Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Singapore's public housing model has long been hailed a quantitative and qualitative success. It has imbued in Singaporeans a way of lifethat exemplifies healthful living within high-rise and high-density urban environments. This housing model owes much of its successes as a design exemplar to the provision of open spaces within the housing estates. However, it was only 50 years ago that Singapore was characterised as a "chaotic and unwieldy megapolis" due to its lack of open spaces within the city. So how and when did all those modern open-space planning begin in Singapore's residential landscape? A talk byArchitect Wai Fong Lee would look into the way open spaces had been designed inTiong Bahru estate and how Tiong Bahru estate has arguably formed awatershed period in the evolution of open-space planning in Singapore's residential landscape.

Get to know more about how Tiong Bahru contributed to the evolution of Singapore's Public Housing program on June 30, 730pm at the White Canvas Gallery. It will follow the opening reception of the Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside-In Exhibit. The artwork above is by Don Low, one of the artists being featured in the exhibit. See you there!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Get to know the Artists: Miel

Miel is a Senior Executive Artist with The Straits Times. His works are syndicated by the New York Times Syndicate (NYTS) and have seen print in publications such as the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Japan Times, The Australian, The Guardian and Asiaweek. He received the prestigious Reuben Division Award for Newspaper Illustration from the National Cartoonists' Society (NCS) in the US (2001) and The Society of Publishers in Asia(SOPA) Award for Editorial Excellence in Editorial Cartooning (2007). He has a Master's Degree in Design (MDes) from the UNSW. He currently has a mural at the National Museum Of Singapore.

Miel was looped in by Paul and Tia into the Tiong Bahru Sketches Exhibit midway into the preparation process, and we are so grateful they did. Miel's works are silent yet powerful. Mostly relying on line and form than on color, his works such as Back Lanereflect only the barest essentials to depict the subject.

Miel. Backlane. 2010. pen, ink and wash on paper. 36 x 26 cm.

Here are some words from Miel about his art:

You are a multi-awarded cartoonist. How different is cartooning from sketching?

As in all Art, the ideation process is pretty much the same, we start by sketching. Sketching is exploration. Sketching is adding in. Sketching is also about elimination.
Sketching is the first step in the birthing of an idea. Sketching mimics the evolutionary process-- from ape to man-- from squiggly prototypes of an idea to robust incarnations of it. Sketching is also about reinterpretation.

For this show, it is more about getting intimate with the architecture of the old Tiong Bahru Estate. It was not about sketching a facade of a building per se, but we were
sketching it to make sense of its history, too. We were also making sense of its utilitarian characteristics- ergo, it is home, it is work, it is play.

I noticed that you like clean lines in your sketches. Is it a deliberate attempt when you sketching to keep everything to the essential, minimal lines?

I wanted to be exacting- if i could "finetune" the sketch in my mind's eye and do away with the extra lines that defines a "true" sketch, then half the work would have been done, in that sense. Maybe it was the sun, too. Too much sun somehow melts the shadows in and around
buildings, people, objects...

What do you like most about sketching?

Sketching is innately liberating. Sketching in the open is a humbling experience. The Aunties and the Uncles are the harshest critics around-- their comments are always truthful, unsullied by academia. That's why i love them.

You are also a painter. Do you still paint or do you intend to have a painting exhibition soon?

I am actually preparing for a two-man show next year. So, these sketching sessions and other art-related activities i am currently involved in are delightful digressions towards that aim.

As an artist, what subjects interest you the most?

My subjects vary but my approach is definitely surrealistic. My imagery is dreamlike. I am really trying hard to escape the cliches that has been largely comforting for me to communicate IN. My paintings, rather, the studies that i have been doing right now borrows largely from religious iconography-- it is about rediscovering the esoteric codification these images accord or what essays forth from them, if we discount the obvious. There's a lot of recalibrating of my understanding of the stories behind these images and how i could
transpose them vis-a-vis current social conditions, etc. Somehow, that is the thesis for my forthcoming exhibition next year.

Catch more of Miel's sketches at White Canvas Gallery. Everyone is invited to the opening on June 30, 7pm! Learn more about the architecture of Tiong Bahru from Architects Kelvin Ang and Wai Fong Lee right after the opening. Listen to Miel, Tia, Paul and Don talk about their art on July 3, 2pm. Or better yet, join them in a sketchwalk on July 17, 2pm.

