We love Toa Payoh – Urban Sketchers Singapore

March 14, 2013

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 Urban Sketchers Singapore, We love Toa Payoh.  Singapore: Epigram Books, 2012. 96 pages in colour. ISBN 9789810736231

I can’t speak about Singapore or this particular Singaporean neighbourhood with any authority, but I am very keen to consider how a group of of very keen and enthusiastic urban sketchers has managed to produce what appears to be the first of a series of small books devoted to different areas of their city, as hinted in the “neighbOURhoods” of the book’s subtitle on the front cover.

The book is in coffee-book format in miniature,  illustration-heavy interspersed with a text appearing every few pages. The illustrations stand alone, uncaptioned, sometimes with what appears to be only a tenuous link to the text. Similar to the Group’s previous, initial launch into hardcopy media, as opposed to its natural playground, online media, there is a list in the back of sketches and contributors, though with no details of original sketch sizes or the media and materials used to create them.

The sketches run across double-spreads; some are in black-and-white (pencil, fountain pen, brush pen), while some feature spot colour and most are full-colour (mainly watercolour, with examples of coloured pencil-and-water wash, limited palette on toned ground). The content covers streetscapes, buildings, people and food, street signs and object drawing.

The approach to text is interesting. Jerome Lim provides a three-paragraph foreword: the first paragraph on Singapore, the second on his personal connection to a prominent landmark building and a third mentioning the contribution of the group of sketchers. What follows are one-line quotes (fifteen in total), most often from locals recalling the neighbourhood’s past but also several from the sketchers themselves.

I counted some two dozen separate contributors to the sketchers, which represents a substantial degree of coordination and effort from the USk Group. While no one sketcher’s style dominates, there is the same general preference for pen combined with lively watercolour washes one notices in the Group’s earlier publication.

A remarkable visual snapshot capturing place in our own time, set against a subtle background of place recalled, snatches of memory from times past.

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