was developed. Adobe Photoshop is not PhotoshopCC 2017 too, and the same goes to the rest in the suite.

Corel Painter 2017 is free to download and use for 30 days. So I downloaded the trial, tested the speed of the brushes, especially Real Watercolour Brushes, and added a wash layer to a sketch I did with Procreate on iPad Pro. Loved the result, though it got really slow at certain times. I also tested the paper texture and use the Fat Real Chalk for it and turns out pretty good too. See result below.

Sketching Singapore's Shophouses

Shophouses are my favourite sketching and painting subjects because they are Singapore's very own historical heritage. Preservation of shophouses has been carried out since the 80s but a large portion of these shophouses were demolished due to safety factor and urban development. It is our "duty" as a sketcher to preserve our heritage and our history by visually documenting things that face the possibility of disappearance one day.  Besides it is a joy to sketch these buildings as each location offers a different sentiment, sensibility and architectural flavour that links our present to the past.

These are some but not all the collection of sketches and drawings of shophouses done on location. Each one of them offers a different approach to how they were draw and painted. Even though I love to draw with fountain pens, I don't usually repeat the same process for each location. Every time I visit a place, I will do my best to use a different style or method to sketch or paint, since the atmosphere, weather and lighting conditions change in each visit.
The above was done in a more colour style because it was during the Chinese New Year period. But I didn't want it to be too colourful except for certain areas. Sometimes, less is more. Like the one done in monochromatic below.
Little India
Emerald Hill Road
Kampong Glam

April 9, 2017

Don Low | My own Self Portrait Caricature

Don Low | Self Portrait Caricature 

Technology is Fickle

Technology is advancing faster and faster, spinning like a top that refuses to slow down, buts kept on spinning, regardless of any opposing forces like gravity. Just 20 years ago, I was using a laptop with a  80486 Intel processor, learning how to use Photoshop 4.0 to make my wedding invitation, and now it would be hard for me to imagine how it is back then. The exponential growth of technology has served mankind well. I would think so. Right now smart devices have made our lives a lot better, especially for artists like me who love to draw digitally. I am using an iPad Pro that I bought end of 2015. Before that I was struggling with drawing on the iPad because none of the stylus that were developed could worked well. Apple Pencil has made my sketching experience a lot better and more enjoyable.

Ironically sometimes new doesn't mean good. Take for example Apple's Magic Mouse. An old one died on me suddenly. It runs wirelessly and looks sleek with its innovative design. It took me a while to get use to one when it doesn't have any buttons on it. When I got a new one to replace the bad one, I was literally "forced" to upgrade my OS, which I reluctantly did so. The system got slower after that  and made me regret everything that I have done.

When I recently tried to get back to using a 3D Modeling Programme that requires a mouse with 3 buttons to navigate through the interfaces, I had it with the Magic Mouse. So I bought an $11 Logitech mouse instead. It works well without any installation of a driver, just simply plug and play. I have yet to use it on the 3D programme, but I am quite confident it will work much better than Apple's Magic Mouse. It is like regressing on technology. New is not always good. The old is still pretty reliable.

So I changed from using a bluetooth mouse to a wired one. Cheap and reliable is what made me a happy user. But there is still stuff that new technology has made better. Take for example a bluetooth headphones. No cumbersome wire to deal with. Easy to carry around and easy to plug and play too. I had it with wires, so I bought myself a bluetooth headphones. Wonderful!!