See you all there!

Get to know the artists: Don Low

Don Low is the third of our four sketchers for the upcoming Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside - In Exhibit. A skilled digital artist who started work since 1998, Don has worked for publishers, ad agencies, web companies and educational institutes. He is an illustrator, concept and character designer, and a storyboard artist. In 2006, Don was awarded an Media Development Authority's Media Education Scheme Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in Animation in Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, USA. Prior to that, he studied a certificate course in Sculpture at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2006 and he also has a Bachelor of Arts in Interactive and Multimedia Design from the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia in 2001. And did we mention that Don is a Materials Engineer? He had that degree in 1996 from the Nanyang Technological University.

Don is currently an administrator of the Urban Sketchers Singapore website.

The works that Don made for this upcoming exhibit are a bit personal. He grew up in this vicinity and has fond memories of people sharing conversations over coffee and tea while showing off their caged song birds in a corner of Tiong Bahru. He still goes to Tiong Bahru to eat his favorite Chwee Kuey, such as the one he drew here:

Don Low.
Chwee Kuey. 2010. pen, ink and watercolor on paper. 14 x 18.5 cm.

Don's other works are snapshots of life as it happens. In his own statement he says "I am a voyeur. Whenever time permits, I would stand and sstay hidden at one street corner to look at things and people around me for as long as I can. The I would sketch what I see in front of me. If I am having a coffee break, I would sketch the coffee shop I patronized. Unlike taking a snapshot with a camera, sketching allows me to get acquainted with my surroundings. It is like a process of getting to know someone I haven't met before; you uncover things as you get to know the person more. Sketching makes me see beyond what I would look at normally, and most of the time, it is also a record of my emotions and even my thoughts. It involves my entire being. A sketchbook is like a journal or a road map of my life's journey. It is not entirely about putting down nicely drawn pictures, but rather, a record of what matters to me everyday."

Here is another sketch of Don:

Don Low. Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice. 2010. ink and wash on paper. 21 x 14.5 cm.

Here's a brief Q&A with Don Low.

You did a lot of work in Animation. How different is it from sketching?

Animation and sketching are quite different from each other anyway. But I enjoyed both anyway. After I finished my thesis film in May 2008 and graduated after, I have not done another since then. However I have never stopped sketching. I kept several sketchbooks at the same time. One for location sketching, another for sketching fun things without following any format or whatsoever, and another for exploration and so forth. The more I sketch, the more I want to keep things organized, even though I am not a very organized person. Once in a while when I browse through my sketchbooks, I actually enjoy looking at things done in a sequential manner or following a series, thus keeping different sketchbooks help.

Sketching is more spontaneous and perhaps somewhat haphazard. I sketch what I see before me, and then jotting down my thoughts. In a way, a sketch in my sketchbook can be a page of memories, experiences and observations. I am trying my best to write something after I sketched, not something clever or something composed, but just some random thoughts or anecdotes of how I felt at that very moment.

You like to include people in your sketches. Can you say it is a bit voyeuristic. Do you like watching people? What do you find interesting enough to sketch?

This is a good question. I am a voyeur, in the good sense of course. I am obsessed with looking at people I have to stop myself at times. Nowadays I would only observe people around me when I sit down to sketch. Other than that, no, simply walking straight and look straight ahead. People that interest me would be those with very special features, shapes and sizes. When I draw them I am not poking fun but giving them the due attention and respect that no one else would offer. They could be so common looking that everyone else would pass them without even knowing that they are there. I want to make them special in my sketchbook.

What do you like most about sketching?

What I love most is the intimate relationship I built between me and the subject that I am sketching at that very instant. Whether it is a 15-min or a 45-min sketch, I am alone with that temple, that building with special memory, that lighting that evoked a sense of poetry, or even with that unique situation that cause hunger. And within that span of time, I am at peace with myself. I may not be even thinking of what I am sketching; I could be unwinding from the week's grime, I could be thinking of my wife and even what I would eat for the next meal. I love to sketch with friends as a group too; it feels like a group of housewives washing their clothes by the river...(laugh).

As an artist, what medium are you most comfortable with?

