Monday, May 30, 2011


A rare sketching opportunity came my way when I was approached by a junior architect friend to provide drawings for his exhibition project at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, the second oldest hospital in Thailand, opened since 1914. My provision for this exhibition are sketch images of some original buildings, now all demolished, and other historically related images. The exhibition will be held from 9th to .. of June to co-incide with the up-coming Ananda Mahidol day on 9th June at Pathayapat Building in the hospital compound.
With a few rounds of walk in the busy public hospital that takes care for some 1500 patients a day plus several books for back ground, I proposed to have two main focal drawings for the exhibition.

An over-all aerial view of the hospital compound from Rama IV Road as it was some 50 years ago.

Monday, April 25, 2011


We have discussed on using pen for the sketchbook and now we would see what's the different using pencil and later on brush-pen.

My first sketchbook was done mostly in pencil. Pencil seems to come to mind when the word "sketch" is concerned and, to most people, the word "sketch" also mean the type of drawing for draft or temporally use. Pencil is probably drawn into association with sketchbook for its non-permanent marking property that correction or elimination are possible when required. But for sketchbook, the recorded entries can be either final work in itself or a quick take for future reference, depends on personal intention, therefore, such flexibility is no longer crucial. On the contrary, the more lasting quality of the ink might be more desirable for recording purpose. It is, indeed up to personal purpose and preference of the individual whether pencil is used for the sketchbook.

Pencil produces flexible, sensitive lines as well as broad range of shades.

Lines created by pencil certainly have unique charactoristic not possible with ink and pen. A line created by pencil can be sensitive and varied in tone and weight. Pencil can also be used to create a plane or block of tones and I use pencil for this quality more than just for line work. I use only soft pencil of 2B onwards and with its lead shaved into a square chisel shape, like the carpenter's pencil. By the way, I do not use carpenter pencils at all since they are not soft enough.

Sample of pencil sketch.

Over all view of river houses in pencil sketch.

Detail of the above showing broad pencil stroke using chisel shape pencil lead.

My pencil sketches would make up of some pencil lines and mostly shapes created by tone and shade using the flat sides of the chisel shape lead. I also use lots of blank spaces provided by the white of paper surface to help compose the subject of my sketch. Lines are used in between these tone shades of pencil and the whites of paper to define a desired shape and for emphasis where and when required. It should be noted that while the chisel shape lead technique is very appropriate for sketches of architectures and building in landscape, it is also versatile enough for most other shape, subject and situation as well.

Pencil used to suggest intricate details.

Once again, it is most appropriate to say that the choice of pencil or pen for sketchbook is entirely up to personal preference. I personally find that pencil sketches tend to require more time in building up of tones and shape while ink line takes less time to realise the outline of the subject but lack the mass and depth of pencil sketches. However, if there's the intention of adding colors to the sketches, then, you would find that ink work is more flexible and work well with both watercolor and dry medium where pencil sketch could be more difficult to work in watercolor washes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sketchbook 3: HOW TO SKETCH?

Sketchbook is a diary, but instead of writing, you fill it up with drawings using a pen, just like the written diary. But although I would say that pen is the easiest medium to start with, the preference is entirely up to each individual. You could use pencil or paint with brush too, in a sketch form.

Works or drawings in sketchbook are a record of one's own interest, not in any way  a piece of art work in the common sense. However, sketches possess all quality and prospect of good work of art. A good piece of sketch can be successfully done by a child, a beginner, an artist or someone with twenty years of sketching experience, just like a piece of good art work. Not by chance but firstly with purpose and intention, a sketchbook keeper would gain and develop his or her own skill, experience, style and point of view to became an artist on its own merit,

Each person has his or her own way to draw lines hence own style and line character.

Start your first sketchbook with drawings of subject you are familiar with. As an architect, my first few sketchbooks were all about buildings, what I feel comfortable with. But they were different type of drawings I had been doing nearly all my life. I see the buildings in a different way. There’s no pressure or expectation of the drawings, or the buildings, in any particular way or purpose; I just record them the way I see and feel about it. It is, in a way, a work of feeling rather than knowing or intention. And what’s more? Sketching allow me to observe and learn about the subject in a new light and in the way that the experience stays with me for a long time.

Subject that is familiar yet stir your curiosity like a tuk-tuk coffee shop or futuristic cabin seats.

