Ink and sharpened twigs

Now that I’m back from Southeast Asia (and sitting next to my trusty scanner), I have a chance to take stock and write a bit about some of the things I learned at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore. When you are in the midst of it, there’s really not much time to do any of that because there are workshops, activities and events going on all day long.

The first thing I did today was scan all the drawings from my recent Southeast Asia posts so that I could replace the poor quality phone photos that I posted. I still have more to scan in the coming days but thought I would start with my very first twig drawing.

Regrettably I only had the opportunity to take one workshop — I was teaching during the other time slots — so I chose one called “Extending and Expanding: Combining Multiple Sheets of Paper to Capture Large Scenes” with Ch’ng Kiah Kiean. I missed Kiah Kiean’s demo at the Barcelona Symposium two years ago so was thrilled to be able to watch him work this time. If you don’t know his wonderfully loose and expressive work, have a look at it here on Flickr. He draws with sharpened twigs dipped into India ink —in fact very special twigs they are — because they come from a willow tree next to his house and the points are whittled down by his father. His method of working is to start the drawing on one sheet of paper and when he reaches an edge he grabs another sheet of paper and continues the drawing from there. If you look at the drawings on Flickr you’ll be able to see where one page ends and another starts. Sometimes they are composed of as many as five sheets of paper.

Our workshop location was the 10th floor terrace of the National Library in Singapore but the 3.5 hour session started with a Powerpoint presentation on Kiah Kiean’s work and his art tools. He has a interesting way of transporting ink to keep it from spilling: he fills small containers with cheesecloth (we used old film canisters) and pours the ink on top of that. Most of the ink gets trapped in the cloth and is less likely to leak in case of a spill, and yet there’s enough to dip the stick into for quite a long time without running dry. We had the opportunity to sharpen our own sticks (which did not come from the famous willow tree) and try his working method for panoramic scenes, the gist of which is to start with a spot that interests you and draw outward from there. Yikes! What about perspective and vanishing points? KK’s advice? Forget all that. Just draw what you see and when you get to the edge of paper, take another sheet and continue from there. And don’t forget to have fun.

He makes it look easy. It’s not. I started this sketch with the right sheet of paper below. First mistake. If you are right handed, work from left to right, not the opposite. And the twig thing is pretty hard too. Needless to say, you can’t control the flow of ink. You either have very black lines or dryish lines, but nothing in between. And it’s not easy to create tones except by using a big mass of dryish line. But I did have a lot of fun letting go of perspective and and not worrying if the drawing was correct. My sharpened twig came home with me in my pencil case so I can try this again in Montreal. I just have to remember to hold the twig loosely, and start from the left side!


16 Comments on “Ink and sharpened twigs”

  1. Christine says:

    Being perspective-challenged myself, I think you did a great job of it. I’m very much enjoying your trip!


  2. Janice Kelly says:

    Hi Shari and welcome home to Canada.
    You are very generous to share your work and your sketching adventures with us.
    The twig and multi-page technique is quite fascinating and certainly invites being “loose”.
    Hope you had time to enjoy the country as well as the symposium.


    • Hi Janice. Thanks for the welcome. As much as I love travelling, it’s really nice to be back in Canada. I did have time to enjoy everywhere I went although I think it was really just an introduction to Southeast Asia. I would love to go back to see more.


  3. What a technique! Pretty fascinating. I’m not sure how I’d manage it on location with those wide contiguous spreads. It seems like a lot to keep track of…but I love the effect; it’s very dynamic.


    • The thing about this technique is that you don’t worry about the whole thing. I usually plot out the whole picture first but with this method, you just start somewhere and see where it takes you. It’s a more spontaneous way of working. The only thing you have to plan is to make sure that a major building is not on the seam between two sheets. You should try it Jean. I’d love to see how you deal with this.


  4. Dee says:

    What an awesome trip! Thanks for sharing!


  5. Hi Shari, glad to hear you are home safely after an amazing trip!
    I loved hearing about this very original willow stick process. Your picture has come out beautifully! I followed the link to Ch’ng Kiah Kiean’s page and can see why he inspires you. I look forward to seeing more pictures from your trip.


  6. i think you did well with the twiggyness and I like the flat roof color for contrast and cohesiveness.


  7. Ross says:

    Great sketch, twiggy! But… forget all about the perspective??? I think you may as well tell me to forget about breathing.
    BTW, looking at your sketch, I think you have trouble forgetting about perspective too.


    • I know that forgetting about perspective is a hard thing to do for an architect. But for me, these high panoramic views are a little intimidating. Perspective still plays a role in here for sure, but this method makes it a little easier to tackle.


  8. tmikeporter says:

    The English artist, Edward “Ted” Wesson was famous for using a stick from a nearby bush, or sharpened twigs jammed into the ends of garden canes. I held those sticks last fall when I met Steve Hall, painter and Wesson enthusiast. Have played with the technique a few times. Enjoyed reading your about your experience.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s