Pen & Ink. Watercolor.

Do you think there is a difference between you as an artist and as an illustrator?

No. Serving different purposes though. :D

Get to know the artists: Tia Boon Sim

Tia Boon Sim was introduced to the gallery by
Paul Wang. Tia is Paul's mentor. Together with Don Low and Miel, they comprise the artists who will be exhibiting their works for the Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside - In exhibit which will have its opening on June 30, 7pm.

Tia is an architect by profession. After graduating with honors from the School of Architecture, University of Singapore in 1979, she designed the award winning Clementi Indoor Stadium. She graduated with an Outstanding Academic Achievement Award from the Pratt Institute in 2001. She is currently in-charge of overseeing the entire foundational curriculum of the Temasek Polytechnic Design Programme.

Despite being so busy, she finds time to sketch every Saturday morning with other
urban sketchers. Occasionally, she even manages to create wood-fired pottery in the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln where she is one of the directors.

Tia's artistic training started early. At the age of of ten, she received private instruction from Mr. Liu Kang, one of Singapore's pillars in the field of visual arts. She continued this training for ten year.

It is no wonder why one of Tia's works was chosen for the exhibition invite and catalogue. Tia's
Corner 71 captures the essence of Tiong Bahru - its architecture, its age, its character. Tia's works at first glance are bold and reminiscent of Chinese brushwork. Yet at closer inspection, reveals a carefully planned work hinting at Tia's architectural training. All the buildings are meticulously constructed. All the shadows are in place and tell of the time of the day that the sketch was made. Nothing is frivolous; everything is essential.

Tia Boon Sim. Corner 71. May 23, 2010. pen, ink and watercolor on paper. 15 x 45 cm.

Here is an interview with Tia:

You studied with Liu Kang for ten years. Can you share with us succinctly what key concepts or lessons you learned from him?

I started taking art lessons from Mr Liu Kang at the tender age of ten and left his studio when I enrolled into School of Architecture at the age of 19. Mr Liu Kang was a mentor and teacher with no temper at all. I remember taking lessons on all the different media from pencil, charcoal, crayon, pastels, watercolours to oils. I learnt to persevere and to making those lifeless still life objects and plastered busts come alive in my drawings and paintings. At the age of thirteen, I could grasp the art concepts very well and people around me commented that I had achieved a very high standard that other teenagers at my age would not have achieved. I am thankful to my parents who believe in me and Mr Liu Kang for his mentorship.

How does your architecture affect your sketching?

Architecture taught me to question, to be inquisitive and follow your instinct. It also taught me to be observant and to be aware of your environment. These attributes certainly come in handy when I comb the street looking for a place, an object, and an activity or looking for people to sketch. I developed a strong observational skill and a keen eye for details when I was an art and architecture student. Now I process the details very quickly to a point of ignoring them and concentrating on the mood and feel of the place, object or people when I sketch.

You have devoted at least three years to regular sketching. What draws you to sketch despite your busy schedule?

In April 2007, I initiated a Saturday location drawing project on Club Street after buying two beautiful sketchbooks and there is no stopping since then. I believe the mood, the smell, the ambience of a place have a great impact on the creation of a good sketch. When I am doing location drawing, attention to details and absorbing the mood are two important elements that I enjoy to a stage that I hope to see, sense and capture the place with my own interpretations. It is an enjoyable experience. Sketching is a way to connect to places and people and I hold a view that sketching with like-minded people is a social activity.

When did you start using coffee in your works?

I am a coffee addict. I like it without milk. I started pouring coffee in my work when I was teaching again after returning from New York in 2003. The students I taught usually took a picture of the place and went home to sketch after a drawing field trip. I realized students were too conscious of making mistakes and were too afraid not following every detail. Pouring coffee helped my students to accept the imperfection and they had becoming very free in their line work. After that experience, I continue to pour coffee before I freely sketch and work around these coffee stains. I have also tried using red wine to sketch during festive seasons.

I notice that you have been very consistent and very methodical in the use of shadow in your sketches to give three-dimensionality and a time element to your works. Do you apply them before or after you make the works?