Subjects for sketchbooks are limitless and this freedom of choice may not work with everyone. So, the most practical way is just simply pick up anything that first comes to your mind, be it about cars, pets, garden, music or coffee table, anything. You will find new and more subjects soon enough after the first sketch or even half way through it! And that’s perfectly alright. There’s no hard and fast rule on sketching, that’s why you would want to do sketching at the first place any way. No rule, no pressure, no worries no frustration; it’s purely for fun, joy, relax and to satisfy one’s curiosity and interest.

If you feel that it is more fun to sketch at another place rather than your own living room then try a nearby coffee shop, at Starbucks or in a park. Another good thing about sketching is that it is convenient and unobtrusive. An A5 sketchbook can go anywhere without drawing anyone’s attention.

Look around down, relax, start with something simple that first come to your mind.

Start your sketch only after you have decided what you want to sketch and decide what you want to sketch after you have look around and settled yourself in comfortably. I did the sketch of a Bangkok’s vegetarian restaurant above while waiting for our orders and started with the map at top of the page only. The rest of the sketch was done after the meals while having dessert and coffee starting with those rows glass covers on the long counters; that's where my cake come from! Then the sketch moved along to cover the unusual round lanterns hanging all over the dining area.

After finding what you want to sketch, start to draw the most prominent shape of the subject and expand from there. Try to draw and then stick to what you think it WOULD look like instead of trying to copy what you see in front of you. Then fill in only some features of the subject instead of the subject's details.
That's the idea and how I do my sketches.

The image of the shrine It is all impression, not the details.

This description may sound philosophical but it is in fact very natural and easy to put into action. One may not fully realise while doing it but it is clear once it is done.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sketchbook 2: PEN & INK

When come to drawing, pencil readily appears in most people's mind as tools associated with it; and it is absolutely correct. Pictures of drawings drawn in pencil lines with torn and tattered edge and corners of papers in yellowish tint seem to do the trick. To me, those pencil drawings are beautiful but they are not where I would suggest to any one as a starting point for a sketchbook. There's something easier you might want to start with, a pen!

I did start out my sketching with pencil for the same impression above. However, my pencil works for sketchbook are in a very different way than you might expect; they are not for line works but rather the build-up of pencil strokes, shades and shadows of objects. I will cover the subject of pencil sketching later on but it is the sketching with pen that I would like to start with for sketchbook.

Pens provide a simple continuous lines that are clear, uniform and most importantly, predictable. In other words, what you do is what you see and get; there’s no surprise, no technique required, no great skill needed and no tears! It is easy to produce or draw, easy to control. In sketching, one has no chance to make a mistake with pen. There’s no way to erase an ink line, therefore, one does not make an incorrect line but what happens is you get an EXTRA line, just one more line in addition to what you might have intended to! If you draw a wrong line, you use THAT line, even if it is not what you have wanted to, or draw another line and even another line if you want, till you’re happy with it. And no one would really mind ALL the lines you produced at the end.

Available types of pen for sketching.
There’s many type of pens to choose from. What you would expect from a good sketching pen is probably the ink line that flows evenly, steadily to encourage the uninterrupted hand movement. In my opinion, the worst moment in ink sketching is when using a drying up pen! Beside the smooth flowing pen lines, you have the freedom of choice from line thickness, shape, size, brand, etc. I don't stick to any particular brand but generally use the pigment ink type which is fade proof and water resistant with line thickness of 0.2 to 0.4. The waterproof type ink allow for a cleaner sketch when wash-over with watercolor although sketches with water mark smears from the non-waterproof ink can be interesting on its own merit, if handled appropriately.

I use all type of paper for sketchbooks as long as they are of reasonable thickness that allows sketching on both sides with ink. What one wants to avoid is when the ink seep through from the other side of a thin or low quality paper. Paper surface and texture might be taken into consideration. Both smooth and rough paper surface could be used successfully with ink and pen depends on the type of pen used and the nature of the subject. Rough surface (and usually thicker) paper, may not lend itself to small detail drawings well but is suitable if watercolor add-on is the intended end result. It is most sensible to use reasonably smooth surface paper for general sketches for its versatility. However, one should be careful with the very smooth or shiny paper surface as it might take longer time for ink work to dry or smudge easily.
On watercolor wash sketches, many of the common quality papers, to my surprise, do take watercolor reasonably well. Most of the thinner paper on average sketchbooks do wrinkle when applied with color wash but somehow, that very characteristic seems to add the rugged or casual feel to drawing. This is all about traveling or field work any way and that suit me well.


There are many ways to describe a sketchbook. This is only natural since sketchbooks existed long back into mankind's history. Do we start from the primitive cave painting as an early sketchbook?

