Singaporean 'sketch machine' brings to life stories of nation’s historic buildings (VIDEO)

For retiree Francis Theo, 69, taking part in the Urban Sketchers Singapore group is a way to ‘completely switch off’. — TODAY pic
For retiree Francis Theo, 69, taking part in the Urban Sketchers Singapore group is a way to ‘completely switch off’. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, June 18 — Retiree Francis Theo first introduced sketching and drawing to his grandson as a way to get him away from smartphones. But he noticed that the boy quickly developed the same passion for the arts that he enjoys.

Theo, 69, told TODAY that his grandson Ryan Hong started drawing when he could hold a pencil on his own at the age of three. Now aged six and in Primary 1, Ryan tags along with him on sketching trips to different spots such as hawker centres or parks.

“Ryan has an interest in sketching but partially, he is also influenced by me,” Theo said. ”When I sketch something, he would peep over my shoulder and see what I am doing and he would do his own version of it. Afterwards, he would share with me what his sketch is about.”

They have their own “show and tell” sessions, where Ryan would present and talk about his drawings after the pair has finished sketching.

Some of Francis Theo’s work. Fellow members of the Urban Sketchers Singapore group call him a “sketching machine”, given how quickly he finishes his work. — Picture by Raj Nadarajan via TODAY
Some of Francis Theo’s work. Fellow members of the Urban Sketchers Singapore group call him a “sketching machine”, given how quickly he finishes his work. — Picture by Raj Nadarajan via TODAY

Theo also tries to encourage Ryan to explore his own creative self-expression and wants him to try his hand at “whatever style he wants.”

He said: “It is a two-way relationship, Ryan is also interested in reading books and discovering new things so we also encourage him. There is no point encouraging a child if he has no interest in it as well.”

Theo is taking part in a travelling exhibition by the National Heritage Board (NHB), titled Uncles Love Monuments. It is part of NHB’s efforts to promote greater awareness of Singapore’s national monuments.

Sketches of 18 national monuments will be shown at the travelling exhibition until the end of the year at selected libraries across the country. Complemented with 2.5-hour sketching workshops conducted by Theo, participants can expect to learn the basics of sketching.

Some of the monuments featured include Fullerton Hotel and Jurong Town Hall, among others.

Alvin Tan, deputy chief executive of policy and community at NHB, said: “We wanted to showcase our national monuments in a different light and present them through the eyes of artists from the silver generation. In doing so, we hope to bring to life the stories of our monuments and the people who love them, and further cultivate community appreciation of our treasured historic buildings.”

Theo has been attending the Urban Sketchers Singapore group’s monthly meetings for the past nine years, almost from the time it was set up. He has even earned himself the moniker “sketch machine” from fellow members for his quick sketching skills.

He said: “When we go out to sketch for three hours, everyone will capture one scene, but for me, I can do it within an hour. So sometimes, I would do three sketches. I can sketch pretty fast.”

The local chapter of international group Urban Sketchers was founded in 2009 and is made up of Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Patrick Ng, the chapter administrator of the group, said that it started with three to six members and has grown to 90 members who now take part in monthly “sketch walks”.

When asked about the benefits of sketching, Ng said: “Sketching de-stresses a person because when you pay attention, you also slow down. We can also start to focus and it takes our mind off of our worries, so it will be good for the spirit.”

For Theo, sketching is a way to unwind and clear his mind. He said: “When I am sketching, I just completely switch off. My wife always comments on this and says, ‘Why do you get so annoyed when people are playing games or talking loudly on the bus, but when you are sketching and surrounded by traffic, you can stay there for hours?’”

Uncles love monuments exhibition 

June 4 to 29: Jurong Regional Library

July 1 to 30: Marine Parade Public Library

Aug 1 to 30: Cheng San Public Library

Sept 1 to 29: [email protected]

Oct 1 to 30: Serangoon Public Library

Nov 1 to 29: Toa Payoh Public Library

Dec 1 to 30: Sengkang Public Library

SKETCHING WORKSHOP

The 2.5-hour sketching workshop is free and open to participants aged 12 years and above.

Participants may register for the workshop via the Golibrary website from July onwards, on a first-come-first-served basis. — TODAY

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