There are many ways of doing things. I would begin a sketch in blocks of shade and shadow or I would begin a sketch with drawing dots and lines and the shadow will be added last. I am fascinated with shadow; I also learn to work fast so as to capture the moment of light in our tropical weather when the shadow may disappear suddenly. Shadow is after all created by, light.

See Tia in action in this video

Friday, June 18, 2010

Get to know the artists: Paul Wang

Paul Wang is one of the artists for our upcoming Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside - In Exhibit. We found Paul online, through the Urban Sketchers Singapore website. We asked Paul if he were interested in having an exhibit with us and he roped in Tia, Don and Drew for the exhibit. When Drew had to back out, Paul and Tia were able to rope in Miel. And in just a little more than a month, the four of them created the works for the exhibit.

Paul is a man of many talents. He graduated with a Diploma in Interior, Architecture and Design in Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore where he was awarded a certificate of merit and the course gold medal. He is a lighting and stage designer with an impressive list of projects including the internal and external lighting for The Esplanade (Singapore), 40 Nassim Hill (Singapore), Kuriya Fine Dining (Singapore) and Xin Tian Di (Shang Hai China) and stage, costume, props and lighting design for True Deep Blue and The Origins. He is currently an adjunct lecturer at the Temasek Polytechnic in Interior Architecture and Design, Environmental Design and Retail and Hospitality Design.

It is understandable then that for the exhibit, Paul's works include sketches of interiors. His works are vibrantly colored and bold. His strokes are spontaneous but at the same time, sure.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Paul.

When did you start sketching and what hooked you into doing it regularly?

My mother enrolled me in a private art class when I was in lower primary. The class was held every Saturday at the art teacher’s flat. He will take us kids out to different location for drawing lessons too. I cannot remember how long this went on for. When I enrolled into Temasek Polytechic I started following TIA every time she went out sketching. Then the sketching became sporadic when I graduated and work took over. However I started sketching actively again last December after a long hiatus.

This year I joined the Singapore Urban-sketchers with encouragement from TIA and I found that I am not alone. Going out as a group of like minded sketchers is always very inspiring. There are plenty of interaction and exchange of ideas and techniques on location. This is all very enticing and definitely impetus for me to continue sketching. Everyone has an interesting voice and a unique way of telling stories through their sketches.

Tia is your teacher. How does it feel to sketch with your teacher, and now to exhibit with her?

I am actually elated to be exhibiting side by side TIA. She immediately said yes when I invited her to join me for this exhibition. She is now a dear friend and mentor to me. She has always been quietly providing encouragements and new avenues to express myself. I like sketching with her because we are always bouncing new ideas off each other. I would often watch her sketch from the sideline to pick up new techniques and important tips. She definitely has impact on my sketching techniques.

You used crayons in some of your works. Can you tell us how did you come to use them in
your sketches and why?

I like using crayons and pastels for my sketches because they make good sketching mediums due to their portability and ease of use. No water, no mixing and diluting. I can sketch and add colours all at the same time. They promote a lot of spontaneity and experimentation. Stroke by stroke the sketch evolves. The colours are layered on top of each other and often become more and more vibrant. These days I like mixing crayons on top of my ink and watercolour sketches to create a different dimension.

Your sketches use vibrant color. Often they are a little different from the real thing. Is there any particular reason why you choose the colors you choose?

Colours to me are effective ways to convey ideas and messages. Colours draw the viewers’ into my sketches. They are also like sign posts guiding the viewers’ to the focal points and ideas I try to create in my sketches. The colours I choose are not just based on what my physical eyes see but also what the ‘eyes of my mind’ see and feel. I also use my body to observe and picked up nuances when I am sketching on location. The spirit of the place is what I try to depict using colours.

What do like about sketching the most? Do you do other art media too?

Sketching is very mesmerizing and liberating for me. I put myself in an environment with a blank piece of paper and ask important questions like “What do I really see here?” I make myself fall in love with I see in front of me. I get to decide what I really like about the particular location and what stories I want to tell on that particular day. To me that is almost God-like. I get to create a whole new universe on my blank canvas. I often cannot predict the end result when I sketch and splash colours across the paper. Sketching is a very snappy experience; all the highs and lows with plenty of anxieties are compressed into a few mere minutes. There is also a time and space constraint much like live theatre. The experience cannot be duplicated once over. I feel liberated when page is finally filled and the creation is over. Then I am able to step back and view the finished sketch like a new born child. Sometimes the results are not so satisfactory which keeps me coming back. That is what I like about sketching.