March 26, 2017

3rd Article for Zao Bao

A Weekend of Sketching and Drawing

iPad Pro and Procreate with customised brush tool
Hock Choo Kopitiam - Breakfast 

At Orchard - Mandarin Gallery

At Mandarin Gallery for lunch with friends

March 21, 2017

Merging Digital and Traditional Mediums in Sketching

Procreate on iPad Pro 12.9"
There are moments when you wish your pen or brush does not run out of ink or skip a stroke when you are in that zone of no return. When that really happens, everything screeches to a screaming halt, and you are out of the zone. Within a split second you seem to loose the flow or momentum and you wish such things don't happen at all. Nothing is perfect you console yourself. But sketching with the iPad is different. The saving grace is, battery life is good. Before it is drained out of its juice, you would already be pretty tired.

iPad Pro and Brushpen
Technology has married both traditional and digital domains. Take for example the above drawing. It was done on location in the train on a sketchbook with a brush pen. I took a pics with my iPad and brought it up in Procreate where I filled in the colours. Isn't it convenient? The first sketch on the top was done in iPad but screen tones were added later with Photoshop.

Everything is out there at your finger tips. Digital tools and materials are made available readily but it takes boldness to embrace them and harness their powers. There is no perfect medium. I wish I have more time and capacity to experiment with all.

Brush pen and Procreate
Depend on how you use it, Procreate allows digital painting to have a traditional edge to it, like the lady drawn on the right. Those strokes were not made by coloured pencils but pencil brush tools in Procreate. It sounds like cheating. But once in a while or most of the time I am sketching and painting with traditional mediums. I still love the feel of paper under my skin, the rough edges, the tooth and flipping the pages. No digital medium could replace that experience, not even the sound of pen or brush scratching the surface of the paper, and that is music to my ears.

March 8, 2017

Digital Painting with Photoshop: Painting it Painterly

Photoshop has been a great digital drawing, painting, and drafting & design tool, since eons ago. I taught myself to use Photoshop 4 on a very old machine when I was in my late 20s. Little did I know Photoshop 5.5 has been launched. At that time I was trying to design a simple invitation card for my wedding in church. Photoshop 4 did not allow edits or undos. Each time I made a mistake on typing something, I have to redo everything from top. v5.5 allowed layers and I was delighted. Finally after much pain, I finished design my card and got it printed to be distributed to friends. I was proud of it. In early 1999, I managed to invest in my own system and started my freelancing stint. Photoshop has come a long way since. CS3 went very well and for a long time I felt that hardware is way ahead of software and everything ran fast and smooth, until the new updates of the OS gave me lotsa of trouble. Many digital painters have moved from the smooth digital airbrushing to making their works to look more painterly, like they have been painted on canvas with traditional mediums. I have done that since 2003 and decided to revisit again in recent years. The result, pretty satisfactory. Knowing traditional mediums like oil and acrylics does help pretty much.
I can't remember where I got this set of Photoshop brushes but they give quite good painterly effects that also come with canvas texture. I applause this guys who made these so well. Everything you see here is the result of these brushes.
Digital painting with Photoshop
It gets easy to paint in Photoshop because we can vary the brush sizes from really large to really small to just 1 pixel. In reality, there isn't such a function as we are limited by the number of brushes we have in our container. Most artists don't have a wide range of brush sizes, and most of the time, they paint with not more than 3 brushes or some could finish a painting with just one type of brush. We can get greedy when we paint in Photoshop, and spoilt with choices. By limiting the number of tools you would use, we could in fact emulate the effect of painting with traditional medium. I illustrated this point by painting the above by limiting my brush sizes and I would only use 2 brush sizes in fact, thus resulting in a less crisp finished digital look. But of course the brush tool set I was using help a lot too.

March 5, 2017

Intriguing Characters in Fantastic Beasts - Digital Painting with Photoshop

photoshop digital painting of queenie goldstein
Queenie Goldstein
I watched Fantastic Beasts and immediately "fell in love" (not literally) with one of the characters in the movie and story - Queenie Goldstein. Is it because she could read the minds of people? No, its because of her perpetual smile and showing of kindness to everyone around her. She embodies the type of ideal men are looking for in a woman. Always trusting, always kind, always serving, always giving, always smiling. Such characteristics boost every men's ego and confidence of themselves. The top 7 qualities of an ideal wife. Chinese men love submissive wives, most likely due to several thousands years under Imperial rule and suppression. I know of a person (used to be a friend though I do not really like him a lot) who is constantly looking for such traits in his wife. If not he would react violently, with smashing fists and harsh words, till the point his wife filed for a protective order against him. Another too, blames his livelihood on how his wife refuses to be a housewife, instead chose to work and excel in her work place. What's the outcome? Cold war and at the verge of divorce.

