A splash of red here, a dab of white there, some fine lines in black, followed by a sweep of yellow…. At the end of two-and-a-half hours, the watercolours on the white paper take on the shape of the iconic clock tower in Jew Street. A work in pen and ink focusses on the street itself; a sketch in pencil maps the façade of the Paradesi Synagogue; a pen work details the colonial features of the architecture.
“We celebrate every aspect of the city through art, no location is left unsung” says Pratheek Sudhakaran, an architect, who founded the Kochi chapter of Urban Sketchers(USk), in November 2020. Since then the group of 250 plein air artists from different walks of life have been sketching and painting different locations of Kochi.
A global community of artists, Urban Sketchers(USk) practise drawing on location they live in or travel to.
On July 17 USk Kochi was recognized as an official regional chapter of the international USk community.When the group meets on July 23 they will launch a coffee table book of their art work –Exploring Kochi through Urban Sketchers–. A “Sketchopedition” planned for August 15, will have its members fan out to different locations in the city and sketch them. “We are also printing T shirts and an Urban Sketcher Kochi flag for the occasion,” adds Pratheek.
The chapter is part of a global network of Urban Sketchers headquartered in Seattle, US. The first Indian chapter was started in Pune in 2015 by architect and art enthusiast Sanjeev Joshi. The second was begun in Goa in 2017 by Darpana Athale, an architect who was part of USk Pune. The chapters have grown organically across India. Every chapter has three administrators who coordinate the working of that chapter.
“At present, there are 12 active chapters in India, In addition, there are 15 to 20 new groups that have been conducting sketch meets consistently in places such as Simla and Varanasi,” says Darpana, regional coordinator of the USk chapters in India. A group has to sketch consistently for six months to become a part of Urban Sketchers International. It is all voluntary and there is no rigid hierarchy.
The artists sketch in situ for a fixed duration of time, which varies from 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours. At the end of it, they come together to display their works and get-together for a peer review wherein inputs are given, there is a give- and-take of ideas and suggestions. Each meet is documented and shared on social media handles of individual chapters on facebook and Instagram.
“We love sketching; there are no formal rules for admission to the group or membership fee. All you have to do is join us on our meet-ups and sketch. The venue and timing are announced on our social media handles,” says Pratheek adding, that there is no specific media; it could be pen and paper, water colour, pastels, oils, pencil on paper.
A storytelling tool
Farah Irani, a set designer from Pune, underlines that there are no requirements on how to draw and what to draw. “This is about storytelling about your city and how you can share what is happening around you. We don’t want professional work. People can come and draw.”
She adds that because “we see work in so many different styles, media and so on, aspiring artists realise that the possibility of capturing the same place or building in so many different ways.”
Last month USk Kochi held their 50th meet at ASADI(Asian School of Design and Architecture) at Vytilla, where they held exhibitions and workshops.
Some chapters, like the one in Pune, conduct master classes every two months. Many chapters have inhouse experts, like in Kochi Artist Sajeev and Aji Robo, an IT professional, are experts in watercolours. Johnson helps artists with abstract art.
Each chapter has a distinctive identity depending on the place and interests of the members.
In Goa, the Urban Sketchers came together in May to raise awareness to save the River Mhadei. USk Hyderabad, which meets monthly on a Sunday, organises collaborations with foodies, heritage enthusiasts, at cafes, gated communities and so on. The USk in Delhi, begun in May 2017, has held six theme-based exhibitions. The chapter in Kolkata, started a year ago on the initiative of Asad Karim, an aeronautical engineer, has been discovering the city through their sketch meets.
Recently the Kochi chapter did an awareness sketch of the Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary. “It was an environmental sensitization programme,” says PratHeek adding that the group got there as early as possible and did bird spotting and live sketching simultaneously
Darpana says that when people see the group sketching, they encourage onlookers to join them to sketch.
Pratheek agrees and talks about their recent session at Lulu Mall where interested onlookers were inspired to join. “So many such onlookers are now active members,” he says.
“There is no comparison or competition. It is an activity that all of us can enjoy. ” says Darpana.
Pratheek, adds, “We are constantly encouraging each other and others who see us, to pick up a pencil and paper and sketch irrespective of the result. We have members as young as six-year-old Sneha Nair to the most active member, S Gopakumar, an architect in his 70s.”
(Inputs by Priyadershini S)
Founded by journalist Gabriel campanario in Seattle in the US in 2007, Urban Sketchers (USk) quickly became a world-wide group with more than 60,000 people from all walks of life. They create in situ drawings of places they visit. At present, there are 400-plus chapters worldwide. Their motto is ‘We show the world, one drawing at a time!”All the chapters are known by the places they are located in such as Urban Sketchers Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and so on, except Goa.