Perhaps I should just talk about sketchbook from my own point of view; then sketchbook is a free form drawing record of my feeling, my reaction to what I see, where I've been. It is as much a record of my own experience as my expression of, and my interest in art. At the end, my sketchbooks are traces of my life's journey.

My sketchbooks are drawings in either pen or pencil or both. All sketches are done on site, indoor and outdoor, taking from 10 minutes to half an hour at most. Some of them are washed over with watercolor or rub over with wax pastel, either soon after the on-site works or stay black and white line works. I really hardly come back to work on any past sketches.

I use all kind and size of sketchbook, from 10x15 cm to A4 size, as long as they are blank without lines. I also make my own simple sketchbook from thin watercolor paper, at time; wrap the cover with left over cloth. I use this thicker paper as watercolor sketchbook as if they are my painting, color painting over sketches of line work of ink or ink work of brush pen.

To me, there's nothing mysterious or ritual on starting a sketchbook. I'd just pick up some pencils (2-6B, soft pencil) or a few pen (fine line, 0.2-0.5 fine felt tips but not ball point pen) or brush pen (pre-loaded brush tip pen that looks like Chinese brush) and a sketchbook and go! There can be nothing easier than to enjoy sketching on a sketchbook.

For sketchbook beginners, it is most important to have a clear awareness that a sketchbook IS a private diary of an individual. Unlike a piece of art work, sketchbook is not necessarily for sharing, not for advice or improvement, neither for comments nor praises. It is absolutely private and it is entirely up to each sketchbook keeper if he or she is happy to share the sketchbook among friends who enjoy, appreciate and value such viewing.

My personal advice for a good start is to get the BEST sketchbook you could find. If this is your first sketchbook at all, a reasonably thick and the most appealing sketchbook on the shelf is what you deserve. Look for a strongly built book with reasonably thick, nice to feel at papers that you could open up flat on both pages. The best quality is one with thread stitches spine that holds several stacks (called signatures) of papers into a book that will last you years of enjoyment. Sketchbooks with spiral metal wire spine also allow you to open a full flat 180 degree but sometime do not encourage a double fold (pages) drawing while the one with glue instead of thread spine might split over times.

Some good sketchbook might cost more but it is wise to start with a good one that make you feel good to carry around. Never mind even if your first few sketches are not up to your own expectation but that's the best start and, best advice I could ever give. Be proud of your first good to look at, good to feel at book, you can always have another less costly one to go along and to trash out along side your best looking one!

Below are some of the sketchbooks that you might come across in department store or art supply shops. Shown here are ranging from homemade metal wire spine to simple black hard cover, the legendary Moleskine sketchbook, hand-made book from China, the elegant looking hand-made lotus leave cover from Thailand and a robust functional double volume, two in one hard cover sketchbook with cloth covers.

However, it is perhaps fair to take it easy and just have another look at this starting issue here, before we run out onto the street. It seems to also make sense as a brushing up exercise for those who are familiar with drawing but had let it rusted over a long period of time as much as a primer for those who by now only vaguely remember how a pencil look like.

We will start with pen drawing on the next post.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Introduction: A SKETCHBOOK

Allow me to introduce to you my sketchbook. You must have heard of it belore but perhaps did not have the opportunity to make an acquaintance with. Sketchbook is just a form of diary keeping, and I am sure you are familiar with diary. Instead of writing down in words, I draw instead, of whatever caught my attention. It can be any kind of drawing and techniques including coloring and even writing just like you would a diary. For more fun, I often keep materials related to whatever I am sketching about, such as tickets, postcards and so on just as you would a scrapbook.

Many people never thought of recording or drawing subject or situation that could be their "once in a life time" experience. Some may wonder why keeping sketchbook at all when it is easier to take a picture with a camera and some might not know how to start one even if they like the idea! I am not surprised by all these doubts. I myself had no interest in sketchbook keeping at all till late in life. Despise being an architect where drawing, sketching (work related) is what he does for a living and it's easily his every day's activity. I did not have a single sketchbook during the 25 years of career as an architect. Of course, I produced tons of drawings, by hand since it was before the auto-cad days. My first sketchbook materialized only when I stop working as an architect, nearly ten years ago, while on a family vacation!

Looking back in wonder why I did not get interested in sketchbook during those long exciting career years and I realized that, perhaps, because I never heard of sketchbook activity, never saw one, no one around me ever mentioned of one either. Again, looking back and I was sure that if I was introduced to sketchbook earlier, I would have started earlier. My collection of sketchbooks would have been in their hundreds instead of tens as of now.

And I feel it is for me to try introducing sketchbook to any one the pleasure, the value of sketchbook activity so that some people are happier sooner!