Anyway, here's a closeup of the digital painting done in Photoshop.
close up of painting queenie goldstein
Close-up of painting
I like one of her dialog that went like this, "Teenie, you brought men home?", and said it with a certain amount of curiosity and her eyes sparkled when she realised that a "no-maj" was brought to her house, the only no-maj that she has a decent conversation with.

The painting was done in 2 hours, a quick one, and as painterly as possible, half the time I was trying to get the likeness yet not entirely. It was difficult because I need her to look like she is reading someone and finding it interesting.

Here's another ref image that I would like to paint.

March 2, 2017

Most recent watercolour painting

Watercolour: West Coast Beach, Singapore
Cretacolor Pastel Pencil (Sepia)
Charcoal Pencil
Charcoal Pencil
The watercolour painting was painted on a half sheet Arches CP, whilst the charcoal drawing was down with a Cretacolor Nero Soft, an oil based charcoal pencil; it is pretty 'soft' and 'smudegable' but not messy. I like it because I am able to sharpen it in an electric pencil sharpener without breaking the lead. The pencil marks are easily erased by a kneaded eraser too.

Adding wash to an ink sketch

Adding watercolour to an ink drawing
Chinatown in her splendour 


Here's a video demonstration on how I added watercolour wash to an inked drawing done on a sketchbook. You may click it to watch on Youtube and on my Youtube Channel.

January 25, 2017

Some updates.... A Happy Lunar New Year to you!

I have not posted anything since Dec last year.... first of all, a Happy Lunar New Year to all who visit my blog, may you live long and prosper. Strangely, the "Vulcan salute" sounds really like the traditional Chinese greetings especially on auspicious and special occasions like the New Year. Do not under estimate the power of your tongue, which can be used to bless and curse. It is very wise to control your tongue only to make sure good words come forth, which in turn has an effect on your own body too.

Anyway, I ran a #2016bestnine on a third party app for Instagram and the result showed a remarkable 2016 for myself. I love it when only sketches, drawings and paintings appear to be the top posts.
Instagram Best Nine Posts
Instagram Best Nine for 2016 #2016bestnine
I took out a sketch I did during the CNY season in 2015 at Chinatown and put some colours on it. Everything was done from memory, how I remembered what the CNY atmosphere was then. When I saw another sketch a friend did for this year at the same location, I saw that the shops have recycled the use of the same CNY decor of the prosperous grandpa deity. Have they run out of ideas or budget. I saw on TV they have placed a giant rooster at the cross junction of South Bridge Road and Pickering right in front of Chinatown Point... maybe I will head down to take a look myself.

Good news!! I have sold a pencil sketch when I posted it on my Facebook. It was bought by a FB friend from US. I have not met him in person yet but I think we have been following each others' posts. I love his painting. He was kind enough to buy the pencil drawing from me. I was elated and thought this was too good to be true. He also requested that I gift the pencil I used to draw to him, and gladly did so. It was a Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Oil Charcoal Pencil. I gave him another pencil drawing of the same subject matter for good will. I am pretty sure the drawings have landed in good hands.

Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Charcoal Pencil
Boats drawing made with Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Charcoal Pencil
Here you go... and again have a great year ahead. Will be back soon!

