A group of sketchers roam the streets of Yangon. Their sketches tell the stories of the city from its busy bazaars and magnificent monuments – from Yangon’s iconic High Court to heritage buildings and stunning landscapes – on white cartridge papers. Nay Thiha sat down with two of the sketch artists to find out more deeper what they are up to.
The idea of an urban sketchers community is nothing new. From Scotland to Singapore, sketcher societies are sharing the visual stories of their cities through social media and transnational exhibitions.
It was Aung Htut Khaung and a dozen of sketchers that gave Yangon its own community.
“We became friends on Facebook and first met up in December 2018. We organised the first group show in May 2019,” recalls Aung.
They are everywhere – from crowded streets of Chinatown to the busy jetty of Botahtaung. They regularly gather on Sunday evenings and walk around Yangon. Their works, however, are not limited to Myanmar’s largest city. They also travel to important cultural centres like Bagan, Mandalay and Mrauk-U.
“At first we met in the rainy season. It was a bad idea since all our water colours were washed away by the rain and canvas turned to pulp,” says Aung with a giggle.
The sketchers have held two group shows with the most recent one in early February. The exhibition Sketching Walkers 2.0 showcased over 80 paintings of the eight artists.
Unlike oil and watercolour paintings, sketches are somewhat underrated in the arts scene.
But they come up with their own perks. What’s most important here would be the simplicity and economical ease. You do not need vast knowledge in colour theories and artistic principles. With a pencil and a piece of paper, you can produce a drawing. The paint is just complementary.
Win Htoon Thant, the sketcher who is also a cartoonist-cum-tattooist, says: “Sketches can be explored in different ways. About 10 per cent of my works are just strokes and lines. They have their own expression.”
Win took interest in the arts from a young age. Like many prestigious painters, his first drawings were about the things in his surroundings. He graduated from the University of Arts and Culture in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in painting.
“I also make commercial drawings. But the feeling is very different. In commercials, I draw for my clients and thus my creativity is limited. I feel more alive when I draw for whatever I want.”
Win’s drawings are chiefly about ancient buildings and pagodas. The works are made unique by his attention to details from compositions to colours. Take the mossy building for example. It is the painting of the abandoned Thone Pan Hla Monastery from the Pyu era which is located in Pyay.
You can even trace the small green patches on the concrete structure in it. With the blurry background made up of pale blues and greens, the painting gives you the first-person-view of the monastery on one misty morning. People in front of the monastery add a sense of life to the aging building.
In comparison, Aung’s works are more minimalistic. In one painting, you can see a small ferry in a narrow waterway between the forests. In another, you find a line of four boats in pastel colours. His use of light colours is wonderful and makes you feel like you are looking at a scene in an animated film. At the second show, the majority of his works cover boats and shipyards.
“Some people take photos of the subject and draw in the comfort of their home. We prefer live drawing,” says Aung.
The group welcomes both local and international artists. You do not have to be an expert to join their meet-ups. Their group is also an opportunity to learn and share experience with the seasoned artists.
“The sure-fire way to learn drawing is to draw as much as you can. You will become more confident. It also helps you find your own style,” says Win.
Now the group is trying to get in touch with the global urban sketcher community. Aung says they will become an officially recognised member of the global community “very soon”.
Being a part of this network means Yangon can host the annual AsiaLink Sketch Walk, a regional exhibition that gathers thousands of sketches and hundreds of sketchers. The latest one held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in 2019 saw nearly 400 artists!
“We really want to make it happen in Yangon since it’s a great way to promote tourism and share experience with international artists,” says Aung.
In their spare time, Yangon’s sketchers are drawing the colonial buildings on the Strand Road between 1st Street and 64th Street. The project is to show the beauty of “Rangoon” through an exhibition and a hardcover book.
If you feel like walking and drawing with the urban sketchers, follow their Facebook page (@uskyangon) or join their group, Urban Sketchers Myanmar.