I like photography as an alternative way to observe the world around me. Photography like sketching is fairly instantaneous and requires a quick response. Photographs are often very honest down to the details and you cannot easily alter real time photography. Quoting the famous German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 'God is in the details’.

Here are two samples of Paul's work for the upcoming exhibit to whet your appetites.

Paul Wang, Kelvin's Chair, 2010, ink and watercolor on paper, 21 x 13 cm.

Paul Wang, Tiong Poh Street, 2010, Ink, watercolor, crayon on paper, 13 x 21 cm

To see more of Paul's work, join us at the opening reception on June 30, 7pm, at the White Canvas Gallery!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside/In

As the only art gallery in the in the community of Tiong Bahru, we wanted to pay homage by having our first programmed exhibit about it. We have invited sketchers Paul Wang, Tia Boon Sim, Don Low and Miel to create sketches of Tiong Bahru from street level, from inside the homes of people we know who live here, and at different times of the day to give a feel of what Tiong Bahru is now. For many Singaporeans, Tiong Bahru is something from the past. It has retained the core of its structures that have been here since the 1930s. But at the same time, as a living community, it is growing. We wanted to keep a record of the changes it is experiencing now, for posterity and to examine how the artists see Tiong Bahru.

Please come to our opening on June 30, 7pm, to share our joy as we celebrate Tiong Bahru through the art of Paul Wang, Tia Boon Sim, Don Low and Miel.

A lecture on the architecture of Tiong Bahru by resident architect and Vice Chairman of the Seng Poh Residents Association Mr. Kelvin Ang follows at 730pm.

See you there!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Neighborhood: Tiong Bahru

White Canvas Gallery is located in Tiong Bahru, Singapore. The owners felt that the neighborhood lent itself to a "Soho" vibe and a gallery in their property here was just the right thing to add. The neighborhood comprises of Art Deco inspired housing complexes. The first buildings were created in the 1930s by the then British-run Singapore government. They are among the earliest public mass housing projects in Southeast Asia. The neighborhood was planned with many of the conveniences of a modern neighborhood - efficient plumbing and sewerage, a well-managed market, public parks and gardens and wide roads. It was expanded in the 1950s and the 1960s. Right now, there are a number of modern high rises surrounding the community.

What is great about Tiong Bahru is that it combines the old and the new in such a gracious and relaxed manner. Old trades that have since been long gone in other parts of Singapore, such as furniture upholstery still have active craftsmen doing their trade here. On the other hand, the charm of this neighborhood which only a few other parts of Singapore still retain has attracted a good mix of young families, yuppies and expats. The market has retained a lot of its long-time stalls and many Singaporeans go there on Sundays to have a fill of their favorite food.

White Canvas Gallery hopes to be useful to the community and to be integrated into the community life. Watch out for our scheduled shows that will feature the neighborhood through the artistry of local artists.

To learn more about the community, visit

Thursday, June 3, 2010

White Canvas Gallery: A White Canvas, Infinite Possibilities

White Canvas Gallery is a new art gallery located in Tiong Bahru in Singapore. It is a product of serendipity and the collaboration of the gallery owners, the employees and the artists who contribute their art and their views.

It is a market rule that for a gallery to survive, it must be able to distinguish itself from others through a definite stand on what art is. We are a young gallery, and none of us are art experts (although we are experts in other fields related to it). All we know is that we love art and we love to share it. And even in that, we have our own different opinions. Live and let live. Enjoy the moment. That is what we think. Our lives become richer when we learn to see from other people's eyes.

For now, the gallery is a space that can be used by artists like their own white canvas. It is a place to start something new. Sometimes, things will be interesting. Sometimes, things will be great. Sometimes, not. But we believe it is trying that really counts. We believe in our artists and what they can do. And we think that others would love to see their works too.

The gallery, although it is primarily a space, is not just that. It is equally about people like art. It is about artists sharing their works. It is about people discussing and admiring the works over coffee or a meal. It is about learning, discovering, savoring, sharing. It is about conversations and relationships. After all, art is one of the things that truly make us human.