December 21, 2016

Commute Sketching II: Sketching on the go

commute sketcher sketching on the train
When everyone looks at their smart devices or takes a nap, I will whip out my iPad or sketchbook and pens to draw them when they least expect it. A friend told me she was afraid that she might get caught in the act when she sketches them and there might be dire consequences. We gave it a go and I asked her how she thought of the whole thing of sketching commuters. No one took any notice of her, she replied. It sounded as if she was disappointed with the outcome. I said, exactly, no one would take notice of you and what you do. Everyone is too engrossed with themselves and their smart devices these days, or they would simply turn away and mind their own businesses. There would be a rare occasion that someone might see what you do but usually the response is positive. I have a few people coming to me before they alight the train to tell me that they like the drawing, but that doesn't happen all the time. I would prefer to be left alone to do my own thang. You don't go around looking at what people do with their smart phone right. Sometimes I thought why would they think that drawing on the train is a public performance.

Like I mentioned before, I have been using my brush pen to draw on the go very often now. It allows me to fill in the blacks and I usually start drawing the hair (shapes) first before going to the ear and then to the face. Sometime its the gesture that I started first, which is the curve of the back or the front of the body to nail down the pose, sometimes I began with the face if the passenger or the commuter is up close, like drawing a portrait. Ink flow doesn't better, so using a used brush pen might be advantageous because you don't want too much ink to come through to the bristles. Dry brushing is also good to add some tones to your drawings.

Comparing brush pen to iPad's Procreate, I prefer brush pen. Simple reason is, the outcome is always unpredictable, while the brush strokes are a lot more gestural and energetic.

December 13, 2016

Commute Sketching: Sketching on the train

I have friends who have been sketching on the train on their sketchbooks and there is also a growing interests among more friends now to sketch when they are taking public transport. I have been sketching commuters for quite sometime since I started Urbansketching, and even more so whenever I have the opportunity to travel on public transport, mainly the MRT aka Mass Rapid Transit, the quick rail system in Singapore. In Hong Kong, they call it MTR, a much more efficient train system that runs across the congested city under and above ground. I love taking train as a mode of commuting, during the off-peak hours, because I would get a seat, and when I am able to sit, I would draw the commuters sitting across me or from another cabin. Drawing commuters when they least expect it is a fun and practical way of practicing portrait and figure drawing.

Firstly you have to draw fast, that will help improve gesture drawing and drawing by memory. Secondly commuters offer different and varied opportunities to draw many poses, and that improves observational skills and makes it more fun. When I draw on the train, I make sure I don't carry too many things. Usually I would only use a small stack of papers clipped on a wooded board (you may use cardboard) that provides a sturdy and firm surface and support to draw on. I love to use brush pen as it allows me to fill in blacks very quickly, the technique I used on hair most of the time.

In the example above that I completed quite recently, by using a brush pen, I could paint in the shape of the head and hair in an instant without having to draw any outline. You could draw in the contour before filling in the blacks too, there is no hard and fast rule for this. You should actually find a suitable method that allows you to draw fast. The few drawings are later scanned, cleaned up and colours filled in in Photoshop. I wanted a more realistic look for my commuters so I paid a bit more attention to get the likeness in a short time, starting from the ear, to the back and top of the head and completing the contour of the head and face while filling in the features. Sound easy. It takes a lot of practice and I find drawing a lot blind contour drawings help with getting accuracy, proportion and speed.

The following are some commute sketches I did in the recent past.

You will also notice I added the stations' names as part of the sketch to help me remember where I started and finished the sketch. A sketch like this would probably take 20 mins to complete. Commuters come and go, and selecting what to draw and what to omit is the trick to make an interesting composition that works for your format (size and shape of your sketchbook). There are times I would just draw a commuter and there are times I would finish off the entire scene.

I used very different approaches all the time. Different tools give a slightly different perspective of the drawing. Besides brush pen, I use the Hero Fountain Pen a lot too. For this I would make sure there is ample and generous ink flow so that the process of drawing is not hampered by it. Any kind of skipped marks and ink stoppages always spoil the mood.

Another one that was done with a brush pen and coloured in Photoshop.